Believing — An Essential Leadership Skill

This is the big month for a few things — Christianity, college basketball, and CEOs. It is all about believing.

For Christians, Easter is the essence of their belief. Jesus came to Earth to atone for our sins, lived amongst us, taught, provided a living example, offered a few miracles for the disbelievers, was crucified, died, and buried. On the third day, He rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father to judge the living and the dead.

If you are a Christian you believe the preceding paragraph to be a true statement. That belief — faith — is the glue that holds your life together. It is, literally, what makes you a Christ follower.

If you are a college basketball fan, next weekend is the Final Four and you believe with all your heart that your team is going to win it all.

You have had a tough time of it as the #1 seeds have been decimated — Duke, North Carolina, Gonzaga — leaving only Virginia to represent the elite and the Atlantic Coast Conference. ACC had three #1 seeds and only one remains.

You — like me — have been forced to transfer your allegiance to, say, Auburn University. War Eagle!

Image result for war eagle images

[Allow me to digress for just a second, WAR EAGLE! Is that a great motto or what? I went to a military school and we never came up with WAR EAGLE! Auburn was, once upon a time, a military school, but still. WAR EAGLE!]

CEOs and believing, Big Red Car?

As a CEO, you are dealing with the concept of what you believe in all the time. When you fashioned the Vision and Mission for your company, you were making an aspirational projection of what you believe in. You believe you can change the world, build a better mousetrap, change the course of a river. Believing is your special sauce — the special sauce of leaders, entrepreneurs, founders, CEOs.

When you hired your first employee, you were sharing your beliefs, like a Jesuit missionary. You extolled the Vision and Mission, the Strategy, the Tactics, the Objectives, your Values, and the Culture you would build. Hiring is missionary work. Missionary work is about selling your beliefs.

When you went out to raise money, those who did not believe told you, “Thanks for coming by, but this deal is not for us.” The ones who wrote you a check said, “We believe in you, your Vision. Wiring instructions?”

When you had a company and needed to breathe life into it, you drafted your Values based on your beliefs. It wasn’t hard, because those beliefs were in your DNA.

What if you don’t believe, Big Red Car?

One of the skills one must develop as a leader is the ability to get people to follow your lead. It sounds simplistic — no followers, you’re not a leader any way you slice it.

There are times that the only thing that inspires your followers to follow is your own personal example of how desperately you believe.

In the military, officers in combat units never ask their men to do something they will not do themselves. It is a sacred code and the officers who follow it are the best leaders.

Officers eat last, so if there is not enough chow, the men know you will take care of them before you take care of yourself. [There are no values unless there is a price tag.]

I remember going to a very hard Army school that entailed crossing a rapidly moving river in the middle of a dark night. Our patrol came up to the river and the patrol leader looked around and asked, “Who thinks they can swim a line across? Need a strong swimmer. It’s cold and the current is moving fast.”

Everybody looked down at their boot tops — we were all bone tired and colder than a well digger’s ass. It was raining, on the verge of sleet. Getting warm led through that river.

So, I said, “Give me the damn line.” I stripped off, swam the river with a small line tied to a rope and dragged the rope across, tied it off on a tree, and the patrol crossed. I went in upstream and let the current carry me down to the crossing site. It was a damn hard swim and I was chilled to my core. My nuts went on strike and threatened to unionize. It was that cold.

We made a fire so I could thaw out. [I swam in the natural state so my clothes could be floated inside a shelter half and arrive dry.]

Later, one of the sergeants who graded us took me aside and said, “You cold, lieutenant? That’s what leadership feels like. It’s not for the weak of heart.” He was, actually, much more colorful, but you get the idea.

I remember because I didn’t exactly like what leadership felt like. It felt like I would never get warm again. Ever.

Your people look at you and ask, “Does the CEO believe? Cause if he does, I can.” The flip side of that is also true. When it comes to believing, your people will never believe more than you do.

And, that, dear reader, is the bottom line. If leaders don’t believe, if they don’t act on their beliefs, your followers will not follow. It all starts with you believing and projecting that belief.

There will be some times when you will think, “I am not swimming that line across that cold ass river.” As the leader, your next words have to be, “But I am the boss, so I have to do it.”

And guess what? You can. You can. You can. And, when you stack up enough “I can”s, you will be a better leader than when you started. After swimming that river, I never hesitated again. I always swam the line. Cause, I believed.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. WAR EAGLE! [Sorry, Heels.]