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Jay Kumar Hariharan

The author is an Executive Coach, Speaker and Deep Sea Diver. He is a graduate from International Coach Academy, Sydney. He provides coaching interventions to create transformational Leadership practices. For more read about the author visit www.coachjaykumar.com

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Secrets of a High Performing Team - Shared Belief

Belief systems are guiding processes to tell us what gives us pain and pleasure and our belief systems are driven by generalizations about past incidents, behavior that have given us pain or pleasure, these generalizations guide us throughout our lives.

Photo Credit : leparaguas.com,

Around the middle of 2007, it had not been a good ride for Eberhard, the erstwhile Founder of Tesla motors as mentioned in the book “Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance. Missed launch deadlines, faulty suppliers and an unreliable transmission, there were quite a few issues with the Roadster –the first model that Tesla had lined up for a launch, not to mention a budget misreporting that had incorrectly calculated the cost of putting the car on road. The crew was dispirited, when Eberhard rallied everyone around. In front of a 100 people, Eberhard had a picture of his young daughter projected onto the wall of the main workshop. He asked the Tesla engineers why he had put that picture up, when one of them guessed that it was because people like his daughter would drive the car. Eberhard replied “No, because by the time she is old enough to drive, she will know a car as something completely different to how we know it today, just like you don’t think of a phone as a thing on the wall with a cord on it. It’s this future that depends on you”. Eberhard then thanked some of the key engineers and called out their efforts in public. Many of the engineers had been pulling all-nighters on a regular basis and Eberhard’s show boosted morale. “We were all working ourselves to the point of exhaustion”, said David Vespremi –a former Tesla Spokesperson, then came this profound moment where we were reminded that building the car was not about getting to an IPO or selling it to a bunch of rich dudes but because it might change what a car is”. There have been many inspiring moments when a Leader had to stand up and be counted upon to raise the morale and build belief among the troops and very often this would be the incremental “one inch” stretch that would be the deciding factor between success and failure.

I was discussing “Coaching culture” with the CEO of a large company. When we started discussing the “As is” situation, he was clearly troubled about the fact that his executive leadership team was not on the same page regarding “agreed upon” targets for this year. Conversely, according to them, he had taken on a very ambitious target which was way out of reach for the team, while they were stretched on several counts. He also said, seemingly surprised that the existing team was the one that had grown massively against impressive odds the previous year.

When we asked him –what was the leadership strategy that ensured last year’s success –He said “I went after everyone with a baton in my hand” and smiled. He continued, saying that the same approach was clearly not working this year, not to mention a steep increase in attrition and people management issues. Clearly, what got him here was not going to get him there!

The Organisation had gone about the usual exercise –Strategy sessions, outbound experiential sessions etc. and artefacts around the Offices spoke about the mint fresh Mission and Values statements. This turned out to be a meaningless ritual as there were several questions unanswered at the Core. Year 2 could not be treated as a Business as usual period with learning based on from Year 1. Emergent learnings did not find play amidst the deliberate strategy set by the CEO. How can he rally his team around this “new reality” and motivate them to excel? A shared set of beliefs at the Core can make or break a Team or an organisation?

How does one build belief at the personal level as a Leader, and create sustainable and shared set of belief systems at the Workplace at a team and org level? Is belief a matter of choice? How can we consciously choose to believe something that seems either impossible or seems so out of sync with our experience? 

Let’s try an exercise –

·        Can you guess the maximum speed a man can ride on a Bicycle?

·        What would you believe is highest record set for a leg press?

I can assure you that it will be higher than the number you just guessed. Please scroll down to the end of this piece for the correct answer.

Pain and Pleasure:

Belief systems are guiding processes to tell us what gives us pain and pleasure and our belief systems are driven by generalizations about past incidents, behavior that have given us pain or pleasure, these generalizations guide us throughout our lives. Unfortunately, in more complex areas of our life, generalizations can create extremely limiting beliefs.

