Archive for November 18th, 2013



pinnochio 2As Barack Obama repeatedly acknowledged last Thursday that the problematic rollout of his signature health care law has damaged his credibility with the American public, my thoughts have turned to the issue of why we believe the people who are out front on the issues we care about.

Obama conceded that the law’s mediocre debut could imperil his key second-term agenda items and that his own party is facing political pressure as public faith in him plummets.

A poll this week showed a record majority of voters–52%–said Obama is “not honest and trustworthy,” as opposed to 44% who say the opposite. The president’s repeated admission of credibility problems came as Republicans hammered the administration as untrustworthy.

“I think it’s legitimate for them to expect me to have to win back some credibility on this health care law in particular and on a whole range of these issues in general,” Obama said during a lengthy press conference.  “Am I going to have to do some work to rebuild confidence around some of our initiatives?” he added. “Yes.”

According to the newly-revised Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It, authors James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner say that credibility depends on three key qualities people most look for and admire in leaders—that they be honest, competent, and inspiring.

Despite everyone’s best intentions (as Obama’s health care rollout illustrates), things don’t always go as planned, expected, or promised. Sometimes you realize, as our president has, that you don’t have the resources or competence to do what you promised. Sometimes circumstances change, and you can no longer do what you said. Sometimes you and others make errors in judgment, choose the wrong strategies, or trust the wrong people. Sometimes you just mess up. No human being is exempt from failure.

The trouble is that leadership failures and human frailties can sometimes seriously damage your credibility. That’s why it’s important to understand what you can do to regain credibility if ever you should tarnish or lose it.

The first thing to is to banish all fear of the situation. People will accept that you are human or that your organization is imperfect. What they will not accept is if you fail to land on your feet. Remember that this screw-up is an opportunity to show what you are made of. Everybody fails occasionally, but not everybody is clever enough to use failure as an asset. Step up to it, and adopt an attitude that this failure is your friend.

According to Kouzes and Posner, when people are asked what’s the most important thing a leader should do after making a mistake, the universal response is “admit it.” You need to recover by following what they call the “Six A’s of Leadership Accountability”: Accept, Admit, Apologize, Act, Amend, and Attend.

First, you have to accept personal responsibility for your actions, and, in the case of leaders, the actions of your organization. Then you have to publicly acknowledge that you have made a mistake. Offering an apology is another important step in rebuilding credibility. It lets constituents know that you are concerned about the impact your actions may have had on them, as well as the problems your actions may have caused them. Quick action to deal with the immediate consequences of a mistake needs to follow an apology. A quick response lets others know that you are going to do something about the problem. Making amends for mistakes is also a necessary but often overlooked part of the rebuilding process. People don’t expect you to resign for an honest error or lapse in judgment, but they do expect some form of reparation or personal participation in the hardship. The amends should fit the problem. And finally, to make sure that you are attuned to the influence your actions are having on restoring lost credibility, you should pay close attention to the reactions of your constituents.

This is Leadership 101, and people expect this minimally of their leaders. Whether Obama will satisfy their expectations will only be proved over time. The so-called leaders in Congress have lost the people’s confidence because people can see they are just a bunch of strutting peacocks who are more concerned with assigning blame and cock-blocking one another’s initiatives than reaching any reasonable solution to the health care problem.

Health care is an issue that won’t go away. Even when the current difficulties are solved, other problems will emerge. It is time for our leaders to grow up, stop bullshitting us, and get to work.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Jiminy Cricket & Pinocchio performing “Give A Little Whistle”