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A Leader's Conviction

Conviction in a leader is an incredibly valuable yet increasingly rare trait. It's in short supply because our brains are wired to overreact to uncertainty with fear. In business, things change so quickly that there’s a great deal of uncertainty about what’s going to happen next month, let alone next year. And uncertainty takes up a lot of people's mental energy and makes them less effective at their jobs.

Leaders with conviction create an environment of certainty for everyone. When a leader is absolutely convinced that he’s chosen the best course of action, everyone who follows him unconsciously absorbs this belief and the accompanying emotional state. We mirror the emotional states of the people we look to for guidance. Leaders with conviction show us that the future is certain and that we’re all headed in the right direction. When leaders have conviction, people’s brains can relax, so to speak, letting them concentrate on what needs to be done. When people feel more secure in the future, they’re happier and produce higher quality work.

The jobs for which leaders are most often responsible include implementing change, promoting a new approach, generating enthusiasm for a course of action, solving a problem, or taking advantage of an opportunity. All of these actions have one thing in common: They require conviction. Without conviction from leadership, it is difficult to maintain the momentum necessary to grab the hearts and minds of the team at every level.

Conviction is an absolute prerequisite of effective leadership. Sue Wigston says, “Conviction breeds results.” She explains that when an initiative starts without conviction, the team often has to double back, reassess, and strategize recovery, reducing productivity and delaying deadlines. When leadership has a personal conviction about the plan, they are able to lead their team to the same conviction they have. Conviction allows individuals and teams to overcome obstacles because they have a strong belief in what they’re doing. If you don’t have conviction, obstacles can easily become permanent obstacles to success. Conviction also ignites passion which energizes the team. Passion and energy are infectious. Conviction is a major factor in overcoming both internal and external resistance. You can persevere.

The following traits of leaders with great conviction will show you the way. (Forbes magazine)

  • They’re strong (not harsh). Strength is an important quality in a leader with conviction. People will wait to see if a leader is strong before they decide to follow his or her lead..

  • They know when to trust their gut. They give their intuition some space. Gut instincts can’t be forced. Our intuition works best when we’re not pressuring it to come up with a solution.

  • They’re relentlessly positive. They see a brighter future with crystal clarity, and they have the energy and enthusiasm to ensure that everyone else can see it too. Their belief in the good is contagious.

  • They’re confident (not cocky). We gravitate to confident leaders because confidence is contagious, and it helps us to believe that there are great things in store. Confident leaders are still humble.

  • They embrace that which they can’t control. Leaders with conviction aren’t afraid to acknowledge what’s out of their control. They know that the only thing they really control is the process through which they reach their decisions.

  • They lead through modeling, not preaching. They inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words.

  • They’re emotionally intelligent. Leaders with conviction are wary of knee jerk reactions in fear, and label accurately their irrational fears. Then they focus on accurate information.

  • They don’t ask, “What if?” “What if?” questions throw fuel on the fire of stress and worry. Leaders with conviction know that asking “What if?” will only take them to a place they don’t want or need to go.

  • They’re willing to take a bullet for their team. Leaders with conviction will do anything for their teams, and they have their people’s backs, no matter what. They don’t try to shift blame, and they don’t avoid shame when they fail. They’re never afraid to say, “The buck stops here.”

  • Their conviction assures people that their work matters. They know that if they focus all their energy and attention in a determined direction, it will yield results..

So can we develop conviction? ABSOLUTELY. If these four elements are present in a leader, conviction will grow.

1. Knowledge. Knowledge can come from a variety of sources, such as research, observation, experience, and judgment. Leaders must have deep subject matter knowledge to support initiatives that require conviction. Without solid knowledge, there is very little to build upon. Knowledge lays the groundwork for conviction because it gives a realistic reason based on data and metrics for change.

2. Passion. Passion is the vital element that enables leaders to inspire others. It has the power to ignite the conviction of those around you. However, it must be genuine, deep, and heartfelt. It gives people a reason to care. One way leaders use passion to get their employees to care is by relating how achieving a shared goal will affect them on a personal level.

3. Purpose. In order for a leader’s conviction to transmit to others in the organization, there must be a clear understanding of the reasons, rationale, and benefits of the expected outcome. Wigston explains what these elements are and why they matter:

  • Reasons demonstrate why we are taking a specific action or adopting a certain approach.

  • Rationale explains why we were motivated to act. This serves as a window into the leader’s thinking that led to their personal convictions.

  • Benefits describe the value of this course of action and what consequences we should expect.

Passion alone will not keep others excited about initiatives; there must also be a purpose. Purpose is the logical, intellectual element of conviction. It gives everyone something to work toward and a basis for holding each other accountable, even when things get tough.

4. Belief. Leaders don’t always know for certain that the approach they are taking is the right one, but a key element of conviction is believing it is. But it’s not enough to just feel that something is a good idea; it has to be backed up with knowledge, passion, and purpose. Without the belief that a new, different future is possible, conviction can fall flat. Leaders can visualize its success. