The balance of spreading belief

By JP Dinnell

“What is some advice you would give to a leader who has a hard time letting go of the reins and delegating to others?”

Belief is one of the most important factors in determining the success of a team. As Jocko wrote about in Extreme Ownership, if the team believes in the mission, they will do whatever it takes to accomplish the goal. But if the team doesn’t believe in the mission, it’s unlikely they will persevere through challenges or do the hard work necessary to achieve mission success. But getting a team on board isn’t as easy as telling them about the mission. Spreading belief, like many other facets of leadership, requires balance. It’s another of the infinite dichotomies in the Dichotomy of Leadership.

On the one hand, there are some things in leadership that can’t be delegated. Spreading belief is one of those. You can’t just explain the greater strategic goals—what in the military we call “commander’s intent”—to a couple of your leaders and expect them to get the whole team on board. As the senior leader of a team, it’s your responsibility to brief the entire team on the direction you want to go and clearly explain why it will benefit them all.

However, the team won’t be eager to follow if it’s just the “big boss man” telling them how things are going to go. You need to get a handful of key supporters. After briefing the whole team, spend extra time with the key leaders to give them a detailed understanding of what you are trying to get accomplished and why. These leaders are crucial. These first supporters are the ones who will encourage the rest of the team that what you’re proposing is a good idea. They will reinforce to the frontline troops how it will benefit the team and the mission. It’s much easier to want to do something when your teammates think it’s a good idea than when only the boss is saying so. Those key leaders will spread belief to the whole team.

We see this all the time in our Echelon Front Field Training Exercise or FTX programs. An FTX consists of combat training scenarios (using laser tag or airsoft instead of real weapons) to put a team in challenging situations so that they fully understand and learn to implement the Laws of Combat through hands-on experiential learning. Often a team will come into FTX training with a few members who initially are skeptical of the training’s relevance or simply don’t believe in what we are doing. Then, our Echelon Front leadership instructors brief the team on what we are going to do and why we are going to do it. But us telling them what to do doesn’t always get the team to believe in the mission. It’s only after some of their own teammates start seeing the relevance and impact of the training. When their teammates start to believe, even those team members who were initially skeptical follow suit. After the first run through of an FTX scenario, one or two members of the team inevitably see the incredible benefits and direct application of the training and start telling their teammates. This is when we see things change for the better. After a few key teammates buy in, it’s not long before the belief spreads to the rest of the team. Once everyone gets onboard, the team is unstoppable.

Remember the importance of belief. Be aware of the dichotomy that must be balanced the next time you want to brief your team on a big project or new direction for the company. Remember that you can’t delegate briefing the team on your overall “commander’s intent.” You need to be the one who gives the team the strategic goals and the WHY. But also remember to spend the extra time with the key leaders who understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Without these supporters, it’s you against the masses. But with them, you can shift the attitude of the whole team, create belief in the mission, and dominate.

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