One of the clearest, simplest statements about leadership that I’ve ever heard is from Dr George Hill: “People don’t follow a vision – they follow a credible leader with a vision.” Our world is over-run with both visions and leaders. If you have three people in the room chances are you will have at least four versions of what happened or what should happen next! There is no shortage of opinions floating around and lots of good ideas are put on the table every day. If we’re not careful we can quickly become confused about which way to go.
And when it comes to leadership – thousands of books have been written on the topic with hundreds more published every year. Leadership theories from one end of the spectrum to the other crowd the bookshelves and tend to leave us wondering if we’ll ever figure it all out. And I’m sure they all have some merit, but this avalanche of good advice just tends to leave me feeling that, with so much to learn, I don’t have enough years left to ever become much of a leader!
That’s where Dr. Hill’s statement cuts right to the heart of it. Sure you need a vision of a better reality. And you will definately need some kind of leadership ability and approach. But when it comes right down to it, it’s the credibility factor that compells people to follow you. It’s not the size of your dream, or the finesse of your management style that ultimately draws a crowd. It’s whether or not you are believable enough to follow. If people can’t trust you or depend on you, then they aren’t joining you, no matter how glittery your vision or how slick your style!
Now before you rush out and buy the latest book on “How To Have Instantaneous Credibility” …. There are some pretty obvious things that make leaders more credible, and most of them don’t come instantly or from just reading a book. The first is blindingly obvious – authenticity. The best way to come across as if you have no hidden agendas, false pretences, or devious motives is (wait for it…) – just don’t have any! People would rather follow an honest fool than a clever scoundrel anyday. It’s not the leader with the best alibi, but the one who quickly takes responsibility for his mistakes, who lives to lead another day. Authenticity.
The second component is track record. Although we all appreciate a leader who can be creative and original when required, the truth is that most of us prefer a one who is predictable. Of course there are a lot of things that factor into this: character, maturity, consistency, good judgement, and so on. But unless they translate into a consistently good track record, none of those things count for much by themselves. The guy who just got out of prison and says, “That’s all behind me now”, might be 100% right. But I’m still not going to follow him anywhere until I can see enough good track record to convince me!
The third obvious element of credibility, for me at least, has to be competence. When it’s all said and done there just aren’t many substitutes for simply knowing what you’re doing and being good at it. And although this could easily be part of building a good track record, the leader who can demonstrate unusual competence can sometimes fast-forward up the credibility scale. It doesn’t replace qualities like authenticity or good track record, but if there’s no reason to doubt these, a highly competent leader will gain leadership traction more rapidly than others. Think of young king Solomon – still wet behind the ears when he took over the throne of Israel’s greatest king ever – only to be put to the test with a difficult child custody dispute. His extraordinary skill in handling that one single case catapulted his credibility factor into the stratosphere!
All of this is keenly relevant in church leadership where the single most important factor in people’s decision about whether or not to join in, is the credibility of the leader. This is especially true in the early days of a new church where there is no comprehensive program, trained staff, paved parking, or sanitary nursery to draw people in.
Just a credible leader with a vision.