When Henry Ford said, “Those who think they can and those who think they can’t are both right,” he had no idea that a generation later, science would back him up with evidence. In fact, belief is a powerful predictor of success and failure. In one study, a group of smokers who were attempting to quit were first given a psychological assessment. A researcher sat down with each of them and explained that based on their results, they each had a great chance of quitting because of their “strong will power and great potential to…conquer desires.” This group in fact went on to be more successful at quitting than the control group who did not go through the assessment. The tests were actually bogus, and indicated no such thing about these people, but because they expected success, it fed their belief and belief is very powerful. (Blittner, Goldberg & Merbaum, 1978)
Psychologists who have researched “Expectancy Effects” tell us that events we expect to occur are in fact more likely to occur. Beliefs come in many sizes and shapes but I want to highlight one here. It’s called Self Efficacy. It simply means having a high degree of confidence to perform a certain task. When you have a strong belief in your ability to perform a task you have what is called high self-efficacy. *Researchers have found in repeated studies that self-efficacy is one of the most powerful predictors of change and success.
So how does this relate to us and to our leadership? First, leaders need a healthy dose of confidence in their role as leaders. Too often, we doubt our skills as we search for the ‘one best way’ to lead. The truth is there are many different approaches to leadership, and sometimes the best lesson is learning to be ‘yourself.’ That is as long as ‘yourself’ doesn’t like to go around bullying your staff.
When it comes to achieving a certain goal, or objective at work, we have to decide ahead of time to believe that we will be successful. This belief spurs motivation, persistence, determination and focus; all of the things that actually help us accomplish the job.
Secondly, leaders need to demonstrate great amounts of belief in their people. We want to help boost their Self Efficacy. In the study cited above, the smokers who had higher success rates in quitting were the ones who had credible sources tell them they should be able to do so. Keep in mind; this belief was based on false information, but the belief alone spurred their commitment to the goal. As leaders, our voice carries a lot of weight with our employees. I am not saying we should mislead our staff in order to have them perform at higher levels. I am merely demonstrating that there is an inherent power in belief alone. Now how much more powerful is belief when it is grounded in truth? We need to use that weight to communicate belief, bolster confidence, and help people see the talents they really do have. Most people seem to underrate their abilities, and when we help them see how much they have to offer, and how talented they are, the greater chance they will have at succeeding in their role.
A few tips
1. Regularly take time to express belief in the abilities of your staff.
2. When you reward or recognize an employee for a job well done, remember to praise their attributes that led them to successfully completing the project and not just the completed project itself.
3. Belief is something you choose to have. Each morning remind yourself to have confidence in your ability to lead others or accomplish whatever task lies before you.
*Bandura, 1991; Kelly, Zyzanski, & Alemagno, 1991; Brownell, Marlatt, Lichtenstein, & Wilson, 1986; Candiotte & Lichtenstein, 1981; Locke, Frederick, Lee & Bobko, 1984; Stock & Cervone, 1990; Norcross, Ratzin & Payne, 1989