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YOUR CAREER

8 proven ways to totally destroy your credibility as a manager

A manager can have great knowledge and great skills, but without credibility with both attorneys and staff, don’t expect success. What is credibility? It can be defined as “what we do and how we do it that causes others to respect and believe us.” The “what-we-do” is the tangible things—the work and its results. The “how-we-do-it” is the behavior that demonstrates a person’s capability. And it’s the latter that counts. Here are eight ways managers can kill credibility and at the same time kill their careers.

1 Decisions in the dark

Explain changes. To leave staff in the dark on the why of things tells them their opinions have no value. It’s also a hint that the manager doesn’t know enough about what’s going on to answer their questions. Particularly offensive is the situation where manager and staff discuss a matter and come to a decision. Then additional information comes in, the manager is forced to change that decision, and staff never hears the reason for the change. As a result, trust and credibility are lost. Staff have been duped. All of it could have been avoided just by telling them “your recommendations were good, but we had to make a change and here’s why.”

2 Dodging the blame

Own up to mistakes. Suppose the attorneys complain that the billing is slow. Don’t respond with, “it’s So-and-So’s fault” or “I can’t get the front desk to turn in accurate data” or “we have had a lot of staff absences.” It’s not important whose fault it is. What’s important is the problem. Find out why it is occurring and solve it. To the attorneys, passing off blame is no more than a show of weakness and immaturity.

3 Self-deprecation

The manager makes a mistake. There’s a showdown with the attorneys. Take responsibility for the mistake and learn from it. But stop there. Don’t get self-demeaning. People derail their credibility when they rake themselves over the coals, either mentally or verbally. Learn the lesson and move on. Be cheerful and confident. What the attorneys see is that their manager is in control and capable of improvement.

4 Inconsistency

A serious credibility killer is inconsistency in discipline and rule enforcement. Suppose the rule is that the attorneys have to check off certain items related to a client visit. The billing department complains that Attorney A never checks those items off and is holding up the billing. The manager responds with “oh that’s just the way Attorney A is. Let’s take care of it this way. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen in the future.” But the manager stops there and never addresses it with the attorney. The problem remains. Why the special treatment? Is the manager wishy-washy? Afraid to confront the attorney? Follow the same set of rules for everybody.

5 The policy police officer

Credibility also calls for the common sense to recognize when a rule is outdated and the moxie to change it. Be more than a policy officer. When a staffer questions a rule, don’t automatically defend it with “that’s the policy and it’s not going to change, so live with it.” Besides evidencing insensitivity, that bespeaks a lack of influence in the office and shows the manager to be little more than a yes-person to the attorneys. Suppose a staffer complains that the requirement to tally the cash twice a day is unnecessary and time-consuming. Unless there’s some obvious reason for counting it twice, give some thought to the possibility that what was necessary in the past may now be out of date. Reviewing policies and making recommendations for change are part of the job of management. And so is risking a resounding “no” from the attorneys. A manager earns tremendous respect and credibility simply by addressing issues.

6 Missed commitments

Follow through with commitments, particularly the small ones. Attorneys are governed by detail, and to them, minor slip-ups are big failures. Showing up for a meeting five minutes late, not returning a attorney’s call, making a presentation without having full information at hand—things like that make them question the manager’s professionalism. Let it turn into a habit, and the manager becomes the office joke.

7 Trying to do everything

Don’t overextend. Don’t try to be all things to all people. Don’t try to please everybody. Taking on too much work sets expectations that can’t be met. Before making any significant commitment, tell the attorneys, “let me do some research and find out how long this will take.” Ask where it should sit on the priority list. And don’t get bogged down with a lot of miniscule projects. Delegate the small tasks and focus on the larger projects.

8 Getting too chummy

And then there’s neutrality. The job of manager is by nature a lonely one. It’s a no-man’s land between attorneys and staff. With no peers, no colleagues, and no advisors, it’s easy to get close with one side or the other simply to have a sense of belonging. Don’t do it. Don’t get aligned with either side. Don’t have lunch day after day with one or the other. Continued company-keeping with one group invariably draws the manager into conversations about the failings of the other. There’s nothing wrong with listening. But don’t take a position on what’s said. Don’t show agreement or disagreement, whether by word or by facial expressions. Listen and discuss, but be no more than the moderator. When neutrality gets questioned, staff see their manager as someone who is apt to stab them in the back.


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