Describing Leadership reminds me of the story of a man who lived in a remote village far from the ocean. As he traveled across the continent and witnessed the ocean for the first time, he was stunned and completely speechless by the rolling waves, the golden sand, and the roaring crash of water on rocks. He was so moved by the breathtaking majesty that he grabbed a bucket and filled it with sand and ocean water. When he returned to his village, he showed the people the contents of his buckets and exclaimed, “This is the ocean!” Clearly, though he is factually correct, the bucket does no justice to the experience of seeing the ocean. And worse, it can give a completely distorted and unimpressive impression of what the ocean is really like.
I have observed that many leadership texts provide examples of good leadership. People then follow those examples without understanding deeply the leadership principle behind the examples. Like the bucket of ocean water, it provides technical accuracy on a topic, but misses the spirit of how profound the total experience should be. For example, there are numerous articles on the internet describing how many successful leaders wake up very early in the morning. After reading such an article, it is very tempting to believe that if we wake up early in the morning, it will lead to success. But this is like the bucket of ocean water – waking up early is a good habit, and it may be what many successful people do, but it provides no more of a profile of success or leadership than the bucket of water provides insight into the experience of the ocean.
Rather than describing examples of leadership or how leadership generates success, we will explore three vital components of developing your aptitude for leadership. The good news is that these three components can be applied immediately to your personal and career life. In addition, these three topics apply universally regardless of the style of leadership that you conform to. The challenging news is that these are very difficult ideas to master – with each component increasing in difficulty and relying on mastery of the previous. Without these, however, I contend that effective leadership is impossible.
Trust vs. Faith
The first essential component to developing your aptitude in leadership is to inspire faith in others. Faith carries with it a very significant power, but it is often mistaken with the word “trust”. Both words convey the ability to rely on others to deliver on expectations. But the ability to inspire faith, not trust, is the necessary component of effective leadership.
So, what is faith? Faith is a lot like trust but with a very key difference. Faith contains a temporal dimension. One can elicit trust in many ways. Trust can come from acknowledged expertise on a subject matter or out of a mutual relationship. It can even arise out of a gut feel. Faith, on the other hand, can only come as a result of consistent results over time. When we talk about a faithful spouse, we are talking about a person who has stayed by our side despite many ups and downs and opportunities to do otherwise. It would be silly to congratulate a newlywed on being faithful on their wedding day, because without the testing through time, there is no faith.
Why is faith powerful? Consider this rather extreme but illustrative example. If I told you that it will rain at exactly 3:35pm tomorrow, and when the next day came, the rain started falling exactly when I said it would, you would probably consider that to be quite a coincidence. If I then told you that a small earthquake would occur the following day at exactly 1:12pm, and sure enough, it did, you would probably be more than a bit amazed. Again, if I told you that in the next day, the electricity would suddenly fail for an hour starting at 5:18pm, you would likely be in genuine amazement. It is almost guaranteed that if I told you to buy a lottery ticket on the next day, you would do so without fail. The reason you would listen is not because you have any sort of trust in me. I could be a complete stranger, but the fact is that I have correctly shown consistency with my predictions for reasons that are, in my example, inexplicable to logic. You would be willing to suspend your own prejudices and accept my predictions due to the consistent results you experienced over time. This is why building faith is so crucial in leadership. Faith opens the door for others to suspend their own prejudices and logic and explore beyond their comfort zones to the point of view a leader presents. And in any decision requiring leadership, there is always sufficient uncertainty such that logic alone cannot bring agreement. It is therefore faith, not trust, that is critical in gaining agreement in key leadership situations.
How do we build faith? Clearly, I am not advising that we learn how to predict the future. The discipline which will build faith among those you influence starts with following through on your commitments. Most people understand the importance of following through when it comes to significant or important commitments. With the unpredictability of our lives, it is tempting to neglect some of our smaller and less important commitments. When we are true to our commitments, no matter how critical or minor we may believe them to be, we pave a reputation of faithfulness. Aristotle has said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” And this is my urge to you – be excellent. Be solid in your commitments, big or small. Follow through in your commitments and over time, build faith in others that, in critical situations, they can be willing to extend beyond their comfort zones and have faith in your guidance.