“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. 
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.
- 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 sample 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).