Bob the builder was the 1990’s champion of leadership. He was a great motivator and he was a great believer in outcome. He never once said “I think maybe we can do it” or “Yes I can”. Bob knew that every change, personal or business, impacted everyone around him. He knew he couldn’t build a building without it affecting the neighbors or change jobs without it impacting his family. Change is not an island, and change cannot happen if only one person believes it is possible.Belief in outcome has weighed heavily on my mind lately, both in my work and my personal life.
I have been trying to figure out how I can have two similar firms; both of the same size, same services and same challenges, yet one can be very successful in re- inventing themselves and another can perpetually struggle. I have always bought into the notion that it was primarily a factor of leadership from the top. I thought that if the CEO was on board with the change and held people accountable, it would work. If they weren’t, it wouldn’t work. Lately, however, I have had that notion tested.
I was stumped by a new client where the company leader said and did the right things, he sat in all the meetings, he held his employees to task, but still wasn’t gaining traction. I have come to realize there is another component which is belief in outcome.
You can call it trust, you can call it faith, but it is belief that the goal is achievable. You can realize it will be hard, you can realize there will be many challenges, but you have to believe it is achievable. That belief needs to be to your core, not just words or hope. We have always heard “never let them see you sweat” but I realize now what we as leaders need to project is “never let them see you doubt”, and even more importantly “never let yourself doubt”.
For this particular CEO, his answers to questions gave away his uncertainty to his team and it spread. Too often his answer to how they would do something involved “I think we can” instead of “I know we can’. When faced with concerns from his team about how they would gain buy in from reticent co-workers his answers were soft and didn’t provide the comfort needed to build confidence that the hurdle could be overcome. He wasn’t sure he could get there and was never able to solidify certainty in his firm.
Doubt, or questioning the outcome, is a much bigger deterrent to success than fear, workload or resources. My firms who are successful at change don’t have any magic formula except they believe they can get there, and then keep that belief throughout the project.
I have watched this play out in my own life lately, too. You knew I would get to horses fast didn’t you? I have been trying to figure out why my riding and my learning to ride seemed to have stalled or was going backwards for about the last 8 months. I had been making great progress and then it stalled. My trot was not as good as it had been, my lope wasn’t happening at all and I found a lot of excuses. I had a new horse. I had a car accident and injuries. I was super busy with work and wasn’t riding as much.
I had lots of reasons but not an answer. I wasn’t happy with me or my riding so I decided to look in another direction. I did just what drives me nuts with my clients, change the tool to try to solve something deeper. For me that meant trying riding lessons with an additional trainer. I thought I needed to hear things differently or that I needed to have someone fix my skills. I went, it worked and I had great rides. I loped, I trotted, I did things I hadn’t been doing. But as I tried to figure out why, I got more confused. The trainer didn’t really say much new in my lesson. He didn’t show me much different from what I was hearing and doing at home. He didn’t have a magic wand or fairy dust to ‘fix me’. He did put me on a different horse, but he pointed out right away it wasn’t the horse, that my next lesson would be a different horse and I would still be loping. So what was it?
It took me two trips to Texas before I got it. It was a change in my belief in outcome. I wasn’t allowed to believe anything would happen but success. Every time I questioned if I could do something I was told to “shut up and just do it”. When I said I had not loped over poles more than once in my life the trainer looked at me and said “that’s nice now go do it”. Did I believe it would happen at first? Nope, and when I tried and that doubt sunk in that it would fall apart, my horse would break gait, we would hit the poles and I would become unseated. But when I doubted, the trainer kept the faith. Did he just feed me empty words or tell me I would succeed when I couldn’t? Heck no. He told me what I did wrong, he told me to do it right and try again. Eventually I did it and proved my own disbelief wrong. And once I got it right the first time he made me do it over and over. Not until we were technically perfect, but until I realized I could do it. He kept repeating my success until I believe for myself that I could lope, that I had had the skill all along if I got out of my own head. I wasn’t allowed to stop until I realized I could show at the level I want to someday, until I believed I had it in me. We rode until I changed the dialog in my head.
I carried that dialog home with me and I changed as a rider that day and I changed as a person. I changed my dialog from “I can’t” to “I’m not there yet but I can get there”. I may not be loping the trail pattern on Jasmine yet, but I know now I have it in me and we will get there. I may not have the Master’s degree I want, but I know I can get there.
I now believe in the outcome and that changes everything.