Superman is a superhero because of his many powers. However, even with all of his strengths, Superman has a vulnerability: Kryptonite; therefore, he is not perfect. He has a flaw, but in spite of this weakness, Superman’s credentials as a superhero are beyond reproach.

The greatest temptation leaders face today is the wish to appear a Superman or Superwoman to their team; to be perceived as perfect, flawless and invincible. As a leader, you might even wonder, “Why would anyone trust and follow me if I’m flawed and vulnerable?”

Often leaders and managers get caught up in a pursuit of being right, and if they are not right, they act as if they were. This is reminiscent of parents who might not know why they’ve just given a command to their children, but offer “Because I said so!” as the ultimate answer to save face. The irony is that people in every organization—just like children at home—know that their leaders aren’t seven feet tall and bulletproof. The attempt to create the illusion of perfection just distracts from and diminishes whatever credibility was there in the first place.

How to Build Credibility without Being Bullet-Proof

Credibility is the key ingredient in leadership. The Latin root word is credo, which means “I believe” or “I trust.” Credibility, like credit from a bank, is given to those who are trusted. Therefore, credibility is given to leaders whom others find believable. If you’re not believable or trusted to represent yourself honestly, you will have little credibility with your team. It may be the biggest paradox in leadership: knowledge is honored, while pretending to have knowledge is disdained.

The answer to the paradox is found in being authentic. Leaders have several key opportunities to demonstrate their genuineness.

Honor Others—Let Others Honor You

Shining a light on the accomplishments of others has many benefits. It provides reinforcement of the behaviors you want to see in the organization. It boosts morale by sending a message of success for all to see. It also teaches the habit of honoring everyone.

The tricky thing about honoring is that you can’t successfully honor yourself. Others must do the honoring; otherwise, it isn’t honoring, it’s boasting and self-promotion. If leaders try to honor themselves, they create a climate of self-importance, and soon others will duplicate the practice of slapping themselves on their own backs.

When leaders sincerely edify those around them, they themselves are elevated in the minds of others as trustworthy and humble.

Become a Learner, not a Judge

Asking good questions may be the single most significant skill for a leader to learn. A strange thing happens in the development of most leaders, often at the same moment as the arrival of a promotion. A mental switch is thrown, and what was an intelligent, question-asking human being becomes an answer-telling machine—all-knowing, all-seeing and certain of everything. It’s as if any hesitation or sense of inquiry suddenly indicates incompetence, and that’s unthinkable for someone in charge.

Every business situation presents a leader with two options: 1) jump to a conclusion and judgment, or 2) ask a question to learn more. Credible leaders are learners who ask, listen and then decide.

State Conclusions Tentatively

After gathering information and processing data, it would seem natural for a leader to just blurt out the answer and give the command. “I’ve made up my mind, so these are the marching orders” would seem to make sense. However, leaders who trust the opinions of their teams will use a different delivery strategy. Stating your conclusions tentatively means leaving a door open for other, as yet unknown facts or opinions to find the light of day.

If a leader overstates a position, it leaves no room for other positions except through confrontation. What would others dare say in response to, “Well, this is the way to go and there is no other way”? However, if instead you were to say, “The data I’ve seen has me leaning toward this option, unless there’s something I’m not aware of,” your credibility is enhanced by your openness to feedback from other members of your team.

Admit Not Knowing the Answers

Admitting that you don’t know an answer does not make you incompetent. Everyone knows that no one has all the information. Making up incorrect answers just to appear smart will most often backfire. Wise leaders are eager to seek out information through their many resources.

Being resourceful is the sign of a competent leader. Knowing how and where to get answers is more valuable and beneficial for the organization. “I don’t have that answer yet, but I know where to go looking for it,” is an important phrase for leaders to learn and demonstrate.

Apologize for Mistakes or Poor Judgments

Have you ever noticed the look of relief, maybe even surprise, on a child’s face when an adult apologizes for a mistake or for showing poor judgment?

The people on your team may react with the same surprise at first. But once they learn that you are a leader who takes personal responsibility for your decisions—especially if that includes an apology—your credibility soars. It takes strength and courage to admit mistakes to others, but the end result is stronger relationships.

Leaders shed their Superman capes when they exhibit authenticity in each of these five key areas. The illusion of perfection fades away, and in its place emerges the image of a leader who is aware of the true human condition—flawed and vulnerable, always ready to learn lessons and move on. Which kind of leader would you choose to follow?

DAVID BENZEL is the author of Chump to Champ: How to Be
Truly Outstanding at Something You Love. His experience includes six
national water-skiing titles and five records, coach of the U.S Water-ski team
and founder/coach of an international training center Winning Ways.