It’s essential to focus on credibility when working with leaders to help them increase their ability to influence others, both formally and informally. It isn’t a surprise to anyone that credibility is necessary for influence, but it isn’t until we dig a little deeper that people realize just how important it is. It is often the case that they find their own credibility could use a little improvement.
The part of credibility that leaders most frequently focus on is confidence. The confidence a speaker conveys directly impacts the listener’s tendency to buy into the message. A nervous speaker will cause uncertainty in listeners. That means a leader must look and sound confident through posture, pitch, gestures, facial expressions, cadence, etc. While a critical component of credibility, confidence is only part of the equation.
When isn’t confidence enough?
- When you are selling a product, service, or idea
- When you want to encourage questions
- When you want to encourage open discussion
- When you want to keep listeners engaged
An equally important part of the credibility equation is genuineness.
When a leader doesn’t come across as genuine, people are less likely to buy into an idea or get on board with an initiative, as the leader’s confidence may come across as arrogance.
I once worked with a very confident leader who didn’t come across as genuine or connect with others on an emotional level. He was smart, experienced, and confidently spoke to people individually and in groups. Despite this, the team talked about him negatively, mocked him, complained about him, and waited for the day when he would be replaced.
The point is that a leader who focuses on just half of the equation falls short because it isn’t enough. The best leaders have a good balance between confidence and genuineness.
So what can you do to genuinely connect with people? First, you have to care about your team. Most of the leaders I work with do genuinely care about their teams; it just doesn’t always come across that way if they are moving fast and are very direct in their communications. Leaders who care and want to build up the other half of the equation can focus on 3 things:
1. Smile and eye contact
The combination of a genuine smile and real eye contact go a long way toward increasing credibility. People report feeling important and valued when leaders make eye contact with them instead of looking around the room or multi-tasking. A genuine smile that reaches the eyes often elicits a smile in return, leading to a positive connection. A few of the times leaders have the opportunity to use this powerful nonverbal combination are when they great their team, recognize accomplishments, and talk about the opportunity in challenges ahead. Give it a try and you’ll see both your credibility and your influence increase.
2. Share personal stories
Leaders, especially confident and accomplished leaders, can come across as cold and unapproachable. That makes people hesitant to ask questions or bring problems to them. Sharing short, relevant personal stories helps the team see another side of you and relate to you better. A story about a challenge you overcame can help inspire them to find a way to overcome their current challenge. A story about a failure you learned from can help them see that you make mistakes too and that it can be a positive if there is a lesson learned.
Leaders who attend Maximum Influence learn how to incorporate stories when they influence. They are consistently surprised by the significant impact they have in terms of engagement, genuine connection, and impact. Find an opportunity to share a little of yourself through story and you’ll see both your credibility and influence increase.
Humor is another great way to make a genuine connection with people to balance confidence and increase credibility. A very confident leader can come across as intimidating and shut people down. If you want to soften your presence so you don’t come across as intimidating, humor is a great tool to lighten the mood. Self-deprecating humor works well when appropriate. It cuts through tension, relaxes people, and opens them up to listening. While it isn’t appropriate to use humor in every situation in which you influence, finding the opportunities where you can will help you balance the credibility equation and increase your ability to influence.
I work with a lot of leaders who are out of balance when it comes to credibility. The key to improving credibility is knowing how to be both genuine and confident. Genuineness opens people’s minds and hearts to your message, and confidence moves them to take action. Skillfully striking that balance takes practice, and is one of the most valuable skills we teach in Maximum Influence. Each of the three strategies above will help you connect with people on an emotional level and increase your ability to influence.
Are you looking to maximize your influence and become the most effective leader you can be? We’d love to work with you, too. Consider one of our public workshops on Maximum Influence or contact Dr. Heather Johnson by email or call 651-322-7821 to learn about additional ways we can bring this program to you.