Reflections on Leadership: The Power of Belief
No one can live or achieve beyond what he believes. That seems simple enough, doesn’t it? It’s a simple statement yet profound, nonetheless. For years a belief that the world is flat kept men close to shore, afraid to leave the sight of land. That mistaken belief created a smaller world, limiting it to only what could be seen. Those who would argue the “truth” of the earth’s shape were likely ridiculed for challenging what had been established, perhaps not unlike those who might contend Tim Tebow can actually remain a starting and winning quarterback in the NFL. While the consequences of that particular belief are not so great, at least for everyone but Tim, leaders do not have the luxury of holding on to what may be errant and misguided beliefs. To do so is to limit the achievement of those who would follow us toward meeting personal, professional, and organizational goals.
What we believe can sustain us and inspire others. Or those beliefs can become metaphorical bars that subtly, but completely, imprison us. In Tim Tebow’s case, it appears he doesn’t grasp the fact he is not meant to be “successful” much as a bumblebee doesn’t realize he should be incapable of flight. Yet Tim hasn’t let that stop him from getting his team into the playoffs this season and winning his first playoff game. Yet if leaders allow themselves to hold a mistaken belief about our ability, or that of our team, we place a ceiling on our own impact on the world. Just as Tim would if he entered a huddle with the belief the Broncos could not win under his leadership.
The difficulty for many would-be leaders lies in identifying what one actually believes. Asking and answering difficult questions about themselves is an essential skill for effective leaders. In some cases, we cannot find the right questions and must simply examine our conduct to discern what we truly believe. Our conduct is a great indicator of what we believe we can accomplish just as are the words we speak. If our thoughts and speech are “littered” with references to difficulty, lack of resources, skills, people, education, or if we can only focus on the advantages held by others, we will find ourselves failing to attempt great things. If our conduct reveals a lack of willingness to take risk, listen to alternative points of view, demand our own way, or excuse our performance or that of our the team we lead, we have likely become victims of our own belief system. To paraphrase Henry Ford, whether you believe you can or you cannot accomplish something, you are right.
To suggest that positive thinking and believing will overcome every challenge is not the point. Indeed, no matter how much a 6’7” 245 pound man (like me!) believes he can ride to success and win the Triple Crown, it will not happen. While realism is a valuable trait in a leader, he must never use it to excuse attempting great things. Most would never say, “it can’t be done.” Rather, they would barricade themselves behind the thinking and speech noted above. Genuine leaders know they examine themselves and weed out unprofitable thinking and beliefs. They know the most important conversation they will have today is the one they have with themselves.
Keep the faith.