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I’ve been thinking a lot about believability these days.  I’m certain it has absolutely nothing to do with all the political campaigns!  But I’ve been trying to apply a sniff test for leadership in organizations.  Here’s my thinking…

When a leader stands in front of us and words come out of his/her mouth, do we believe what he is saying?  What’s the process that we go through?  The very first thing that happens is that we have a gut check.  That warning signal (actually usually in our actual stomach area) that says, “Yep, that makes sense” or “Not so fast Sparky”.  What happens next is a bunch of stuff that rolls around in our heads.  Is the leader reflecting a point of view that I agree with?  Is he telling me news I am glad to hear?  Is she using a tone of voice that appeals to me or underscores the veracity of what is being said?  Did I wake up on the right side of the bed today?  Did I remember to take my meds?

In other words, our initial reactions are usually intuitive…and often spot on.  But we are quickly overrun with a jumble of more intellectual musings and weighing of pros and cons.  And most of the time this process happens within moments.  Sure, we might reflect later on…and even change our minds occasionally…but mostly we decide early on if we believe someone or not.

Trust me, most human beings have well tuned shit detectors.  We know when something just doesn’t ring true.  When those bells go off, your credibility is shot and it is tough to come back from that.

So what does this have to do with your leadership?

Beware the shit detector.  Honor the shit detector.  When you open your mouth, tell the truth…or the truth you are able to tell at the time.  “We just missed hitting our numbers last quarter but we have safe guards in place to pull us through.  Keep up the good work and we expect an upward trend this coming quarter.”  Believable?  “We just missed hitting our numbers last quarter.  In spite of all the hard work you have put in we still have a gap.  It’s too early to panic but the leadership team has the responsibility of coming up with contingency plans.  We’re hoping that the numbers improve in this next month…and we have some data that suggests that is the case.  Keep working hard, let us know if you have some good ideas and let’s hope things turnaround much sooner than later.”  Believable?

And which message manages the anxiety better?  A half truth filled with wishful thinking?  Or more of the truth?  I can’t think of a time when, in the absence of enough believable information, that people don’t make up their own versions of reality.  Then you have not only anxiety but it is really hard to break through the rumors and noise with actual, believable true statements.

So, be certain that what you say is truthful.  If what comes out of your mouth is not believable you may forever become the Naked Emperor.

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