Credibility Counts: Cutting the Rope

February 21, 2023

by Stephen T. Messenger

“Credibility is a leader’s currency. With it, he or she is solvent; without it, he or she is bankrupt.”

—John Maxwell

Our organization was recently assigned a fairly difficult task on a short deadline. Everyone knew it would be challenging to meet, and we tried our best to accomplish it.

On the final afternoon of the task, we were still a few items short of finishing the job and sitting at a crossroad. We could either finish tomorrow or work late into the night to meet the original goal. The consequences for this failure were minimal and others had already reported they would finish the next day.

The End of the Rope

We all encounter these situations. Sometimes it’s small such as finishing the dishes like you said you would before bedtime. Sometimes it’s big like meeting the boss’ deadline.

But every task is a chance to earn credibility with others. Every task is also a chance to lose it.  

In our family, we talk about this by the amount of rope you have. Early on, our youngest was struggling with credibility. He wouldn’t listen, do his chores, and frequently lied about what he did or didn’t do. He had trouble understanding that the more reliable he was, the more freedom he gained.

I grabbed a long rope and tied it gently around his waist, letting out about 20 feet of slack. “This is great,” I told him. “You can walk around the room. I can walk around the room. And neither of us are really affected.

“But each time you fail to do something or lie, I trust you less. I take back some rope.” Gathering most of the slack, we now only had a few feet between us. “So, when I want to go to the kitchen, you have to come with me,” I said and slowly pulled him into the other room.

“When you gain trust, you get more rope,” and I let it out so he could wander the room again.

The Boss’ Rope

Our bosses have a mental rope they give us all the time. Author Richie Norton says, “Success brings a measure of credibility. The fastest way to turn credibility into authority is to deliver results.”

Your boss wants to cut the rope on you. Just like you want to give unlimited rope to your employees, bosses want you to have the authority and autonomy to run independently and make things happen. As Norton states, this can be done by constantly delivering results.

The more reliable you are, the less likely you’ll be tied to a rope.

I’ve had a few bosses who when we first started working together, gave trust on the first day. I’ve had a few who initially gave no trust and publicly announced that you must earn it.

This always resonated with me. I want to be the type of leader who shows up to a new organization and doesn’t even have a mental rope tethering me to others. One of my favorite sayings is, “I trust you even more than you trust yourselves.”

It’s so important to cut the rope that limits imagination, creativity, authority, and initiative. And it’s equally important your boss untethers you.

Beware the Test

On that late night task we spoke of earlier, our team finished with 24 minutes to spare. After submitting it within the deadline, the response we received was, “Thanks.”

It wasn’t like being lifted into the air after a game-winning home run, but what it did was show that we’re going to work relentlessly to accomplish any task given, and you can trust us in the future with your hardest projects.

For those that completed the task the day after the deadline, the response was most likely the same, “Thanks.” But in the background, credibility was lost. Events such as this differentiate between the doers and can’t or won’t-doers. It demonstrates who’s going to meet deadlines and who’s going to fail. And it shows who’s going to ace the test when it matters.

Credibility Is Currency

Leaders demonstrate credibility every day in every task. It’s based on the quality and speed you deliver products. If you’re constantly producing results for your boss, you’re banking currency and demonstrating credibility.

Same is true for those who work for you. You may not realize it, but you’re mentally tallying who is delivering and who is not.

Think about what you do to deliver and increase credibility. And how you give it to others. It will serve you well in the future!

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