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Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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Do Your Communications Have Room For Improvement?

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Every leader has room for improvement in the way they communicate with both their superiors and employees. The fast-paced workplace environment and immediate but impersonal nature of electronic communication has diminished many leaders’ ability to effectively convey their message, gain valuable feedback and lead their organization.

Surveys often show employees are concerned with the quality of communications in the workplace. Many feel companies give lip service and are not sincere in the messages they communicate. Others feel the only way information is imparted is through memos on bulletin boards. Still others feel instructions or policies are vague and difficult to interpret and follow.

This is important to recognize because ineffective communication begets poor cooperation and internal coordination, decreased productivity, and increased tension, absenteeism and turnover. Voids in communication are then filled with extremely damaging gossip and rumors. These repercussions seriously undermine a leader’s efforts to facilitate change within their organization, a crucial ability in today’s business climate.

The following is a list of proven concepts and techniques leaders can use to improve communications with both superiors and employees.

Communication: A Two-Way Process⎯Not a Monologue

Leaders should understand that communication does not end when they are finished delivering their message. Whether with superiors or employees, it is a two-way process that involves both giving information and receiving feedback. It is an ongoing exchange as questions are answered, additional information is given, and further feedback and input solicited.

Emphasize Personal Communications

The convenience of voice and email has made impersonal communications a reality for many leaders. Rather than rely on these electronic media as well as bulletin boards, memos and other like methods of communication, leaders should rely on personal exchanges and stress face-to-face meetings where possible. This helps eliminate miscommunication as leaders can readily interpret nonverbal facial expressions and body language.
Be Specific

Vague statements or instructions cause most miscommunication by failing to clearly and concisely direct or inform employees/superiors. Since vagueness is open to a variety of interpretations, confusion quickly sets in.

Every time a leader conveys a message or gives an instruction, they must ask if what they are communicating is clear, concise and specific. If not, they must restructure the communication so that it is.

Information Is… A Service

“Information is power” is a widely used phrase. The problem is, instead of sharing information, many managers and leaders hoard it as a method of wielding power over others.

Leaders should view the delivery and availability of information as a service to both their superiors and employees that enables them to be more productive and make better-informed decisions. It is in this service sense that information should be considered powerful.

Show Respect

Effective and open communication demands that all parties respect one another. This means that leaders, superiors and employees demonstrate respect for what each other has to say. They ask questions to show interest and further clarify key points. When this is done, all will feel an important part of a team and tend to be both more dedicated and productive.

An Open-Door Policy

Leaders don’t give lip service to an open-door policy, they practice it. They take the time to be among and interact with their employees. They keep their finger on the pulse of the organization by openly discussing needs and problems and allowing employees to disagree and contribute new ideas and insights.

This practice demonstrates a sincere concern for employees—and builds an endearing sense of loyalty. The impact it can have on a leader’s organization cannot be overemphasized. Actively and continually showing care and concern dramatically increases productivity and personal dedication.

One-on-One Meetings

Where possible leaders should have one-on-one meetings with their employees to develop insight and ideas regarding how to increase productivity within the organizational unit. Discussions should focus on ways leaders and employees can help one another be more productive.

Build Credibility

Without personal credibility, no matter how hard a leader tries he or she will fail to communicate. Unless leaders create a climate of credibility, they will not be trusted or believed by their employees. This destroys any ability or image of leadership. True leaders deliver on their promises and do what they say they will do.


Communication Must Be Personalized To Be Effective

Building Employee Support Requires Interactive Leadership

Encourage Questions to Improve Open Communication

Excerpt: Improving Communication in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Leaders Are Judged By The Actions They Take

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Herb-Kelleher - Founder of Southwest AirlinesPhoto by William-Thomas-Cain-Getty-Images

Herb-Kelleher – Founder of Southwest Airlines
Photo by William Thomas Cain-Getty Images

Of all the leaders surveyed, the great ones were individuals who consistently displayed their integrity and character. No matter what happened in their lives: adversity, controversies, failure and defeat, their character shined through. It established deep personal credibility with each of their constituencies, as well as all others that came into contact with them.

First and foremost, leaders are judged by the actions they take. Today’s high profile leaders are prominently visible to all of their key constituencies. They make speeches and presentations to employees, shareholders, financial analysts, and the public in general.

Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) exemplifies this. “He’s totally true to himself and totally consistent between his private life and his public life. He’s totally consistent between his public speeches and his private speeches. You could look at a speech that Herb gave to the annual shareholders meeting of 2002 and compare it to his message to the field in 1992 and compare it to a letter to employees in 1982 and find tremendous consistency in terms of adherence to core values.

So the absolute adherence to extraordinarily high professional principles of ethical conduct and fair dealing, is just remarkable over time. So he built up a reservoir of credibility not only among employees but other people.”[1]

Many leaders may sound impressive, but simultaneously undermine their credibility since their actions fail to mirror their words. In some instances, leaders’ actions contradict their company’s mission statement, resulting in confusion within their organization. In either case, their personal actions become corrosive to the organizational culture, as well as their own individual credibility.

As a high profile leader, Carly Fiorina’s (Hewlett Packard) actions were highly scruntized and undermined her credibility. “Fiorina came in with a mandate of change, but didn’t make any effort to build trust between herself and the company. Indeed, she sullied her image by exalting herself without regard to her employees’ reactions.

Buying a personal jet in front of a distrustful and alienated workforce is one example. Freezing employee salaries while giving herself and her executive ilk bonuses is another. Doing these things in light of nearly 18,000 employee dismissals (2003) is just plain callous.”[2]

Leaders’ actions set the tone for their organization, whether they realize it or not. They can either inspire or generate resentment in their employees. Fred Smith (FedEx) inspired his organization by setting a tone where all his employees felt they could share in the success of the company.

He stated, “One of the biggest principles is that you’ve got to take action. Most large organizations reach a static point. They cannot take any action, because there are all types of barriers to doing so. There are institutionalized barriers that weren’t there when the company was considerably smaller. What changes is your knowledge and your appreciation of how to deal with those institutional barriers, to eliminate them or use them to your advantage in achieving those changes. There are myriad number of changes that have to take place in the management style for the company to continue growing.”[3]

“’Andy [Grove][Intel] has always been a teacher – often by example,’ says Ron Whittier, senior vice president in charge of content development… Yet I don’t think he wants to be remembered as a great visionary – but as someone who made things happen and created a great company.’”[4]

All constituencies expect leaders to be fair, just and consistent. Any perception of cronyism and the use of internal politics to develop an advantage for one individual or group generates unintended consequences, as these policies and actions are replicated at lower levels. Yet, for certain types of leaders, potential gains are too tempting not to employ these practices.

Their focus on personal gain, however, becomes transparent to the rest of the organization. This destroys trust and channels of openness and honesty throughout the company. Fredrick Joseph (Drexel Burnham) created a dysfunctional culture when he ignored the unethical practices and securities violations of high-powered Michael Milken, and his creation of the junk bond business. The insider-trader scandals surrounding Milken ultimately led to the largest bankruptcy in Wall Street history at that time.

These actions hamper leaders’ abilities to instill their ideas, beliefs and values in others, and significantly hinder them when communicating sweeping strategies that are needed to move organizations forward. Rather than unite different factions, they splinter any existing unity, as different groups jockey for position. Leaders in this position typically tend to use their authority and power in a repressive rather than productive manner. It saps the company’s available resources and diminishes its productivity.

A notable and well-publicized example of this practice is Al Dunlap (Sunbeam). “In Dunlap’s presence, knees trembled and stomachs churned. Underlings feared the torrential harangue that Dunlap could unleash at any moment. At his worst, he became viciously profane, even violent. Executives said he would throw papers or furniture, bang his hands on his desk, and shout so ferociously that a manager’s hair would be blown back by the stream of air that rushed from Dunlap’s mouth. “Hair spray day” became a code phrase among execs, signifying a potential tantrum.”[5]

My research of some of the poorest performing leaders substantiated that many also made questionable and highly risky financial decisions that placed their companies at risk, and placed the well being of shareholders far above the interests of their customers.

