People tend to create what they believe in. While we say “seeing is believing”, the reverse may be even more true. What we see happen will reflect what we believed was possible. As Carl Jung put it, “Believe it can be done, believe it can’t be done. Either way it’s true.” This is even more so for a team of people. And it is not just our lip service but the underlying feeling of belief that impels people to invest their energy and their identity. So a large part of leadership is the ability to lift and expand the belief in what we are all doing together.
Here are two key ways to approach that.
Become an Expert on What People Trust
We are each predisposed to believe in certain things. There are some commonly-held examples. Although once upon a time people were convinced it would not happen without a special ceremony, most of us now believe spring will naturally follow winter. We believe people can do again what they have done before. We believe in trends. We believe in visions of the future that feel right or important.
Much of what invokes belief, however, is more personal than that. What switches on the enthusiasm in one person might be very different in another. Instead of trying to give clients a universally applicable winning formula that is supposed to make all types believe, I encourage practices that help you track what is actually happening in the people around you.
One practice is to ask. However tortuous or delightful your planning process, allow time for feedback in sessions, reviews, or message platform. People will tell you how deeply they believe in your vision and key goals. Simply by watching which of your words and actions inspire deeper belief, you learn to adjust to what does and does not land for these individuals. Another practice is to read the faces and feel the temperature. Even if you don’t think of yourself as empathic, when you pay attention, you will perceive the difference between people’s buy-in and their lip service.
Find a Barometer
All groupings have their thought leaders. In your team, belief is fueled by the credible endorsement of a few key influencers. Some thought leaders are obvious. Every gesture of the executive team, for example, is noticed to see how much they believe. Likewise anyone who is close to the leadership or who has the power to hire and fire. Too many great visions have fallen fallow because they were rolled out before the core people were fully on board.
Other thought leaders are less obvious. There are usually one or two who are rebels. Your troublemaker has people’s attention and may be an excellent gauge of the climate in the whole team. If he or she believes, most will follow suit. I suggest inviting at least one rebel to become a barometer by setting up a special line of feedback with that person. It may cost you some time or a few small concessions but, done well, the gain in terms of belief is big. The group will likely also have a ‘heart’ person. Someone who people go to with their cares and pains. Having such a person as a barometer makes it a lot easier to read the team dynamic. You no longer have to guess when someone so closely connected can simply tell you what is really going on.
The most important influencer of all is you. It is up to you to build or damage the credibility of your own endorsement. Whenever you say something that doesn’t happen, that eats away at your capacity to instill belief. When your word delivers, people start to believe in you at deeper and deeper levels and your ability to create great outcomes will just keep growing.
I would love to hear your experiences of instilling in those around you the kind of belief that made what previously seemed impossible actually happen.