Inspire Trust – Creating Credibility

In the 2004 action thriller Collateral, we meet our protagonist, Jamie Foxx’s character in the opening scene, as he picks up a fare in his cab. The passenger barks out directions to her destination. Foxx as an experienced driver suggests an alternate route. As a wily veteran of navigating the big city in cabs, the client has developed a solid skepticism for the suggestions of drivers. She’s confident they aren’t trying to help anyone but themselves and are incented to be inefficient in their routes. Cab drivers want to go the long way and take more time as it boosts their income she believes. The two bicker back and forth for a while reflecting her absence of trust in cab drivers in general. Her behavior reflects what Steven Covey notes in The Speed of Trust, “Low trust causes friction.” They settle on a wager and she’s surprised when his route gets her to her destination quicker than she’d imagined. She reflects her surprise offering Foxx, “It’s not often you argue with a cabby where he’s trying to save you time and money.” In that instant, she realizes that Foxx is serving her interests. He’s a true professional. Her trust in him grows as does her interest in him as a person. Foxx’s character has earned trust from his passenger by his actions. He’s subordinated his interests in order to prioritize helping her. He’s helped her answer the question for who are you? Foxx has shown that he’s for her. He’s not extracting what he can for himself. He’s exemplifying the low-margin high-value approach of the Quakers by focusing on adding value for his fare. He’s both shown his competence and his character which earns the trust of his passenger.

What are things we can consider doing individually or in our businesses that may help build trust? How does trust get created? It is built day in and day out in every interaction we have with each other. It’s forged from honoring our word and not being opportunistic. It’s this consistent commitment to honoring their word and seeking to not take advantage of others that was the root of the business philosophy of the Quakers. Greg Ellis writes in The Respondent, “The bedrock of a marriage, or any relationship, is trust. Trust—as precious as it is fragile, is a basic biological necessity that can only be built slowly and with consistency over time. We cannot act effectively without the comfort of being able to trust how others will respond.” If we’re seeking to be trusted, how can we work to earn it from others with our own actions?

Trust isn’t something that magically materializes. It’s something that can and should be consciously crafted. It requires patience. Trust like many things begins from the inside out. Covey provides a quote to capture his perspective from a Persian poet Rumi. Rumi offered a thousand years ago, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” We must first learn to trust ourselves, then those closest to us. We can then move to wider circles of contact. In business, we must build trust individually and then together internally before we can hope to build it with vendors, prospects, and customers. Covey offers what he calls the “5 Waves of Trust” as a model to pave the path for our actions. Trust starts with the self, then moves to relationships, organizations, markets, and ends with society. We start at the innermost level and slowly move outwards. The balance of this article will cover developing personal trust or credibility. Do you trust yourself? Do your actions align with your thoughts? Do you do what you say will? Are you reliable, accountable? Each time you do what you say you will whether someone sees it or not, you earn personal credibility capital. Your confidence grows from the competence you display. You begin to trust yourself. Then, the more publicly you do this, the more others will notice. You’ll be better able to positively answer the following questions. Do your actions inspire the trust of others? Are you believable? Do you believe yourself?

Covey introduces the idea of trust through an exercise with business leaders. The exercise involves giving leaders a pile of pictures of team members with whom they work. The leader is asked to group them into three piles: those you trust, those you distrust, and those you don’t know well enough yet to have a perspective on their trustworthiness. Covey notes that everyone can do this exercise quite quickly. Moreover, leaders within an organization seem to similarly rate people. That is, an individual’s trustworthiness is known by others and viewed consistently. Covey invites us to consider if our face was included in a list of pictures in our organization to be reviewed, what pile would we end up in and why?

Earning trust is work. Where we are successful at developing trust in one area of our life, it may be easier to build on this in other areas, but it’s not guaranteed. Trust must be earned in each facet where we operate separately. Developing trust in an area is based on our ability to demonstrate competence in this area. The more areas over which we can demonstrate our trustworthiness, the more trustworthy we’re seen overall. Our character trust becomes the reflection of the sum of individual competence-based trust we’re able to develop. Trust is what an organization like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is helping other businesses achieve with prospective customers. The BBB reviews potential members and then designates their rating based on two capabilities: integrity and performance. The BBB considers a business as trustworthy where the business demonstrates the ability to perform, its competence, as well as its integrity or character. Both are indications of trust. We, the consumer, can trust a BBB rated business to deliver thanks to the work the BBB has done to evaluate. Like the BBB, Covey offers the 4 Cores of Credibility as a framework for fostering personal credibility. These factors fuel trust in yourself as well as make you trustworthy to others. Two of these traits involve your character and the other two revolve around your capability.

