Want to Lead in a Crisis? Better Have Some Credibility

Oh no! my friend Mitchell says to me in mock-outrage. You too?

Yes, me too!

Yes, I too am obsessed with “Tiger King.” The riveting Netflix documentary about the seamy underside of the big animal subculture in the United States had me hooked within minutes. I find the real-life characters in this saga simply irresistible. Joe Exotic. Carole Baskin. Bhagavan Doc Antle. They each are charismatic in their own unique ways. They each have been able to attract a fervent followership and fan base. And each lives at the center of a carefully curated personality cult.

Joe and Carole and Doc are highly adept at manipulating media. They communicate with great fervor and passion. But are they just a bunch of con men and women who take advantage of gullible followers? Do they have any credibility whatsoever?

Like you, I get to know this shady cast of characters in the midst of a global pandemic. I watch this show in South Florida as the failures of the federal response to the pandemic, here in the US, become more alarming each day. I watch the actions of assorted state and federal leaders. I watch corporate CEOs and small-business owners who have to make tough decisions at lightning speed, and I find myself thinking so who do I trust here? Who knows what s/he is doing? Who is showing up as a leader under great pressure? Who has credibility here?

It’s not a pretty picture.

The communications of con artists don’t cut it in dire times.

One thing I’ve learned as an Executive Coach: You can’t effectively lead if you don’t have any credibility.

What the heck is credibility? You, like me, are listening to assorted business and government leaders message their constituents. You likely get triggered on a regular basis by the actions that leaders are, and are not, taking.

Here’s a credibility filter I have used for years as I coach corporate leaders. It’s called “The 4 C’s of Credibility.” I hope you find this framework helpful as you try to better understand your emotional reactions as you watch formal leaders, as well as the many emerging leaders who are stepping into the fray, act. I hope you also find this helpful as you take a look at how YOU show up in the world, now and in less stressful times.


Do you have the basic skills required to do your job well? Is this level of skill demonstrated, or did you just talk a good game when they hired you? The larger your role in a business enterprise or government, the more your skill boils down to 2 simple things. Can you articulate a compelling strategy that demonstrates an understanding of the complex world in which you operate? Is your strategy nimble? And are you able to attract the most brilliant talent you can find and lead collaboratively? Absent these skills you are doomed from the start. Faking competence is not pretty. In a time of crisis it’s fatal.


You do what you said you were going to do, over time. You don’t say one thing one day and one thing another. You keep your word. You keep executing. Your team keeps executing.

If you need to deviate from what you said you were going to do, you don’t do so on a whim. You have a rationale that I can understand, even if I don’t agree with it. I understand that your decisions are not mercurial. I understand that you have thoroughly considered all options, and that you’re adjusting based on this consideration. You’re not just making radical decisions because you’re having a bad day.


When the going gets tough you don’t fall apart. You hang in there. You are committed to moving through a crisis with firm action. You face what is coming your way head on. You face it with a clear a sense of urgency. You don’t pass the buck. You assume full responsibility and don’t blame others. You and your team roll up your sleeves. You act. You act quickly. You act as fast as you can. Your ability to act quickly and responsibly instills faith in me. You keep acting with considered urgency. This is commitment in action.


You are not just a selfish ego-driven bastard. You demonstrate a clear concern for the well-being of others. This is not a token concern. This is not just a bunch of nice-sounding pretty words. This concern is demonstrated via clear action that shows undisputable evidence that you understand and care.

Blah blah blah blah doesn’t cut it. Pray for others all you want. It’s not enough.

Clear policy that demonstrates your concern for others is your concern-in-action. Lucinda Ahern, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is a head of state who doesn’t just talk about being concerned about the wellness of her people. The policies Ahern has enacted are a testament to the sincerity of her concern. Corporate CEOs who slash their own compensation packages and provide above-minimum-requirement financial benefits to employees they have to furlough show that they “get it.” That’s concern in action. Want credibility? Put your concern into action.

Leadership at the highest level is all of that. It is impossible when we don’t have credibility.

I confess, I am morbidly fascinated by Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin and Bhagavan Doc Antle, with all of their glaring flaws and dubious ethics. Do I want them to lead me through a global crisis? Hello no.

Credibility matters. Now more than ever.

And yes. I believe Carole did it.