“In the service of a quick buck, he [Al Dunlap – Sunbeam] imposed brutal pressure on honest people, placing their careers, incomes, health insurance, and pensions at stake. He made impossible, irrational demands that were ruinous to the long-term prosperity of companies. The leadership style he practiced was inconsistent with good business, thoughtful management, a strong economy….”[6]

Jon Huntsman (Huntsman Chemical) observed. “People often offer as an excuse for lying, cheating, and fraud that they were pressured into it by high expectations or that “everyone does it.” Some claim that it is the only way they can keep up. Those excuses sound better than the real reasons they choose the improper course: arrogance, power trips, greed, and lack of backbone, all of which are equal-opportunity afflictions.”[7]

The great leaders were committed to others and demanded excellence from all. They forged building blocks of growth and were proactive as they mastered execution of their plans within all levels of their organization.

They demanded accountability on all levels and did not delegate this responsibility. They held themselves equally accountable, and adhered to the same standards as were established for the lowest level employee. This typically appealed to their personal sense of fairness.

“More than anyone, leaders should welcome being held accountable. Nothing builds confidence in a leader more than a willingness to take responsibility for what happens during his watch. One might add that nothing builds a stronger case for holding employees to a high standard than a boss who holds himself to even higher ones.”[8]

These leaders were passionate, and demonstrated a high level of personal drive and resilience. These factors made it possible to build emotional connections with key constituencies, especially needed during difficult periods.

Finally, one of the most notable distinctions of great leaders was found in their restraint and self-control. It inspired confidence in all key constituencies. A key example of this trait was the composure and stature James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) displayed during the Tylenol scare. His actions are attributed to saving that brand and securing the company’s impeccable reputation.


  1. Legitimacy: The Sole Basis of Leadership
  2. Does Compassion and Empathy Have a Role in Leadership?
  3. Your Commitment to Others Defines You as a Leader


  1. Yeh Raymond T. with Yeh Stephanie H., The Art of Business: In the Footsteps of Giants (Zero Time Publishing, 2004)
  2. Knufken, Drea, 10 Reasons People Hate Carly Fiorina (Business Pundit) June 18, 2008
  3. Hafner, Katie, Fred Smith: The Entrepreneur Redux (Inc. Magazine, June 1, 1984)
  4. Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)
  5. Byrne, John A., Chainsaw (Harper Business, 1999, 2003) p 353-354
  6. Gallagher Bill, Once a Bum, Always a Bum (Niagara Falls Reporter, January 29, 2002)
  7. Huntsman, Jon M., Winners Never Cheat Even in Difficult Times (Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2008) p 35
  8. Giuliani, Rudolph, Leadership (Hyperion, New York, 2002) p 70

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Eight Actions Determine If You Can Be Trusted

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As seen in numerous large-scale corporate scandals around the turn of the century, trust or a lack thereof has a dramatic impact on an organization. While an organization can be defined as trusting and empowering, it is the individuals within it who form the basis for these qualities.

The responsibility for fostering and nurturing trust does not lie with the bottom tiers of the organization, but the managers that lead it. Where there is no trust, there is no legitimacy to management. The starting point is the personal commitment made by individual managers.

Trust and empowerment stem from the individual actions of the manager. However, once initiated, trust and empowerment create a synergy within the organization that has the ability to move it forward to unimaginable heights.

As soon as employees know they can trust the words and actions of their managers, they are motivated. All too often the words sound good, but the accompanying actions do not follow, fostering a sense of mistrust and fear within employees.

Once managers have established trust with their employees, a strong bond is formed that is difficult to break. Unless trust is broken and people feel betrayed, employees will be intensely loyal and cooperate to achieve mutual goals and objectives. This is the strongest principle of management and its essence.

Whether or not a manager is trusted is determined by his or her actions. Anyone can make statements and pronouncements; it is actions by which an individual is judged. Managers must hold to higher standards of personal behavior if they are to foster and nurture trust with their employees, who closely observe every word and action.

Managers are judged by the following criteria:

Promises and Commitments

Corporate managers are placed under an enormous amount of stress and will miss commitments, especially minor ones made in the heat of daily activities. However, they pay close attention to what they say, and do what they promise. If unable to keep their commitment, they immediately inform the other party and make alternative arrangements.

Employees take note of a manager who makes a personal commitment but fails to keep it due to political or internal pressures. If when confronted with this failure they make excuses rather than take responsibility, they will be perceived as hypocritical. Employees with little other alternative may accept the excuse, but will inwardly feel betrayed and no longer trust the manager. The foundation for management has been greatly undermined.


