Executive Missteps: How to Recover from Loss of Credibility


Loss of credibility is one of the toughest career setbacks for an executive to recover from. Leaders often equate their own credibility to the believability and relative weight that their ideas carry—but that’s only part of the equation. An executive can gain or lose credibility in a variety of ways. Here are the two most common causes—and how we coach leaders to recover from them.

Thought Credibility

Say, for example, a leader lays out a vision for a new service or product, but the change does not take effect or does not achieve the desired results and impact. When ideas fail to materialize or a leader’s work misses the mark, leaders may lose “thought credibility.” In response, executives can be tempted to place blame on others or minimize the failure. While the executive may avoid blame once or twice, these behaviors never rebuild credibility over the long haul and can quickly ruin an executive's professional reputation.

To recover, take full responsibility – the sooner, the better. We coach our executives to acknowledge the problem or mistake in a straightforward way. “Embrace the mistake,” we say! This philosophy of ‘radical accountability’ can feel scary and painful, but it drives the better outcome almost every time. The next step in course correction for the executive is to share their plan to learn from the mistake—including opening lines of feedback from key stakeholders—and fix/repair the problem moving forward.

Leadership Credibility

"Leadership credibility," or the ability to drive results through others, is another common risk area. Leaders (usually!) have good ideas themselves, but often have trouble inspiring the best performance in others—especially as business circumstances vary and require proficiency in a variety of leadership styles. An executive may be tremendously intelligent, but if in a new role she doesn’t capitalize on others’ good ideas, fails to partner well, or fails to develop her team, it will be very difficult to build alignment around her agenda.

Loss of leadership credibility is so hard to recover from that we try to preempt it from the get-go. To do so, we help executives develop their charter, assess their team, and understand the culture they work in early on, so that they know how to drive the right leadership behaviors for the specific situation and organization they are in. 

Common examples of failed leadership include leaders who

  • Micromanage a team of high performers, and

  • Manage up, but fail to invest in their direct reports.

These common mistakes create resistance, which is the consequence of a loss of leadership credibility. If people do not buy into an executive's leadership style, it will be very hard to have credibility long term, as results will be painfully slow. 

Fitting into a culture ‘enough’ to move an agenda, executing on the right priorities, and being the leader your team needs for a given situation is a delicate balance. Getting all three endeavors right is the challenge executives face in any role.

It’s a tough task, but it can be done – and executive coaching can help.

With years of experience helping executives at Fortune 100 companies and industry-shifting startups thrive in their roles, we have the experience to help you thrive, too.

Want to recapture your credibility as an executive? Get in touch with us.