Out of nowhere while driving down the freeway into the aftermath of a storm, my son’s voice yelled and he pointed, “Dad, some people don’t believe!” He had my attention in that split second and I quickly followed it up with curiosity. Have you noticed that about kids? Their ability to extract, in seemingly random ways, data from nowhere that connects to something only known to them.
You have to dig a little to make it make sense…
“Some people don’t believe what?” I asked. “Just as enthusiastically he leaned forward in his seat and pointed at the rainbow forming in front of us and yelled again, ‘Some people don’t believe! Some people don’t believe there’s a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow!” Belief in all its purity. Confidence in all its clarity. Conviction to burn. “A belief is something we consider to be fact,” says Skilled at Life. When you’re six and believe there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, there IS a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Deal done.
Fast forward to the terrible experience I had on a budget airline. The seats were hard, service was poor, staff were less than helpful. Why? Because I had decided to believe beforehand that is was going to be exactly this way. My belief shaped my expectation and my expectation shaped my experience. Funny that it was the same for my son.
Leaders understand that beliefs and expectations are a two-edged sword. What we hold to be fact shapes our perspective, experience, attitude and behaviours. Those beliefs and expectations shape how we lead, what we decide, how we interact, who we engage with and ultimately what we see as outcomes. Every leader I know is about outcomes. Holding to an optimistic view of the future, looking for the pot of gold in people, places and opportunities take as much mental and emotional energy as having a bad experience on an aeroplane. Optimistic expectations determine how we cast vision, create culture, deepen values, lead and equip our people. What we choose to believe determines what we see, say and do.
Beliefs are shaped by the integration of three elements:
- Knowledge – What is known.
- Events – What happened.
- Meaning – What is assigned.
When knowledge and events combine you bank experiences. When knowledge and meaning combine you create memories, and when events and meaning combine you shape behaviour. Experiences, memories and behaviours are both the creation AND expression of our beliefs.
In her book Dare to Serve, Cheryl Bachelder who came from being fired to leading a turnaround at the fast food chain Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen did so through the premise that Servant Leadership really works! Cheryl talks about the importance of putting your key stakeholders first and showing the courage to do what it takes to lead in the best interests of an organisation. Serve first, serve courageously and serve as if it’s a contact sport, not a soft skill that people can avoid. Authentic servant leadership has a hard centre and soft edges. Serve by listening, by getting a sense of what is really going on for people. Gather data, culture and add it all together to THEN make decisions about the pot of gold that needs to exist at the end of your value proposition rainbow.
Bachelder HAD to believe there was hope, she had to believe there was a better future, she had to believe that despite those who didn’t believe, she would, and in believing she led the organisation to what is now considered a miracle turnaround in the industry. When discussing this she described some of the decisions they made as a “plausible leap of faith” towards the future they envisaged. They had enough information to move forward on, enough data to make a decision with, and enough for it to be clear that they will either win or lose. Then they acted, they jumped, they believed in the pot of gold and did everything they could to make it a reality. In this case, the story is triumphant, that’s good news.
Adjusting our beliefs occurs through a simple, yet disciplined, five stage process:
- Awareness – Having a clear understanding of our strengths and weaknesses and how it influences leadership.
- Education – Proactively looking for people, courses and resources that will add to what you know.
- Adaption – The disciplined pursuit of embedding new beliefs and skills into your current leadership reality.
- Feedback – Seeking the right voices at the right time to reflect back how well you are making changes.
- Reset – Continue to implement incremental, regular, doable changes to your beliefs and behaviour.
Leaders must be able to live in their reality, believe in a better tomorrow, and take people towards that future with a sense of optimism, courage and with a plausible leap of faith. I was recently talking with my son and I said, “I’m writing about what you said, that some people don’t believe in the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. His deep, authentic, believing eyes looked back at me and said, “Well I do and they should.”
This is for leaders. I am for leaders.