As part of the human condition, everybody makes mistakes and fails. When managers make mistakes, they often impact and affect their organization. Trust is established when managers openly acknowledge their mistakes to their employees and apologize for them.

Managers also allow their employees to experiment, make mistakes and fail without repercussions. They foster an atmosphere where employees can learn from their mistakes and move on. Managers understand that individuals can only grow when they are allowed to learn. The most effective learning experiences stem not from successes but failures and mistakes.


Managers give and demand loyalty from their employees. While they understand that loyalty is earned, they do not tolerate employees who are disloyal to their organization and each other.

The most open demonstration of a manager’s own lack of loyalty can be seen in his or her constant and open criticism of superiors and employees in their absence. While loyalty is not blind, managers must demonstrate, at all times, a deep sense of allegiance to the organization, superiors, associates and employees.

If a manager takes issue with the actions of others, they should openly but privately discuss it with the individual and not criticize them behind his or her back.


Managers as leaders show faith in their employees when they share information with them. In many organizations, the control of information is the basis of personal power.

Managers understand that employees must be informed if they are to do their job well and be empowered to make decisions affecting their work. Those who withhold information clearly demonstrate their mistrust of employees.


Trust is established with employees when they are included and empowered to make decisions that affect them. Trust is undermined when employees are enabled to make decisions but the decisions are never acted upon and implemented.

Effective managers actively work with their employees and trust their decisions. They work with their employees in implementing their decisions and striving toward the accomplishment of mutual goals and objectives.


Trust is fostered and nurtured when managers recognize the individual contributions of their employees and publicly recognize them for their efforts.

When new ideas and strategies work, managers who lead never accept the credit for the idea. They always acknowledge the efforts and contributions of their employees. To do otherwise betrays the trust of those employees.


Managers build trust within their organization by maintaining open communications with all employees, superiors and associates. They understand that trust is only established when they communicate regardless of the situation and circumstances, and whether or not the information is positive or negative.

Goals and objectives are effectively met when all involved have a complete picture of what is happening around them, including the barriers and obstacles to be overcome.

Respect Confidentiality

Managers understand trust is developed when they respect and honor confidential and sensitive information provided to them by superiors, associates and employees.

They also know they must trust their employees with the confidential and sensitive information they need to do their jobs and make quality decisions. Without this confidence, managers will not be able to create a trusting environment since they are evincing a basic suspicion of their employees.


  1. Legitimacy: The Sole Basis of Leadership
  2. How Credible Are You as a Leader?
  3. You Are Judged by the Actions You Take

Excerpt: Building and Nurturing Trust in the Workplace: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Ethics: Actions Do Have Consequences

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Although ethics and personal integrity appear to have a diminishing role in our culture, when a massive failure of ethics and moral standards results in corporate implosions such as the Enron bankruptcy, as well as the collapse of the financial markets people notice. There is no question that in business, the highest moral and ethical standards are expected and demanded.

Actions do have consequences. Despite the thinking in popular culture that has helped enable a number of political leaders’ “ethical lapses,” in business ethics and integrity are closely paid attention to by superiors, associates, subordinates—and most importantly, customers.

All of these people judge managers and employees by their actions, not their words. Even a minor lapse in ethical judgment is not easily forgiven or forgotten.

This is important for managers to consider because their behavior impacts people on multiple levels. The consequences and implications of any ethical decision are far-reaching and must be carefully thought through before the action is taken.

The moral and ethical behavior of a manager has many consequences and implications beyond an immediate judgment or choice. Ethical behavior and integrity play an essential role in any manager’s position, for the following reasons:


The basis of all relationships is trust. Managers are primarily responsible for the directing of human resources. While they may also be responsible for the tools and equipment associated with business, their primary charge is the management of their individual employees. In this capacity, they are dealing with superiors and subordinates in financial terms.

Superiors are relying on the manager to provide accurate reports and records of their unit’s activities. The employee relies on the manager to assure that his or her efforts are supported and performance accurately reported.

The foundation of and glue that holds these relationships together is trust. Any ethical lapse is considered a breach of trust and will result in the pillars of management collapsing. Once this occurs, the manager has lost their effectiveness.

