Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Compfight cc

For the past couple of weeks in my freshman leadership class, we’ve been discussing the idea of credibility in leadership, although most people who walked past my door today would have thought that we were discussing academic integrity or research skills, and frankly, we were.

In 2013 alone, plagiarism scandals hit the news no fewer than five times. Politicians, writers, actors, and even preachers have been charged with claiming others’ work as their own. Others have been found guilty of making up facts to support their ideas –sometimes when a little research would have uncovered real facts they could have used.

Apparently, our national leaders could use a recording of my 9th grade English teacher’s rant on the evils of plagiarism and shoddy research!

I think the easy accessibility of information has blurred some of the lines regarding our use of intellectual property. (An idea which I first seriously considered after a discussion with Karen Wiley in our Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness.  Thanks, Karen!)

When information is so readily available with the click of a mouse, I think it has become easier to assume that free ideas are to be freely used.  The idea of what constitutes intellectual theft has become a little fuzzy in many people’s minds.

And so, this conversation about plagiarism isn’t just something to discuss as we read through the academic integrity policy as we read the syllabus. This isn’t just a discussion for the classroom; it’s a reminder that impacts our daily life as leaders.

Because when people can’t trust what we say, our credibility as leaders gets damaged.

James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner point out that after 30 years of research, they consistently hear that “credibility is the foundation of leadership” (The Truth About Leadership, 2010). Even Aristotle pointed out that if you’re trying to convince someone of your idea, then you’d better be credible.

If our leaders want our commitment, support, and efforts, then apparently, we want to be able to believe what they say.

And so, we devote an entire week of class to talking about the leaders who fail to do their research or cite their sources and then lose credibility. And I find myself sounding more and more like my 9th grade English teacher!