Give Them Something to Believe In

Recently retired Kansas State football coach Bill Snyder famously crafted 16 Goals for Success which he used with his football teams over his decades of coaching. Goal #13 stated, “Expect to win… and truly believe we will.” According to Coach Snyder, one of the root causes of success was belief itself.

In my white paper Nine Ways to Be the Boss Everyone Wants to Work For, the very first best practice I share is “Belief in the cause.” As a leader, it’s not enough to simply perform the work itself. It’s also not enough to hold only private beliefs. Public beliefs allow leaders to give others around them something to aspire to.

What types of belief should a leader have? Here are a few for starters.

The Mission and Values of the Organization

It should go without saying that leaders ought to believe in the mission of the organization. After all, they represent the organization to those they lead. There is a huge difference between passive indifference to the mission and responsible ownership.

It’s true that not all missions (and mission statements) are created equal. Either way, effective leaders share their belief by vocalizing “what is it we stand for around here.”

The Product or Service

Some organizations serve people in the midst of their most vulnerable moments. Others create commodities. Some products and services are more exciting then others. But all leaders have the opportunity to rally their teams around the outcome of their work.

A simple way is to ask teams to consider the outcome of a flawed product – or a poor quality or service experience.

One company I worked for installed insulation. The product wasn’t exciting, but it provided leaders with the opportunity to insist that, “a house with poorly installed insulation can’t possibly be a home – it can only just be a house. We help build homes, not just houses.”

The Right Way to Do the Job

Each of us possess a certain amount of expertise, including leadership expertise – as my book Ignite Your Leadership Expertise explained. Even though we may be in charge, we’re all on a growth journey.

Regardless of their own levels of expertise, effective leaders possess a POV for how their field ought to operate and the right way to perform essential tasks. For the sous chef, this means insisting on the exact time and temperature for the signature dish. For the auto mechanic, it means having a precise method to perform a safety check. The focus isn’t micromanagement, but effectiveness.

People Matter

An unfortunate trap execution-focused leaders can fall into is believing (either consciously or unconsciously) that people are a means to an end. People aren’t the means to an end. People are the end.

Retired General Electric CEO Jack Welch observed that, “If you don’t like people, leadership stinks!” He estimated that 70% of his job was developing people.

How would you like to be the employee of a leader who believed people don’t matter? How would you like to be the customer?

If it’s been a while since you shared (and showed) how important your team members and customers are in your work, it’s probably time.

“People aren’t a means to an end. People are the end.”

We Can Overcome… Together

If you’ve watched any of Coach Bill Snyder’s teams play – or any sports teams for that matters – it probably didn’t take long before you saw an incredible game-winning comeback. Against all odds, one team overcame an enormous deficit to win the game.

Obstacles, challenges and resistance aren’t unique to athletics. They exist in every area of work and life. It’s the nature of the response that determines the outcome. As Henry Ford famously stated, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

The highest performing, most resilient teams embody the belief that they can overcome any challenge… together.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, facilitator and author of the books Stand Out! and Ignite Your Leadership Expertise. Click to see the exciting work Nathan is doing with young professionals.