The first core of credibility is integrity. Integrity is about being aligned and consistent. Do your actions match your words? The more they do, the more integrity you have. Are you able to “call a foul” on yourself? Do the means matter or do the ends justify the means? Integrity involves a commitment to honesty. With integrity we’re aspiring as America’s first President, George Washington noted to, “what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” The process matters. Principles are prioritized over the personal. Do you follow the rules because of concerns of compliance or because of honor? Are you clear on your values? Do your values fuel your actions? Do you honor commitments you make to yourself and others? Your individual integrity flows first and foremost from making and keeping personal commitments. Do you do what you say you will do? Do you get up when you say you will without hitting snooze repeatedly, for example? Integrity starts from the moment we wake up. With each act that is consistent with our values, we build confidence in ourselves and our integrity. Additionally, developing a personal set of values and creating our own constitution fosters our integrity. Our integrity can be bolstered by keeping an open mind. Those that have the humility to be open to different perspectives earn the respect of others. Openness also reflects a commitment to a process of improvement and not blind ambition.

The second core is intent. Intent involves being clear as to what you hold dear. Do you have an agenda? Are your actions driven by principles? Like Jamie Foxx’s character exhibited, For whom are you? Are you self-interested or considerate of others? Is your focus internal or external? Do you consider the well-being of others in your decision making? How much do you care about others? Are you presenting win-win options? Or, is your intent to win at all costs? Why are you doing what you’re doing? How do you stand to gain? What is your intent? With integrity and intent we and others come to see us as trustworthy. We build our intent by reflecting on our values. Take time to consider your answers to questions like the ones offered above. Then we can improve our credibility by declaring our intent and then acting consistently with it. Trust builds in an environment of transparency. Take time to consider how you can better communicate your intentions? Finally, we can improve our intent from developing a view of the world that isn’t a zero-sum game. Our success doesn’t have to come at someone else’s expense. There’s plenty to go around for everyone. Our goal should be to help others achieve what it is they want with the recognition that in so doing we’ll be taken care of.

The third core is our capability. What objective evidence of competence in a domain do you have? Have you put in the time and effort to develop skills? Do you continue to invest in new learning? Can you present a body of work that reflects your capabilities? Capability is reflected in education and experience that others can objectively see. Your capability reflects your relevance in a room. Why would others pay attention to you? What is it you have to offer? Will you be able to get the job done? Where you can display evidence of competence, you’re more likely to inspire confidence. Where you have capability, you won’t fall victim to the Peter Principle. Moreover, our capability isn’t one and done. It’s something we must continuously craft. A commitment to constant learning is a way to bolster our capability. Covey offers that our capability is reflected in the acronym TASKS which stands for Talents, Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge, and Style. As you consider where you stand in each of these are there some strengths you can identify that reflect your capability? It is these you’re encouraged to continue to develop and leverage. These give you both competence and direction which both build confidence in yourself and from others.

The fourth core of credibility is results. Results are the outcomes produced by our capabilities. What is your track record? What have you accomplished? Are you considered a high performer? Do you consistently produce results? Can this be articulated and seen by others? Your credit rating, for example, reflects the results you have been able to offer those willing to extend credit. The better at paying back what you say you will when you say you will, the better the credit rating. You have produced objective results and are rewarded for it. Positive performance is rewarded with additional responsibility. With growing trust from yourself and others, you are invited to participate in the next level of your game. Your results include your track record, what you’ve done, what you’re doing today, and your potential or projected performance. For example, an aging athlete may have a great track record of past accomplishments and even be holding on to high performance today. However, it’s unlikely this level will be sustainable. Therefore, an aging athlete’s future performance potential is discounted. In business, years of service is seen as tantamount to trustworthiness. Insurance companies and financial advisors advertise having been in business for “over 100 years” seeking to signify that this must be reflective of their trustworthiness. We build credibility by producing. We need to realize it’s not just being present but accomplishing specific outcomes that is what counts. We need to deliver progress to believe in ourselves and for others to believe in us.

The 4 Cores of Credibility offer an actionable framework for us to cultivate our credibility. It can also be used beyond the individual level and be applied to your organization. For example, being successful at sales and marketing is about demonstrating the 4 Cores of Credibility for customers. Your credibility capital is built on integrity, intent, capability, and results. Focus first on developing trust in yourself by aligning your actions with your words, being intentional and transparent in your actions, developing your capability, and building a history of delivering results. As your trust in yourself expands, others will see where you stand and their trust you’ll better command.

As service providers, a large component of what we’re selling is trust. Who do you trust? Why? Who trusts you? Why? Who trusts your business? Why? Trust follows reliability. Do you do what you say you will when you say you will? Do you act consistently with your clients’ interests front of mind? Your customers want to see that your service is about supporting them. These are the drivers of trust: competence and character. It’s worth considering that trust isn’t even earned, it’s borrowed. You never get to rest on your past efforts. It’s earned on your actions today. Additionally, know that trust can’t be demanded. It doesn’t flow from decree. Just because you say you’re trustworthy isn’t a reason to expect others to trust you. Can you show current customers and prospects that your organization has done and will do for them what it is they’re seeking? Is your commitment to your word and your customer evidenced in your actions every day or do you depend on contractual terms and conditions to dictate your behaviors? Is being trustworthy a core value for your organization in the way it is for the Quakers?