When Your Credibility Takes a Hit

Have you ever been in a position in which you’ve blown it— professionally speaking, that is? A situation that confronts you head-on and you know: your credibility just took a huge hit

It’s happened to me and it’s humbling. It can be instructive too, if you let it. Here’s how: 

Years ago, I served as a board member for a nonprofit. Shortly after I became pregnant with my first child, the incoming Board Chairperson invited me to also serve on the Executive Committee. Initially, I wanted to leave the board altogether after the birth of my child, but was persuaded to stay on. I accepted the Executive Committee appointment and served throughout my pregnancy and into the first six months of my son’s life.

From a time management perspective, my transition to motherhood was a rocky one. I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities as a new mother and trying to run a full time consulting business. My service to the nonprofit had always been “above and beyond,” but in that final year on the board, it was all I could do to put in 95% rather than my typical 110%.

As my board term neared, I made the decision leave. Even though I was eligible for another term, this time when I gave my notice, nobody tried to persuade me to stay. At the last board meeting I attended, the Board Chair thanked the three “retiring” board members— including me.  While the other two retirees received glowing praise as a send off, I was given a polite “thanks so much for your time, Jennifer.” 

Sitting in that board room, and listening to the tepid farewell, it hit me: your reputation is only as strong as your most recent performance. It didn’t matter that I had invested over five

years of solid service to this organization; in the end, my performance had started to slip. I’d overstayed my welcome.

Even more sobering: you did this to yourself. In that meeting, surrounded by thirty of the most influential business people in my community, I made a vow to myself: never again. As a self-employed professional, my strongest currency is my reputation. By not standing firm in my original plan to make room for family obligations, I had seriously devalued the worth of the Jennifer V. Miller brand. 

It was indeed a humbling experience, to know that my overall “value” to an organization was being judged by my most recent activities rather than my entire body of work. Still, it taught me an invaluable lesson: if you sense you’re wearing out your welcome, it’s best to depart on your timeline, rather than that of the organization.

Here's the thing that I've come to realize about “great opportunities”– they're only “great” if you can effectively seize upon them.  Some days, the cards just aren't in your favor and other priorities prevail. Nowadays, thanks to my credibility wake-up call, when faced with an opportunity (even a fantastic one!), if I can't deliver, I decline the offer. Saying “no” upfront may disappoint both parties to some extent at the outset, but you can be assured that you've done what's right for the organization and for you in the long run. In the end, expectations are appropriately set, and your credibility will remain intact. 

Photo credit istockphoto.com 


About the Author

Jennifer Miller

For 20+ years, Jennifer V. Miller has been helping professionals “master the people equation” to maximize their personal influence. A former HR generalist and training manager, she now advises executives on how to create positive, productive workplace environments. She is the founder and Managing Partner of SkillSource and blogs at The People Equation. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferVMiller.


The HR Carnival

[…] at Women of HR, and it was submitted for the HR Carnival by Lisa Rosendahl. That post is entitled When Your Credibility Takes a Hit. It is a great lesson that all of us should read. I have a similar story (minus the being pregnant […]

Jess Booth

Thanks so much for posting this. Reminds us all that we are not perfect and that its important to learn and move on from mistakes.

Jennifer V. Miller


“Saying ‘No’ is good, once you get the hang of it!” — that says it all!

Thanks for sharing your story about learning to tune into your gut feeling about a situation.

Kathryn Aldred

Hi Debbie, great post. I took a job, many years ago, which all through the recruitment process ‘had been the perfect job for me’. I was ecstatic when the offer came in. I new before lunch time on day one that I’d made a huge mistake. I persevered putting it down to first day nerves but they didn’t go away. The values of the Directors were at total odds to mine, funny though through the interviews (and there were three) they had agreed with everything I said. By the end of week four I was in a real panic about what to do and were to go and then the MD asked for a chat, you can figure out how that conversation went. But ever since then I’ve always said if I get a bad vibe like that again I’ll walk away, only actually done it once in my working career, but it was quite invigorating actually!. I’m now self employed and have turned work away were I’ve got a feeling our values etc wouldn’t match up. Saying No is good, once you get the hang of it!

Jennifer V. Miller

@Sabrina– so true– this was a “lesson learned” over a decade ago and it still helps guide me in my actions to this day.

@William– “quitters never win and winners never quit” is buried deep in the work psyche. You are correct that people with high levels of professionalism often fall into the trap of not knowing when they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Or, in my case, I knew it, but wasn’t strong enough in my ability to say “no”.

William Gould

Jennifer, thanks for sharing great wisdom. This is one of the more painful lessons to learn the hard way. While I think most of us want to believe that we will overcome any challenge through perseverance, knowing when to redirect your talents elsewhere can be a difficult decision point – nobody wants to be a quitter. Great post.


Great post! I too have been humbled by the sobering reality that “your reputation is only as strong as your most recent performance”. It is an invaluable lesson and one that stays with you! Thanks for sharing!

Debbie Brown

Bravo Jennifer.
Yesterday is gone and cannot be changed. We each have to ask ourselves every day – what is important now? And focus on the reality and move forward. Every day is a new opportunity to re-invent, and invest.

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