“Live your beliefs and you can turn the world around.” – Henry David Thoreau
I ‘m convinced that your thoughts shape your life and your beliefs shape your thoughts. You are where you imagined you would be, even if that isn’t where you thought you’d be. Normally these ideas are discussed in self-help books with a focus on the individual. We are taught to pray, visualize, to affirm and to be intentional in our thoughts so as to create the life of our dreams and/or change our circumstances. Most likely you have seen this power play out in your own life or in the life of others. To some the cause may be a psychological phenomenon and to others a spiritual principle but there is little doubt about the effect. If we are in sync up to this point then please read on.
Recently on a seven hour drive to a business meeting I listened to a series of audio recordings on this subject. I have been reflecting on my life journey quite a bit after an unexpected life transition that put me on a very different path. This new place somehow felt very right even though I didn’t recall seeking it. The more I reflected on the months leading up to this shift, the more I realized I had ended up right where my heart wanted to be.
As I listened, I began to wonder how collective beliefs and thoughts shape organizations…and how leaders impact those thoughts and beliefs.
I can’t say I have fully thought this through but the idea I am interested in discussing with you is that leaders can significantly impact the outcomes of organizations through the beliefs and thoughts they hold and inspire. Another way of expressing this idea would be to say that the collective beliefs about the organization and its mission, and the thoughts attached to those beliefs, are the power source for everything we aspire to achieve and the culture we want to create. Yes, that was a very long sentence but I think it captures the point. If this hypothesis is true at some level then the question we might ask is what beliefs currently exist in our organization and how are they being manifested?
You say you have a vision. Do people see themselves in the picture?
You say you have a mission. Is it worth their life?
You say you have core values. Are they manifested in actions?
You say employees matter. Do they feel loved?
You say put customers first. Do they get it?
Is reality matching what you say you want? If not, it may have nothing to do with the words you are saying; it’s the fact that no one believes them.
Let’s just take vision as an example. Have you ever actually sat down with your team, asked them to close their eyes and envision what it would be like to be in that desired place? Do they connect with it deeply and feel the joy of that experience even though it hasn’t yet happened? I did this once with a team after we created our core values together. We talked for a while about what they meant and how it would change our relationships and our work. Then I asked them to close their eyes and imagine what it would be like to work in a place where everyone lived those values. After about 10 minutes of visualization I asked everyone to share what they saw and felt. Yeah it was kind of awkward at first but after a while you could feel the positive energy building in the room and everyone left with a clear picture of what we wanted to become.
They visualized it. They believed it. And then it became reality.
In another scenario the opposite happened. Despite pleas from leadership to adopt a new process that would help the organization operate more effectively and make everyone’s lives easier nothing changed. The message was strong, the reasons were clear…but nothing happened. During a discussion about why the effort failed I was struck with the realization that no one believed us. The team held a belief about the organization that was stronger than any words we had to offer.
We had to address the belief in order change reality.
I don’t recall much being said in leadership literature about the power of beliefs so I thought it might be a topic worth discussing. I wrestled with the concept and I still don’t know whether the ideas here made sense to anyone but me. Feel free to weigh in and share your comments to help me frame this more clearly. Maybe you have some great examples you can share or your own ideas about how these forces operate. In the mean time, I’ll keep “thinking” about it.