How Belief Writes Your Leadership Story

This is a guest post by Bill Blankschaen, author of A Story Worth Telling just released from Abingdon Press. A writer, speaker, and content strategist, he blogs at Patheos and Faithwalkers where he helps people live an authentic life. Follow him on Twitter.

Belief is the Key Ingredient

Every day you lead, you are writing a story. You don’t have to be a writer or even put pen to paper to make it a good one. But you do need one key ingredient: belief.

Regardless of your beliefs about spiritual matters, your leadership legacy will be determined by your faith. By faith I don’t mean going to church or engaging in religious rituals, as important as those practices may or may not be to us. I simply mean doing what we believe to be true, often in spite of what we see, sense, or feel.

????????????????????????????????????What we believe to be true determines what we do. And what we do is what gets results. Our motion reveals our devotion to what we believe to be true.

The entrepreneur who launches a new business believes in the product or service the new venture will provide. The CEO who initiates change believes she knows where the market is headed and how the company can best prepare to capitalize on it. The individual who steps away from a comfortable career to tackle a new challenge does so because he believes a better story is possible.

If we want lasting results from our leadership — results that get talked about long after we’re gone — we must start with understanding how what we believe to be true writes our leadership story.

 

“Your leadership legacy will be determined by your faith.” -Bill Blankschaen

 

6 Critical Things Belief Does for Our Leadership

1. Belief gives clarity to our mission.

My new book, A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life, shares several stories of ordinary people who stepped out to fulfill their dreams because they believed it was the right thing to do. They believed their story could have value, so they began a quest to achieve a specific end. When we know what we value, we find our way toward it. Roy Disney, a man who knew a thing or two about making tough decisions, said, “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” -Roy Disney

 

2. Belief gives direction to our team.

The direction derived from belief doesn’t only help us as individuals, it also guides everyone we influence. As Jack Trout said, “At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” If you don’t know what you believe to be true, you’ll tend to drift wherever other forces take you. Drifting never inspired anyone to do anything but walk away. However, what you believe to be true will have consequences for your team — so choose wisely.

“At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going.” -Jack Trout

 

3. Belief inspires us to act courageously.

7 Steps to Improve Your Character Habit

Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to talk with Fred Kiel, the author of Return on Character: The Real Reasons Leaders and Their Companies Win.  His extensive research provides data that proves that character matters.  That same research also indicated that much of the character habits of the world’s best, virtuous leaders are formed in childhood.  Fred offers seven steps to improve your character habits.

Improving Character

It absolutely is possible to improve Return on Character (“ROC”) and raise your character reputation scores.  Your character habits are just that – habits.  And as such, they can be changed.  We all have some personal experience in changing our habits.  Sometimes it’s quite difficult, but it can be done.

We’ve isolated seven steps that work to improve your character habits:

1. Pop the Bubble

The first step you need to take to strengthen your character habits is to get real!  We all live in our own “bubble” – our version of ourselves.  Unfortunately, our view of ourselves is often wrong – we tend to believe our own press.  Everyone rates themselves as having a strong character – we see ourselves as principled people.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” -Confucius

 

2. Conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis

Be brutally honest with yourself.  You have acquired your character habits because at some point in your life, they were very beneficial. But in all likelihood, some of the habits learned long ago are now more costly than beneficial.


“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” –Sigmund Freud

 

3. Find the Fuel

The only way you’ll go the next step in changing your character is if you believe that the cost of your current habit outweighs the benefit.  You must find the “fuel rod” that will energize you enough to acquire a new habit.

“What keeps me going is goals.” -Muhammad Ali

 

4. Now, Write it Down

The important thing now is to write down what you’ve decided from your cost-benefit analysis.  If you can’t write it down and provide a convincing argument about why you should change, you’re just living in la-la land.  You won’t change anything about your character habits.

“If you do not write it down, you have a wish, not a goal.” -Steve Maraboli

 

5. Focus Your Attention

The Real Reason Leaders Win: Return on Character

Cash or Character?

Not too long ago, I was asked to give a talk about organizational culture and why it matters. Before I walked up to the podium, one of the attendees cornered me. He wanted me to know his strongly-held position. In an emphatic tone, he nearly shouted:

“Skip, cash matters, not culture, not character, not creativity! Cash is the only thing you can spend.”

How fortunate that my slides started with financials so I could demonstrate the power of culture change. But, what I wish I had was the book that crossed my desk a few weeks ago:  Return on Character: The Real Reasons Leaders and Their Companies Win.  In the most comprehensive study of its kind, Fred Kiel reveals the research that proves that good character wins. We discussed his findings at length and I know many organizational leaders will want to study the results.

 

“Character is the tree. Reputation is its shadow.” -Lincoln

 

 

Studying CEO’s

Tell us just briefly about your study and its methodology. Where did you get the idea, how many CEO’s were involved, etc.?

ROC CoverIn 2005 I and my co-author, Doug Lennick, published a book entitled Moral Intelligence in which we claimed that highly principled leaders obtained better long-term business results than leaders who were not so principled.  The book has done very well, but shortly after it was published we received some pushback. One person said, “Fred, I know you like all of this soft stuff.  But let me give you a little lesson in economics.  The business model is what creates value.  If a business is profitable and makes a lot of money, all that culture stuff will come along with it.  And if it doesn’t, that’s not a big deal as long as management stays legal.  What you talk about is just icing on the cake.  It’s nice but not necessary.  And, besides you don’t have any hard data to back up your claim.”

