Incredible or Credible?

What is your choice? According to Mirriam-Webster, Incredible is defined as “too extraordinary and improbable to be believed.” Credible evidence is evidence that’s likely to be believed. A credible plan is one that might actually work, and a credible excuse is one your parents might actually believe. And just as credible means “believable”, the noun credibility means “believability”. (But we no longer use incredible to mean the literal opposite of credible, just as we no longer use unbelievable as the literal opposite of believable.)

I can think of several people that I have come across that have incredible stories of their life. As I work in the Federal Government, I have come across a couple if not more supervisors that were incredible. They had stories and careers that were really not believable. In order for you to be a great leader, you have to have the total opposite of incredible, Credible.

The same Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines Credible as “offering reasonable grounds for being believed.” So if you are credible, what does that really mean? Let’s take a look at a couple of different words that evolve from the root of the word, “Cred,” as in Street Cred. Street Cred is a term used mostly by urban dwellers. People who live in the city think that they have more street cred that those of us who might live in the country. Credulous definition is “ready to believe especially on slight or uncertain evidence.” In another word, Naïve. Does that mean then, that you aren’t credible? Maybe more of a story teller.

I think that with all of the definitions above we can certainly say about credible is that “I will know it when I see it.” What makes you credible? What makes you believable? I offer the keys to credibility.

Integrity – A major key element of credibility is integrity. It involves transparency, trustworthiness, and moral predictability. It is good to know someone that we can say embodies the phrase, “what you see is what you get.” In some form, we are really believing, trusting, and accepting a lot of objectivity.

Don’t underestimate the importance of honesty and integrity in the workplace.  People who have a track record of being objective and truthful are perceived as more credible than those who don’t.  Companies who open their books to union representatives are more credible than those who don’t.  Conclusions based on scientific or systematic inquiry are credible conclusions.

To boost your credibility on this element, take the following actions:

  • Invest time in clarifying your values and examining your behavior in light of them
  • Build a reputation for truthful and ethical behavior
  • If you make a mistake, be truthful about it rather than cover it up

Competence – “It’s easy to run to others. It’s so hard to stand on one’s own record. You can fake virtue for an audience. You can’t fake it in your own eyes. Your ego is your strictest judge. They run from it. They spend their lives running. It’s easier to donate a few thousand to charity and think oneself noble than to base self-respect on personal standards of personal achievement. It’s simple to seek substitutes for competence–such easy substitutes: love, charm, kindness, charity. But there is no substitute for competence.”
― Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead

“Leaders empower individuals by building trust and coaching competence in their job roles and networking skills.”   Kenneth H. Blanchard, Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster

So competence is knowing what you know so you can do what you have to do. At some point, if you are a leader, you will be challenged to your competency. I read somewhere that you can edit your resume to say whatever you want it to say to get the interview, but it is YOU who will get the job. That just means that you have to know what your job is first. Before you are able to graduate school, you have to prove a certain level of competence. Competence then is an outcome: it describes what someone can do. It does not describe the learning process which the individual has undergone.

To boost your credibility on this element, take the following actions:

  • Obtain a license to practice or a professional certification appropriate to your field
  • Request high-visibility projects to establish a track record
  • Ask to participate on task forces with key people in your organization so they can see your competence firsthand.

Sound Judgement – As guided by an article by Jim Downing, How do you Exercise Sound Judgement?>>


What makes a good leader?

  1. Definition of leader: accomplishing our objectives by utilizing the efforts of others.
  2. Leaders cannot be discerned through personality characteristics.
  3. Some followers possess the same characteristics as their leaders.
  4. Characteristics found in one situation are not found in another.
  5. Within the same situation, characteristics of leaders vary greatly.
  6. Leader’s success is based upon whether or not leader can help the group attain their goal.
  7. Leader must learn to pattern actions to the demands of the situation

Why men are not effective leaders?

  1. They are uncertain.
  2. They are unconcerned.
  3. They are over-concerned.
  4. There are two main reasons.
  5. They have an inability to analyze the situation that confronts him so that he is unable to arrive at the appropriate course of action.
  6. They have an inability to implement the appropriate action once it is identified.

Lack of sound judgment is the greatest cause of failure.

  1. Sound Judgment: the ability to weigh the evidence and come up with the right answer.
  2. Having information is the most necessary factor for exercising sound judgment.
  3. Things that can affect sound judgment:
  4. Prejudice
  5. Lack of courage
    1. This is affected by social pressure.
    2. This is affected by expediency.
    3. This is affected by legality.
  6. Sound judgment requires distinction between two ideas.
    1. Observations are products of personal experience.
    2. Inferences are decisions about the meanings of our observations.

Relationally Sensitive –

People with high credibility know how to ask questions about our values and interests, to listen intently and with empathy, and to pull people together.  These are the people with high emotional intelligence to balance the arrogance that sometimes comes with expertise.

Jay Conger, an expert on persuasion, puts it this way:

On the relationship side, people with high credibility have demonstrated—again, usually over time—that they can be trusted to listen and to work in the best interests of others.  They have also consistently shown strong emotional character and integrity; that is, they are not known for mood extremes or inconsistent performance.

A person develops a track record in relationships in the same way he develops a track record in performance.  If he becomes known for building commitment and cooperation, for being level-headed and fair, everyone will want him on their team.

To boost your credibility on this element, take the following actions:

  •  Demonstrate willingness to learn from others and from your own mistakes
  • Demonstrate concern for others’ values, goals, and objectives
  • Take time to understand another’s point of view before refuting or rejecting it

Likeable –

Research studies consistently reveal that people respond positively to others whom they like.  They trust them, they cooperate with them, they approve their proposals, and they buy from them.  Mitch Anthony, author of Selling with Emotional Intelligence, puts it succinctly, “Likeability is as important as ability.”

Emotional intelligence guru, Daniel Goleman, and co-authors Boyatzis and McKee, remind us of the importance of optimism and a lighthearted perspective in the workplace, asserting that leaders who have the ability to express enthusiasm and upbeat emotions attract other people.

Further, the authors remind us that a smile (friendliness) is contagious, drawing others to smile in response.  A smile, however, can be faked.  Laughter is too complex for faking, and, at a deep, non-verbal level, people know this.  Accordingly, we trust (assign credibility to) people who laugh with us.

To boost your credibility on this element, take the following actions:

  • Communicate optimistically by describing challenges rather than problems
  • Go out of your way to be friendly, even if you aren’t an extravert
  • Practice finding the humor around you, especially in stressful situations

No single element described here can guarantee high perceived credibility.  After all, an expert without integrity might be a dictator.  A likeable person who lacks judgment will make stupid decisions.

People assign you a degree of credibility based on how they rate you on the interplay between the elements of credibility:  integrity, expertise, sound judgment, relationship sensitivity, and likeability.  Perceived credibility is a package deal.

Understanding the elements of credibility provides you with opportunities to boost your perceived credibility and your success.  Review the elements and action steps in this article, and choose one action to work on at a time.  With time and consistency, you can boost your credibility at work and in your community.  You need to know the definition of credibility—and you need to care!


  • Express gratitude privately, publicly and in writing.