Related: Can You Be Trusted? The Answer May Surprise You


Rapport is the building and nurturing of quality relationships. This is a term normally used to describe relationships among employees, but it goes beyond this. Managers require good rapport at all levels with their superiors, subordinates and associates.

The manager’s role is to act as a liaison between the various levels they are in communication with. The employee has access to his or her manager. The manager has full access from senior management to support staff.

Exceptional management, support and communication means the manager must actively maintain good rapport at every level. However, building relationships and establishing rapport is a people skill that further demands trust and ethical behavior. These are the cornerstones of building rapport on all levels. Any degree of moral and ethical failure at any level will undermine the manager’s efforts and effectiveness.

Related: Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness


There are managers who have undoubtedly displayed lapses in moral and ethical judgment, yet still maintained their job and position. They may have shielded their actions from their superiors, but not from their subordinates. In some instances they may have made statements or promises and failed to follow up on them.

In any ethical failure, they have betrayed the trust of their subordinates. When this occurs, these managers have lost credibility in the eyes of their people, which more often than not results in sapping their motivation.

Employees will either leave or let their performance drop knowing their manager has little integrity. While these managers might think they have won in the short-term, in the long run there are profound consequences to be paid.

Related: Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility


Managers who have betrayed trust cannot be relied upon. If this occurs between the manager and his or her superiors, it is dealt with on the senior level, normally resulting in termination.

A loss of credibility with individual employees will result in them being unable to trust the manager. Rapport with these individuals will be eroded to the point that all work-related effectiveness is lost.

The consequences will be a revolving door of people under the manager’s responsibility, as any respectable person will not continue under these circumstances.

Related: Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness


A person’s reputation is the most valued possession that they have. Once destroyed, a personal reputation is difficult, if not impossible, to restore. The same is true for a company’s reputation.

A manager holds the responsibility for both his or her reputation as well as the company’s. His or her personal actions have a double, if not triple, impact since senior managers, his or her subordinates, and the company’s customers are continually examining his or her actions. This is an awesome responsibility unparalleled in magnitude in any organizational environment.

Related: You Are Judged by the Actions You Take

Excerpt: Ethics & Integrity: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series by Timothy Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

An Accurate Predictor of Leadership Performance

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The Legitimacy Principles enumerate the linkages of leaders’ legitimacy, credibility, trust and a balance of emotional standing and bonds with all key constituencies. The synergetic relationship between these key factors of success is the foundation of effective leadership and provides insight into a new definition of it.

The fundamental essence of leadership is legitimacy, whose substance is based upon authority and validity. While authority is conferred, validity is earned through the development of credibility, trust and a balance of emotional standing and connections with all key constituencies.

The presence of the Legitimacy Principles endow leaders with the authority to lead, manage, execute, empower, effectively communicate, sell their vision, generate a passion for success, and overcome adversity. Their absence results in ultimate failure as an effective leader.

– The Legitimacy Principles

The use and application of the Legitimacy Principles are an influential standard of leadership performance. A close examination of the key components comprising the Principles reveals that it incorporates virtually every aspect of effective leadership and management required to be successful in leading a corporation, especially in the dynamic environment of the 21st Century.

Whether utilized by individuals who desire to evaluate their own performance, or companies who wish to evaluate the progress and effectiveness of their individual leaders, the Principles will reveal gaps in performance and weaknesses that need to be addressed.

Boards of directors and investors can apply it to assess the performance of senior management to determine if their strategies are effective in achieving specific goals and objectives. Most strategies manifest the worldview of the leaders who create them.

This is evidenced in case after case, where the great leaders who met the criteria of the Legitimacy Principles generated impressive performance and financial results, such as Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines), Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn), Arthur Blank (Home Depot), and Andrew Carnegie (Carnegie Steel), just to cite a few.

It was not unusual to see corporate performance diminish after these individuals left their companies and were replaced by those who did not completely meet the criteria of the Legitimacy Principles.

Jim Collins documented his research on exceptional company performance in Good to Great (Harper Business, New York, NY, 2001). Included in my research are also some leaders of the companies he evaluated. In his subsequent book, How the Mighty Fall (Harper Collins, New York, NY 2009) he attempted to explain why some of the original companies he studied no longer excelled.

