Faith, Belief and Leadership . . .

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

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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1 Response to Faith, Belief and Leadership . . .

  1. mimijk says:

    Couldn’t agree more John – I’ve seen it in my consulting work and I saw it when I was a C-level executive. I think part of the challenge can be seen in the encouragement to focus one’s efforts externally – to the market and its evolving needs, with less attention being given to the internal needs of the organization. I recognize that this is a hard balance, but one that I think very few seek to achieve. And as such, leaders lose touch with the organizational betterment that can result, the vision that may need revision and exposition to those who work there.


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