This really got to me.  He was right about me not having any data to back up our claim that character matters – and that became the call to action for our study.

Over the next seven years we signed up 121 CEOs and their senior teams to participate.  Eighty-four completed the study, so we have complete data sets on these 84 CEOs, their senior teams, and their organizations.  Over 8,500 randomly selected employees completed our surveys about these CEOs and their teams.  We have nearly one million separate data points in our research base.  This is the largest study of this kind to date.

 

4 Universal Character Habits

How do you define character in the Return on Character (ROC) matrix?

We scoured the cultural anthropology research and discovered that humans all over the world share many common practices and beliefs.  Parents all over the world teach their children to tell the truth, keep promises, own up to mistakes, forgive others, and to care for people – at least in their tribe.  We added to this understanding the recent findings from the neurosciences and genetics to come up with our definition of character as it applies to leaders.

The ROC Matrix shows the four universal principles and the character habits that are aligned with these principles.

 

Copyright Fred Kiel; Used by Permission Copyright Fred Kiel; Used by Permission

Lincoln said, “Character is the tree.  Reputation is its shadow.”  Likewise, the habits we all have for how we treat other people is our character reputation.  That’s what we measured in our research – a leader’s reputation for how he or she treats people.

 

Probing the Leader’s Childhood

In several places in the book, you delve into the CEO’s childhood and upbringing.  Why?  What did you find?  Why is the CEO’s life story so important?

If you took the resumes and employment histories of high character CEOs and compared them to low character CEOs, you’d be hard pressed to see much difference. Both groups are competitive, driven to succeed, rational, high energy, and often wicked smart – they know how to command a room and nail an interview.

Where we started to see significant differences was when we surveyed their employees and asked about their behaviors around the 4 universal character habits – integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. So that begs the question – how did each group come by their different postures around these habits? Where did they get their beliefs about how the world worked and how to succeed in that world?

Turns out the clues are in their childhoods and upbringing.

Leaders Require No Fine Print

No Fine Print Required

There I was, staring at the clock. It was late at night, or really early in the morning, and I had a meeting the next morning. Sleep was eluding me. Like a surfer, I would almost catch the wave to take me where I needed to go, but then it would dissipate before I could get going.

I tried deep breathing. Prayer. Meditation. I have never sought pharmaceutical help, but I have tried various herbal remedies. That’s when I remembered that I had purchased a new product that had melatonin in it. Melatonin is a hormone that supposedly helps with sleep. There have been times when that has been an aide to me, so I wandered downstairs to try it. Getting back into bed, the exhaustion once again seemed to take over…

Bam!

Suddenly, I was wide awake. Completely wired as if I had three cups of coffee. Not only was I no longer tired, I had a surge of energy. When that happens, I get up and read a book or do something productive around the house.

A few hours later, I picked up the bottle.

There, in the fine print, I read the words on the label. “Valerian.”

Valerian is an herb that helps some people sleep. I tried that before many years ago. I was one of the small percentage of people who don’t react with sleep, but in the opposite way. Apparently, this pill had a nice dose of it mixed with the melatonin.

 

“Leaders require no fine print.” -Skip Prichard

 

Pow!

How often do we read the fine print? How many times do you see an asterisk and read that footnote?

Nothing is more important than our character. A reputation or personal brand built without character inevitably fades, fails, or fizzles. Integrity is solid. When we have it, our friends can rely on us; our business partners trust us, and even our competitors admire us.

 

“Personal brands built without character fade, fail, and fizzle.” -Skip Prichard

 

Leadership and Punctuation

Top Reasons for Leadership Fails

This is a guest post by Alison Brattle. Alison is a marketing manager with AchieveGlobal (UK) Limited. Feel free to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Reducing the Risk of Leadership Failure

The world’s greatest leaders know that success is fleeting and that no amount of success in the present can prevent a future failure. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking that it can’t happen to you, but the truth is, it’s much easier to fail than you think. An essential part of leadership development is understanding the warning signs that indicate potential problems; learn what they are and how to combat them to reduce the risk of a leadership failure.

 

Leadership Question: Are you able to write down your focus area in just a few words?

 

Your Focus Shifts

A focus shift can happen in many ways. Some leaders lose sight of what’s important; they get caught up by the pressure that leadership brings, and they lose the focus that they had on the job. In some cases, leaders start to focus too much on the finer details of the job, they start micromanaging, and they end up taking over tasks that are better carried out by other people.

What’s your primary focus in terms of your leadership role? If you can’t write it down succinctly in just a few words, you may be losing focus. Remember that you should be concentrating on leading, not on micromanaging.

 

You’re Communicating Poorly

If you’ve lost focus as a leader, you’re going to have a very hard time communicating your vision and intent to other people. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your team will automatically know what you’re talking about or know what you want without being told.

 

Leadership Trap: thinking your team automatically knows what you are talking about.

 

You’re Afraid of Failure

A good leader is driven by a desire to succeed, but sometimes, doubt and uncertainty creep in, and that desire for success turns into a fear of failure. Past success starts to feel less like achievement and more like pressure, and for some leaders that translates into a fear of taking reasonable risks and a fear of innovating.

Are you still comfortable with risk? Good leaders aren’t reckless, but equally so, they’re not afraid of taking on a reasonable level of risk.

 

Leadership Question: Are you taking the appropriate amount of risk?

 

Your Personal Integrity is Slipping