As I troll through history, especially religious history, one thing stands out above everything else. How the rock hard faith and belief held by one individual can have a powerful impact on the behaviour of a large number of people. Whether it be Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Emperor Haile Selassie, even the Reverend Jim Jones, people tend to follow those who display a strong and steadfast belief.
The same principle applies to leadership. Adolf Hitler strongly believed in the superiority of the Arian race, and his rhetoric combined with his burning belief captured the imagination of an entire nation to such a degree that they were willing to commit heinous atrocities. Dr. Martin Luther King stood solid in his faith in righteousness and his belief in the fundamentals of human rights for all. His actions, guided by his faith and belief, created a new possibility for black people in the US.
The same principle applies to companies facing a financial turnaround or a difficult business environment. The faith and belief held by the leader (most often the CEO or President) in the strategy, the brand, the products, and the people must be rock solid in order for the leader to act and lead in a way that fully captures the hearts, minds, creativity and energies of employees (and customers).
I have several clients at the moment who are facing significant marketplace challenges to the growth of their business. The industry they are in is cutting back spending for new product development, upgrades and even in some cases spares. The total industry spend is shrinking significantly and as a result, their sales forecasts for the next two years are shrinking anywhere from 15-30%.
All boats sail true in fair seas, but it is only in the storm that we find out what kind of captain we have.
So, how can a leader in such a situation display great faith and belief? After all, the marketplace sucks!
First of all, the reality is that some staff reduction, cutbacks, right-sizing, overhead containment (whatever you chose to call it) is a fact. To maintain profitability, costs must be reduced. But a leader can also see this fact as an opportunity to readjust the company, to reorganize, to reposition for the future. That is, if she has real faith and belief in the strategy, the brand, the products, her staff, the employees. If that rock hard, “solid as Gibraltar” faith and belief in the company is not there, then the opportunity will easily be missed, opting instead for mere cost cutting.
These are the times a leader must look in the mirror. Do you display faith and belief in your products, your people, your staff? Not just a cursory glance, a real honest and deep look into yourself. Because if the faith and belief is not there, then it’s going to be difficult to convince and engage others in the turnaround or the repositioning of the company.
So, let’s say that you have faith in your products (world-class), and in your strategy (well thought out and properly positioned), but you don’t have that same solid faith in your staff. A few just don’t seem to have the capability or zeal you would like. Now comes the real question; what do you do?
Some advice? Great products and a solid strategy won’t make up for weak or incapable leadership! While strong leadership can make up for a less than capable strategy or not so great products, weak leadership brings everything down. I definitely subscribe to the advice of Jim Collins when it comes to the leader and his senior team; “First, get the right people on the bus, then think about the business needs.”
If you don’t have complete faith and belief in your top team, you can’t lead the organization through a difficult business environment because you won’t be able to display that rock solid faith and belief that people need to follow you into difficult challenges. You won’t be authentic, no matter how “upbeat” you try to make yourself during your speeches and company communications. Real faith and belief have an uncanny way of “leaking out” of people, but no theatrics or polished speeches can put it there in the first place.
Oh, and by the way, if you have strong faith in your team, your products, your strategy and your people, then act like it!
“Your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe.” ~Mark Victor Hansen
John R Childress