In each case the key leadership changed, a factor Collins alludes to, but does not conclusively link to reductions in performance. In correlating my research with his I discovered that those placed in new leadership positions no longer appeared to meet the criteria of the Legitimacy Principles.

Consequently their company’s performance faltered. Collins bases his research upon the analysis of financial data, while mine focuses upon specific leadership dimensions. The fact that in selected examples we both arrive at the same conclusions validates the findings of my research even though we approached the problem from two distinct perspectives.

If the Legitimacy Principles disclose a leadership imbalance in senior management, most certainly it will be reflected in their thinking and plans. It will be a reliable predictor for future performance.

Once the concepts behind the Legitimacy Principles are understood, these can be easily applied to evaluate leaders in all walks of life, including politicians seeking election.

It may require changing the constituencies where emotional bonds are formed to suit the position of the leader. Obviously, politicians have a different set of constituencies than would a corporate leader. With that said, all of the criteria still remains applicable. Its utilization will reveal the focus and impetus of the leader being analyzed.

For the individual who doesn’t think the practices of past leaders don’t have any relevance today, the identification of the Legitimacy Principles and their successful application by great leaders spanning 235 years substantiates their validity.

Circumstances may have changed, but the great leaders of years past faced similar problems and obstacles as leaders do today. They needed to deal with rapid change and globalization, albeit in a slower form, but the challenges they faced were no less formidable, and they prevailed. What we can learn from them can definitely help overcome our current leadership crisis.

For more information on this topic and to read a free chapter, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Professional Credibility Evaluates the Leader’s Professional Abilities

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Steve Jobs – Founder – Apple Computer

Lead by Example. Simply stated, walk the talk. At Home Depot, we never expected our associates to do anything we didn’t do ourselves… You simply can’t ask anyone to do something you won’t do yourself.” – Arthur Blank

Professional credibility is an assessment of the leader’s skills and abilities. Simply put, does the leader possess the tools to do the job?

As leaders face challenges and must overcome pressing problems and issues, it is a question that will continually arise in the minds of all constituencies, and will be viewed through the lens of their individual agendas.

Where personal credibility assesses the leader as a trustworthy individual, professional credibility evaluates the leader’s professional abilities. However, both are closely aligned, as questions or doubts of a leader’s veracity and trustworthiness may taint his or her professional credibility.

An example of this occurred when Steve Jobs (Apple Computer) negotiated a deal with Carly Fiorina (Hewlett Packard) so that Hewlett Packard could manufacture a HP-branded iPod. The deal included a provision that Apple would work with HP to develop transcoding, so the device would be compatible with the Windows Media player.

After the deal was agreed to, Jobs never allowed the transcoding, “but the contract still locked HP out of the MP3 player market until Apple dominated it. Effectively, Steve Jobs “Steve’d,” HP and people there are still pissed. Right or wrong, it worked …” This typifies the behavior of a leader who may have professional credibility and be deficient in personal credibility. [1]

The Jobs’ example illustrates how a leader’s professional credibility might impact a company’s performance and profitability. This includes taking financial risks that may place the company’s sustainability at risk, or as in Job’s case, make it liable to potential lawsuits.

While Jobs achieved a strategic advantage over Hewlett-Packard, and may have been considered extremely clever, by some individuals, it damaged both his and Apple’s credibility.

Other notable examples of leaders who took enormous financial risks include Richard Fuld (Lehman Brothers), Martin Sullivan (AIG), Jimmy Cayne (Bear Sterns), as well as a host of other CEO’s.

Their professional incompetence resulted in causing financial havoc, not only on their companies, but also upon the economy as a whole.

All of these examples underscore the importance of a leader’s professional credibility to their company’s performance and sustainability, especially to all key constituencies. Without any, the company can flounder and ultimately fail.


1. Enderle, Rob, Apple Without Steve Is Like Disney Without Walt (Tech News World, January 19, 2009)

For more information on this topic and to read a free chapter, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

The Dynamic Nature of Credibility

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Ross Perot

When leaders are selected to lead, a reservoir of trust, confidence and credibility is automatically established, similar to an opening balance when one creates a bank account. The factors that contribute to this include:


Prior to their selection of a leader, boards of directors or selection committees will establish a series of expectations that will be used during the evaluation process to filter the appropriate candidates and select the one who is determined to be the best.

