Have you ever tried to talk your way out of a problem you’ve acted your way into? If so, consider your behavior and how you can behave your way to credibility by demonstrating high character and competence.

Demonstrating high character and competence

Without a high degree of character and competence, people aren’t going to trust you. You might think well of me as someone who’s thoughtful and considerate (character), but you might have reservations when I offer to “pack your parachute” for your first skydiving lesson (competence). Chances are you’d probably want to know just how much experience and/or training I’d had in parachute packing (none). And despite my amiable disposition and positive attitude, you’d be right to find me lacking credibility. In the same way, you might be hesitant if you learned that the person who had packed your parachute had just been acquitted of a manslaughter charge on a technicality – the person might have every parachute packing certificate around, but if something you feel about their character is off, it will likely cause you to have concern. You might think that this example is a bit extreme, but without high character and high competence, credibility can’t flourish.

I learned a valuable lesson about character as a young manager when my responsibility was to negotiate contracts with doctors who worked with my company – a health-maintenance organization. One year, we had a new group of doctors and our team had to write the contract that had unique requirements. This was before we had electronic contracts, so it took several weeks to write and type the contract on an archaic typewriter. Revisions went back and forth between team members and after weeks of work, suggestions, and edits, the contract was to be finalized and signed . . . only no one could find it. Each person who was thought to have it last pointed the finger at someone else. We searched and looked for the contract but could not find it. As frustrating as it was to create a new contract with the deadline looming, we had to choice but to re-create the document again, get it signed and proceed forward to implement it with the physician group.

Several months later, I was going through a desk drawer and to my horror, I discovered the missing contract. I had accidentally paper clipped it to another document and put it in the wrong folder. I thought about my options. The new contract was in place and no one would ever know that I was the one who had the original contract. I slept on it and the next morning, I walked into my boss’ office and told him about the lost contract. Of course, while I’d like to think that I decided to tell the truth because I had high-character, I think I was more afraid that someone would find out and my attempts to conceal the truth would make everything worse. When I showed my boss the contract and told him what had happened, he looked at me for a long time. Instead of being angry, he said, “I admire you. I think I might have thrown it away.” We laughed together and I told him that the thought had crossed my mind.

My boss’ response taught me a very important lesson: character is not built on being infallible, rather it is built by behaving in a manner that proves to others that I can be trusted – even when no one is looking.

Some people assume that strong character might somehow make up for lack of competence. It doesn’t work that way. Competence is the other half of the equation and is as vital to building trust and creating credibility as is character. Competence means that we have the experience and skill-set to perform well and effectively. Competence is not only acquiring the necessary talents, skills, knowledge, and abilities to perform with excellence, but it also means we have established a track record for getting results. These capabilities are vital to credibility, as they inspire the trust of others. And, when we are trusted, people know that we are proficient and able to perform responsibly, regardless of circumstance.

With the accelerating pace of change and new technological advances, the skills we may have acquired yesterday are quickly outdated. To remain competent, we must be engaged in continuous, life-long learning and improvement. We must constantly be building our capabilities and upgrading our skills-sets and knowledge so we remain relevant and able to make new, meaningful contributions.

Credibility isn’t earned overnight. Taking the long view means you are willing to pay the price to earn it — regardless of the time and effort involved. When it comes to building credibility, there’s no escaping time. Transitory actions may build confidence in others, but trust only comes from seeing the consistency of such actions over time. If we don’t take the long view, our credibility will suffer.

Adapting to the situation at hand

Building credibility often means adapting to new situations and people. We always pay a price when we lose credibility. And while it may be tempting to give up, there’s something to be said for staying with it… to continually be behaving our way back to credibility, even when it’s been damaged or suffered a blow. Once you’ve damaged your reputation and credibility with someone, the way back can be difficult, and it certainly won’t happen overnight. If you’ve damaged or lost credibility with someone, or if you need to build additional character and competence, begin the process of behaving your way back to credibility now.