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The Power of Belief

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Each month I like to write my ideas for this little newsletter of ours, but over time I have come to believe that what I really do is share my life with you because of me and less because of you. The process of writing down what I have observed, what worked and what didn’t felt a little like lessons to share and, lately, seems like more than that.

One of the many privileges of my job is to sit (and sometimes stand) with smart, talented, humble leaders at or nearing the top of their game. The strongest and most mature of these leaders need me much less than I need them and yet they want me around to obtain snippets of information that I might share and they might receive. June and July have been illuminating months for me as new (and some who have been around for a while) Priority Learning leaders grace us with their stories and challenges as unique and interesting to me as episodes of True Detective or Game of Thrones.

Follow along as I piece together some take-aways from the last 60 days of my life. 

What a leader believes – More and more I find myself drawn to leaders with really solid belief systems. By this, I don’t mean religious or political views. Like most of us, I believe that my family comes first and that overriding belief governs much of my decision making. Most business leaders have a “come first” that guides their actions also.

Example, recently during a conversation with a key leader, he kept bringing up the word ‘culture’ in our conversation. He would say; “We encourage people to share ideas, it is part of our culture” or, “We created an employee ownership program because it was part of our culture.” As many of you know, we spend a lot of time working with organizations intent on creating cultures of high achievement and high support, so I am naturally curious every time I hear “part of our culture.” I asked, would you mind sharing what you mean by culture? Without even a moment’s hesitation he nailed the definition to the point that I found myself taking notes. He said, “Culture is how people feel about their work, their colleagues, their customers and the environment they work in.” As he said it, I could tell that it was not something that he had learned or read about or even thought was cool. He meant it and it was clear to me that it was how he chose to lead his company. He shared that his biggest fear was that he would leave the company someday and the person replacing him would not feel the same way and “his” people might suffer. Don’t you love the “his” part?

What a leader does is the translation of what the leader believes – You and I know “big talkers.” You know, those people who have read stuff or heard stuff and say that they are ‘stuff.’ In fact I worked with a leader years ago who classified people into the “stuff group” and the “fluff group.”

My experience tells me that people who firmly ingrain a core belief system, good or bad, live and lead to those ingrained beliefs.

One example is the leader who is driven by a metric and believes that everything can be measured. That leader will return to a measurable each time that economic times get tough. Their first inclination when the economy turns is to cut the highest expense which is always people. 

Please don’t mistake that reaction for lack of imagination. It is usually a return to what the leader values and believes. Interestingly, many leaders in this group might tell you prior to the economy tanking that people are their most important asset. No hypocrisy, just belief systems.

Conversely, leaders who believe in creating innovation as a core belief will rely on innovation when times get tough and, in case you missed it, laid off people are incapable of innovation. If leaders really believe that people are their most important asset, they might ask for furlough time, cut their own salaries, ask employees for ideas on how to troop through hard time and use the employee loyalty to guide the organization together. All of this long before a body is sacrificed.

Sound naive? Stories abound from the recession of 2008 that might make you think differently. 

How do you know what a leader believes? Well the easy answer is to ask. That can be tricky. Many times leaders don’t articulate what they believe as easily as they give their “State of the Business” talks. For all the Simon Sinek fans (and there are a ton) this is easy to understand when you realize that our why (core beliefs) comes from a part of the brain not associated with language. Check this out if you are new to Simon and want more… .

Here is an easier way to know what your leader believes. Watch and ask. Watch what they do in good and bad times. Watch what they do under duress and when they are relaxed and then ask why they did what they did. Remember our leaders work for us and it might be good for us to help them validate their “beliefs.” We are all people watchers and all of us watch our leaders. We need to. Our jobs and futures depend on it. Under that kind of bright light, all leaders show their true colors eventually. This isn’t a test. Being a little better is what we expect from our leaders and it is not unreasonable. Being better every day is our leaders’ primary responsibility to themselves and to each of us. 

What it means to all of us – To wrap this up maybe it would be good to think about where we are in July 2015. The economy and its forecast is for continued growth for the foreseeable future. We feel this in the robust employment market where people have more choices and where each employee and each employer is looking at being in the right place and having the best people. To any astute business person today, the whole idea is to have the best, most engaged people, with the greatest energy to serve each other and the clients we serve. Those are the assets we need which will get us to the finish line first. So what is the advice?

We all work for someone and it is in our (and their) best interest to be in a place that believes what we believe at some core level. Too far out of alignment can be measured by your dissatisfaction and eventual performance. Maybe your immediate supervisor is not perfectly aligned to you, but people at the top are and what do you do? Create the discussion. Things change because we begin the discussion and nothing changes if we don’t. Sometimes, leaders learn something early in their career and have problems coming to their own conclusions later as their responsibility grows. It doesn’t mean that they are stuck. Be the un-stuck please. 

To Leaders – If you employ people and have your mind and actions firmly ingrained in core beliefs, share. People want to know what you believe and, if you are starting to question what you believe, good. This is healthy and the beginning of an ongoing discussion that every leader should have at least with themselves periodically.

In summary, this is important stuff and the more time I spend with strong, effective, dynamic leaders, the more I am convinced that people who find their beliefs, share what they believe in and live what they share, the more their people and customers benefit. The strain of working in an organization or with someone who chose beliefs based on a day to day basis will cost you the thing we all agree is most important, those people we all know are the reason our organizations are successful…or not.

Have a great summer. See or talk to you soon.

Warmest regards,

5 (3)


Ralph Twombly
Priority Learning

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.



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