Credibility is a key element in effective leadership and depends on the effective use of closure conversations. Most people realize that credibility is built by telling the truth. But credibility is also built by doing what you said you would do by when you said you would do it and when you don’t, acknowledging the failure to do so, apologize for the consequences, and repairing the damage by having closure conversations. When leaders don’t do the “cleaning up”, they undermine their credibility and reduce their effectiveness.
The impact of failing to have closure conversations is indicated in a study of mergers among Canadian hospitals. According to the authors, credibility was central to the ability of leaders to take actions and get the support of others in making the mergers happen. When leaders kept their promises and did what they told people they would do, their credibility was enhanced and they were able to do more. However, when they didn’t keep their promises, or did things contrary to what they led their followers to believe they would do, their credibility was diminished and they became less effective.
What is interesting is that the leaders who did not keep their promises apparently did nothing to “clean up” the broken promises and unfulfilled expectations. The research on trust indicates that closure conversations, in which people acknowledge they betrayed their promise and authentically apologize, rather than blame circumstances, and then commit to changing their actions in the future, are every effective in repairing broken trust. Had the leaders in the merger study had closure conversations, they would have been able to reduce the negative impact that resulted from not doing what they said.
Leaders depend on credibility and credibility depends on authentically “owning up” when things don’t go as promised or expected through closure conversations.