What’s even better than believing in yourself?

Great leadership can be found every-where. But if you’ve ever been a leader, you’ll know it takes a good amount of self-belief, as well as belief that what you’re doing really matters, to be an effective leader with real impact.

I used to be a CEO in the non-profit sector and that was a pretty challenging gig. Now I’m helping other people to lead, with courage and resilience, and teaching them how to build thriving teams. You’d think it’s easy but it’s not. It’s actually no different from being a CEO.

Every day, I have to show up, step completely out of my comfort zone, and stay focused on my purpose. I have to battle my own negative self-talk, build effective working relationships, and help others to be their best selves and do great work. The pressure is constant, and I have to be accountable for every-thing I do. Sound familiar? It’s what leaders have to hold, and do, every day. Would I want it any other way? Absolutely not. And if you’re a courageous leader, neither would you. 

It’s like the image I’ve selected for this article. Imagine how long the water has worked on those rocks to carve a pathway through to the other side. The water kept coming and it worked its magic, over a very long time, to create a thing of wonder and beauty.

After you’ve been working away in your leadership role for a long time, doing the hard yards, remember to look up at the sky in wonder. There’s always a bigger picture to see that will remind you that leadership is really not about you, and that as a leader, you will always have more to learn. 

Too old, too slow, too good

In this year’s AFL Grand Final, we saw an example of great leadership that was built on belief.  The Geelong team played astonishingly well, demolishing the opposition with an 81-point victory. Their win was well-deserved after 11 years of pain in which they lost so many finals, and it was all the more impressive, given that the experts had long said they were too old and too slow. In fact, this was the oldest team ever fielded in the history of the game.

I was left wondering how this is even possible? This is how. It’s the belief the Geelong coach had in his people, and the willingness of the whole team to believe in themselves and their system, despite the critics, and despite the adversity of so many losses in recent years.

This is what Geelong coach, Chris Scott, said after the victory.

“… It does feel like it’s been a really long, challenging road. We knew we were taking some risks but we backed it in and trusted our people. It’s a metaphor for life really, if you want to do great things, don’t expect it to be smooth sailing. You’re going to have to shake hands with adversity at some point. If you can hang in, with no guarantee that you’ll get the ultimate success, it might be worth it.”

The detractors said they were too old and too slow, but one fan’s poster said: “too old, too slow, too good”.

Leadership lessons about belief

There’s so much leaders can learn from this story of courage and belief. Are you backing your people 100%? Are you ready to take risks? Do you keep going, even in the face of criticism or failure? Do believe it’s worth being on the journey, even if there’s no guarantee of success?

Of course, it’s easy to say “yes” to these questions when you feel connected to your own sense of belief that your aspirations are possible. But what if your day is not going so well?

I googled “belief” to find a definition, and I like this definition I found:

“Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.”

Think about this definition in relation to your aspirations, whether in your work or your life. Do you truly believe that the proposition that you can succeed is true? If you dig deep, you might discover you’re a true believer. Sadly, however, indeed very often, you might discover you don’t have very much belief at all.

When I got down to business, after posting on LinkedIn about belief, I found that I felt increasingly low and lacking in motivation as the day wore on. It was a downward spiral from there.

When I reflected on this, I realised belief was exactly what I was lacking. And then it became clear to me why I had been writing about belief in the first place. Then, the next day – a great meeting with a new client and another prospective client making contact – and all of a sudden, I believe!

It’s easy to believe when you get great results, but what do you do when there are no results? And no guarantee that things will ever turn out the way you hope? As Geelong coach, Chris Scott, said about his team’s victory – “If you can hang in, with no guarantee that you’ll get the ultimate success, it might be worth it.”

This sounds like some wisdom from mindfulness. If you let go of expectations about the outcome, you might be surprised by what happens next.

It’s never black and white

Whether you believe or not sounds like a binary question – you either do or don’t believe your aspirations will be fulfilled. In reality, we don’t experience life in this binary way. We exist in the grey zone a lot of the time, not in a black and white world, where it’s all or nothing.

We have good days when we believe any-thing is possible, and you also get a boost in belief every time you get a win on the board. But there are also days where you feel belief slipping away, and of course your belief can take a big hit when something goes badly.

What I’m learning on this journey is that I shouldn’t expect to be experiencing the bliss of the true believer every minute of every day. It’s a journey (sometimes a very rocky journey). If you have a system or a process, keep following it. If you don’t have a system, it’s probably time to find one. Whatever the outcome is, it will be ok.

Very often it’s our attachment to a particular outcome that causes us so much pain. Learning to sit a bit looser to the outcomes you’re seeking really helps. Perhaps the most important thing to believe in – even more important than believing in yourself – is to believe is the process. That’s the belief that keeps you going on the really tough days.

Maria Brett
The Growing Edge

Maria Brett is a former CEO who has been a practitioner of mindfulness for more than 25 years. Maria’s Courageous Leadership Program helps participants make deep and lasting to the way they lead, including cultivating self-belief.  To find out more, contact Maria.

© Maria Brett, 2022