The 4 Cores of Credibility

Don’t just think like a leader, talk like one too. 

Do you want your direct reports to be positive team players? Then think carefully about how you talk to them. Sometimes even a slight difference in your speech can send the important message that “we’re all in this together.”

1. Instead of saying “I” say “We.”

Gone are your days as an individual contributor. You no longer achieve results on your own. You now deliver results with, and through, other people. Your language should reflect that. 

2. Instead of saying “You need to fix this.” say “Let’s figure out how to fix this.”

Model the behavior you want to see in your team. If you truly want them to be positive team players, you need to be one yourself. That means you don’t put the burden of an issue solely on them, but you share it with them. 

3. Instead of saying “What are you going to do?” say “What do you think we should do?”

Asking your direct reports what they think is an easy way to tap into their potential and engage them at the same time. Instead of making them responsible for something, this way of speaking allows them to take responsibility, which is very different. 

4. Instead of saying “Who’s responsible for this?” say “What is the best way to resolve this?”

Trust is a function of two things: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, and your track record.

The good news is that we can increase our credibility, and we can increase it fast, particularly if we understand the four key elements or four “cores” that are fundamental. Two of these cores deals with character; two with competence. 

Core 1: Integrity

To use the metaphor of the tree, integrity is the root. Even though it’s underground and not even visible most of the time, it is absolutely vital to the nourishment, strength, stability, and growth of the entire tree. 

We’ve all seen people with enormous capability, strong results, even sometimes good intent who unfortunately go about what they’re doing in a dishonest or unprincipled way. It’s the “the end justifies the means” mentality. 

On the other hand, to have integrity only – and not the other three Cores – is to be a “nice guy,” maybe even a thoroughly honest person, who is basically useless. 

To most people, integrity means honesty – telling the truth and leaving the right impression. But there are at least three additional qualities: congruence, humility, and courage. 

So how do we go about increasing our integrity?

  1. Make and keep commitments to yourself.
  2. Stand for something.
  3. Be open. 

Core 2: Intent

In the dictionary, intent is defined as “plan” or “purpose.” No discussion of intent would be complete without talking about three things: motive, agenda, and behavior. 


  • Motive is your reason for doing something, and it inspires the greatest trust when it shows genuine concern for people, purposes, and society as a whole. 


  • Agenda grows out of motive. It’s what you intend to do or promote because of your motive. The intent that inspires the greatest trust is seeking mutual benefit, realizing that life is interdependent and seeking solutions that build trust and benefit for all. 


  • Typically, behavior is the manifestation of motive and agenda. The behavior that best creates credibility and inspires trust is acting in the best interest of others. This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s easy to say “I care,” and “I want you to win,” but it is our actual behavior that demonstrates whether or not we mean it. 

In many organizations, the message communicated by behavior is not “we care;” it’s “you’re expendable.” It’s important to keep in mind that sometimes, unfortunately, poor behavior turns out to be bad execution of good intent. 

  1. Examine and redefine your motives. It’s a human tendency to assume we have good – or at least justifiable – intent. 
  2. Declare your intent. It signals your behavior and lets people know what to look for so they acknowledge it when they see it. 
  3. Choose abundance. Abundance means there is enough for everybody. The opposite – scarcity – says that there is only so much to go around, and if you get it, I won’t. 

Role models, insightful thought leaders, and practitioners serve as powerful reminders that we can do something about even the very deep, personal, character-based issues that impact our credibility, which is the prerequisite of trust. 

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Core 3: Capabilities

Using the metaphor of a tree, capabilities are the branches that produce the fruits or the results. Capabilities are particularly essential in today’s changing economy, where technology and globalization are outdating skill sets faster than ever before. 

One way to think about the various dimensions of capabilities is to use the acronym TASKS (Talents, Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge, Style).

Talents are our natural gifts and strengths. Attitudes represent our paradigms – our way of seeing – as well as our ways of being. Skills are our proficiencies, the things we can do well. Knowledge represents our learning, insight, understanding, and awareness. Style represents our approach and personality. 

The end in mind here is to develop our TASKS and to create the best possible alignment between our natural gifts, our passions, our skills, knowledge and style and the opportunity to earn, to contribute, to make a difference.

To enhance credibility by increasing capabilities:

  1. Run with your strengths.
  2. Keep yourself relevant.
  3. Know where you’re going. 

Core 4: Results

Results matter! They matter to your credibility. In the words of Jack Welch, having results is like having “performance chits” on the table. They give you clout. 

Returning once again to the tree metaphor, results are the fruits – the tangible, measurable, end purpose and product of the roots, trunk, and branches. 

There are three key indicators by which people evaluate results: past performance, present performance, and anticipated future performance. 

Given the importance of results in establishing credibility and trust both with ourselves and with others, the question is: How can we improve our results?

  1. Take responsibility for results. 
  2. Expect to win.
  3. Finish strong.