You would have noticed that when you tried learning something and you couldn’t master it, your discouragement leads you to try even lesser thus creating a neural loop. This is the “Pygmalion effect”. Leader expectations of the employee may alter subordinate behaviour. This behaviour that is expressed toward an employee can affect the behaviours of the employee in favour of the leader's expectations. The more an employee is engaged in learning activities, the higher the reinforcement from the leader. In turn, the employee participates in more learning behaviour.

What is a belief?

A belief is a feeling of certainty about something, think of it as a table top and the references you collect are the legs of the table. Let’s say –you have a belief you are good at handling people issues. Possible references could be: “People seek me out to sort out interpersonal problems”, “ I notice people who are good at handling people issues and I can relate to them” etc. This is how Beliefs are formed. If you have to strengthen the table further to become a conviction, you need to increase the number of legs that hold up the table. This is why references are extremely important. An opinion, under reinforcement becomes a belief and a reinforced belief becomes a conviction.

References:

We use references to calibrate our belief, Roger Bannister was the first man to cover a mile in 4 mins in 1954, in 1955, 30 people broke his record and in 1956 –more than 300 people broke the same record. This is the power of reference! When we know of people, teams or organisations who have managed to achieve insurmountable challenges, the feeling of possibility becomes the new reality. The first thing, the CEO needs to do is assemble as many reference materials as possible and ask himself the following question “What would he need to change or reassess to increase adoption of this new belief”? What would it look like if he crafted a way forward for his team with this sense of belief and possibility? “What’s the quickest action he can take as a Leader to cement his team’s sense of Belief in the new Goal/Vision?

Do all references have to be true?

Not really, visionaries and leaders are able to detail out the future in such detail that the brain embraces the same as reality and that paves the way going forward. Imagination was the biggest reference without which we wouldn’t have been able to fly, drive a motor car or land on the moon. The golden rule is to pick out the references that can support us in picking up empowering beliefs and drop beliefs that are disempowering. True Leaders follow “boundary less” learning and borrow references from a wide variety of sources including Arts, literature and Sport

Changing a Disempowering/limiting belief:

Start by questioning the old belief, associate massive pain to holding on to earlier beliefs, create a doubt, new experiences trigger change only when they question your earlier beliefs.

For shared beliefs to thrive at the Leadership level, A CEO has to consistently go through the following steps:

·        Question the earlier belief system

·        Add as many references as possible to support and align with the renewed belief.

·        Ensure the right and common rules are communicated to establish the New Beliefs.

·        Take baby steps and celebrate early wins.

·        Reinforce

There are different Kinds of Beliefs:

Global Beliefs: The answers you give to yourself and to other people about questions regarding People, Life, Religion, Friendship Business, Love etc. A small shift in your global beliefs can result in an epiphany of sorts under special circumstances.

If Then Beliefs: Different people look at different levels of achievement on a Metric to adopt a belief, these are called Rules. Let us say, you have a belief -you have done a great job, if you have at least 5 stakeholders commending you, then you feel satisfied. For a self-driven colleague, he might be content with his own verdict on his performance. Different rules to support the same beliefs!

In the current Enterprise scenario, Leadership Teams are expected to deliver more with existing resources. A beautiful example of this scenario is played out in the movie “Money Ball” when Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) is upset by his team's loss to the New York Yankees in the 2001 postseason, faced with the impending departure of his star players, Beane meets with the owner of Oakland athletics and asks for more money(Resources) from Steve Schott –the owner of Oakland Athletics and Steve replies “We're a small market team and you're a small market GM, I'm asking you to be okay with not spending money I don't have. And   I'm asking you to take a breath and shake off the loss, and then I'm asking you to get back in a room with your people and figure out how you're going to replace these guys with the money I do have”.

There are similar discussions that play out in various boardrooms during AOP’s. Building belief around core org objectives is a consistent wash –rinse-repeat exercise that needs to be continually worked upon to beat challenges like Inertia, communication lags and the NIH (not invented here) syndrome.

And now, for the answer to the earlier asked question in this article:

·        The World’s fastest speed cycling record is 268 kms per hour and is held by Fred Rompelberg of Netherlands.

·        The world record for the Leg Press is a humongous 1043 kgs for a full eight repetitions and is held by bodybuilder Ronnie.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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