The state funeral of Ronald Reagan this past week was accompanied by an abundance of television programs on various aspects of the man’s life. As President Reagan was my commander-in-chief while I served in the US Navy from 1981 – 1987, I watched some of these special programs with interest.
One can agree or disagree with the man’s politics, but one thing stood out to me in many of these programs: Reagan left office with the highest approval rating of any American President. As I pondered this, I wondered why he was so appealing, but the answer was being provided for me right there on the TV: “Ronald Reagan believed in America,” one talking head said. “He believed down to his core the things he was saying.”
This same power of belief showed itself again the very next day. I was conducting a teambuilding training class with sixteen senior managers. The task at hand was a rather difficult “low ropes” activity, that when first presented, often seems impossible. I stated the objective of the exercise and then said, “It may appear impossible, but every other group I’ve asked to do this has accomplished the goal, so I know you can, too.” And of course, they did.
It was during the debrief of that activity that I experienced my “a-ha.” I asked, “How many thought at first that the task was impossible?” Only one person raised his hand. Usually when I ask that question half the class raises it hands. But another participant spoke up: “You said we could do it, and we believed you.”
There was that “belief” word again.
The power of belief was also the point of a story I heard on the radio last week. It was about a little boy whose favorite book was The Little Engine That Could. Apparently the boy loved the book so much he had his parents read it to him several times a day. Then one day he was in the car with his mother when she was forced off the road and their car plowed down into a ravine. Eyewitnesses came as fast as they could down the hill, and feared the worst when they saw that the car was on fire. But what they found was a little boy, weighing half his mother’s weight, pulling her unconscious body away from the burning wreckage saying out loud, “I think I can, I think I can.”
Belief in one’s abilities and leadership was also a key plot ingredient in the movie U571, starring Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey’s character had to learn that to be a leader, one had to have and display firm beliefs. If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend it for that lesson alone.
Belief is one of the most powerful tools a leader can possess. People follow those who know what they believe and why they believe it.
The word “horizon” is rooted in Greek, and it means “the limit of what you can see.” Leaders who know what they believe and why they believe it are concerned about their horizon. They raise their sights and look out farther than most. And when they are confident about what they see and what they believe, this confidence spills over into their convictions – their beliefs.
Simply stated, if your beliefs are strong you’ve got a powerful thing. Ronald Reagan is credited by many as turning around a demoralized country. That little boy is credited with saving his mother’s life. No matter who you are or what you do, knowing what you believe and why you believe it is a very, very powerful force.
Raise your sights. Examine your convictions. Know in your heart what you believe and why you believe it. The ripple-effect can change a life- or the world.