Therefore, leaders are selected to meet the expectations of the board and investors and to fulfill specific goals and objectives. At the CEO level, these may include such things as producing growth, entering into new markets and increasing profitability, etc.

Related: Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility


Leaders will normally undergo a selection process that establishes their initial level of credibility. The evaluation process will review the following:

Personal Credibility

Assesses individual reputation and trustworthiness.

Professional Credibility

Assesses the individual’s abilities, skills and capabilities to perform the job and to meet expectations.


Assesses the individual’s competence and evaluates past performance.

Outcomes and Results

Assesses the track record and the professional accomplishments of the individual.

If individuals are promoted from within an organization, they will have an established base of credibility in these four areas that are readily verified. They also may have established it with one or more of the company’s key constituencies.

This will vary by the previous exposure individuals may have had with these groups. Otherwise, credibility is established through the selection process including interviews, performance reviews and reference checks.

Related: Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility


Initial levels of confidence are rooted in the beliefs of the board or selection committee that the individual possesses the capabilities and experience to meet their expectations. The authority granted to leaders is affirmed by these three factors.

At this point, the only basis of their legitimacy is the authority conferred upon them. They may have initial levels of validity, based upon reputation and past performance, but to the core constituencies, the leader must verify that validity in their minds.

After the selection process, their levels of validity, confidence and credibility will either rise or fall. This is based upon the same four factors used by a selection committee, including:

  • Personal Credibility
  • Professional Credibility
  • Competence
  • Outcomes and Results

Unlike the selection process, the key constituencies will continually use these criteria to gauge leaders’ performance as long as their tenure continues in the company. The research demonstrates that positive performance in each of these areas will generate specific levels of trust, confidence and loyalty, which enable leaders to establish emotional connections and standing with them.

Analysis of the great leaders validates that credibility is not static. Levels rose and fell as circumstances changed. This doesn’t mean the leaders were not credible or couldn’t be trusted. It revealed that only degrees of confidence varied with key constituencies at any single point in time.

The research illustrated that the emotional bonds and standing established by leaders appeared to carry more weight over the long term. This allowed them to maintain their credibility during difficult periods. When these occurred, their constituencies were willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. This validates the clear correlation between credibility and emotional support when it is most needed. As was previously noted, elevated and sustained levels of credibility generate strong bonds of loyalty.

Conversely, the research showed that key constituencies often abandon leaders with poor or diminishing levels of credibility. Major missteps or unethical actions and inept decision-making erode credibility to the point where some leaders never recover. This is exemplified by traumatic events such as restructurings, major layoffs, organizational chaos, or strikes.

In some cases a leader’s validity and legitimacy may be completely lost. Carly Fiorina (Hewlett Packard) experienced this after her failed attempts to radically change her company’s culture. In her case, she had developed problems within all four categories. This resulted in the loss of emotional standing with all her key constituencies. It destroyed her validity to lead. In the end, we all heard of the widely publicized loss of her position as CEO of Hewlett Packard.

Many corporate leaders fail to understand the holistic impact their actions and decisions have upon personal credibility and levels of trust with key constituencies. They also often fail to understand the synergy and bonds of emotional connection and standing within these groups, and the importance to keep them in balance. As previously mentioned, any imbalance will generate additional credibility problems and trust-related issues.

Ross Perot achieved high levels of credibility with the public when he staged a daring rescue of his employees from Iran, during the Islamic Revolution in 1979. It was further enhanced when he ran for President in 1992. He had a number of nationally televised events, where he presented his solutions for solving the nation’s problems.

However, on the night of the election, he quickly destroyed his credibility by making light of his efforts, leaving many who voted for him feeling betrayed. While much of the public initially viewed him as a credible leader, he failed to show his concern and appreciation after the election. This caused many of his supporters to feel used, leaving them disenchanted. After this episode, he never again achieved the levels of prominence in the minds of his supporters he once had.

Related: “Leaders Should Set a Clear and Decisive Tone at the Top”

For more information on this topic, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It by Timothy F. Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011).

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2012 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved


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