Your team won’t just believe in your company’s mission or the work that comes with it overnight. As a leader, it is your responsibility to inspire and instill belief. If a leader is going to help their team to perform at their best, the team must evolve to believe in the leader, their teammates, the company and the work.
People guard against believing in things they can’t see, touch or personally experience, and their professional beliefs are no different. Professional belief comes with more complexity than other types of beliefs. For example, someone can choose to be a fan of a team and believe that the team is going to have a good season, but whether or not this is true has no real impact on that person’s life.
My parents loved baseball, and they were New York Mets fans. They believed season after season that the Mets were going to be good, and it didn’t matter if they were wrong. They still watched the games and rooted for the Mets, even after hope for a good season was gone. This kind of arm’s length belief that has no real personal negative consequences to it is what I refer to as a superficial belief. Sports fans probably don’t see it that way, but it is a belief in people and an endeavor that you’re not directly involved in. For many people, their work is on an entirely different level of belief.
Team members know whether belief is manufactured or whether it is based on a solid foundation. Belief that is manufactured asks people to deny what they know to be true to believe in something other than the truth. Manufactured belief can also be labeled as manipulated belief. A leader who asks their team members to believe in a mission and work that is not grounded in a believable foundation risks losing respect and credibility.
A believable foundation includes elements like a worthy mission, the right team to accomplish the mission, the right leadership and the organizational support and commitment to see the mission through. Professional belief, for most people, is about what could be based upon what is. Most people are not willing to risk their professional time, earning potential and reputation to believe in a mission and work that is unsubstantiated and that has very low odds of succeeding. Leaders need to build a belief case and communicate it clearly so that team members can buy into what the leader is asking them to do.
People are very good at sniffing out false beliefs — and leaders that try to sell false beliefs. Every team member knows whether the mission is worthy and whether the work is worthwhile. Teams are not fooled when a leader or coach tries to convince them they have what it takes to succeed when they know they don’t. This is not to say that the leader and team shouldn’t begin working on and making strides toward the mission, but by being honest from the start, guiding the team and equipping them with the tools they need to succeed, they build trust and credibility as a leader. To truly believe a team can succeed, the team members need to believe they have the skills and expertise to do so. Without belief in the capability of the team, there can be no belief in the mission, the work or the leader.
A team’s belief in a mission and a leader is rooted in trust, honesty and transparency. A deep-rooted belief that can help a team overcome great odds and challenges covers every aspect of a team’s mission and work. Belief is either present, or it isn’t. The best leaders are the ones who facilitate belief among their team members because they are open and direct about the path ahead — the good, the bad and the ugly. This should include real talk about real issues and how the leader anticipates the team can overcome them. People follow leaders because they share the same professional beliefs and they also believe that the leader believes in them. Leaders believing in people comes first. A leader must first believe in their team members for the team members to believe in the leader.
Being a professional leader is an immense challenge and responsibility. There is tremendous pressure on business leaders to produce and to get their teams to perform consistently at a high level. What happened last year, last quarter, last month and last week doesn’t matter. Leaders are expected and required to produce in the now. The expectations and pressure can cause some leaders to become more manager than leader. Processes, equipment and tasks get managed. People get led. Leaders that fall into managing versus leading don’t typically even realize it is happening, but by the time they do, it’s likely too late to recover with that team because they will have lost belief in the leader.
Leaders engender belief from their team members by providing an environment where the team members can ply their craft and do their work unencumbered by company bureaucracy, politics and cultural challenges. Leaders who engage in and foster these negative company dynamics are more likely to have to resort to management tactics rather than leadership. Team members believe in leaders who believe in them and protect them so they can do their best work. In some ways this is the essence of leadership. You facilitate an environment and conditions for team members to do their best work. That is all any professional asks for.
Leaders, if you don’t believe in your team currently and they don’t believe in you, you need to assess whether you have the right team. If you don’t have the right team, then start working on building a team you can believe in. You will not succeed as a leader if you don’t believe in your team and your team doesn’t believe in you.
Originally posted with Columbus Business First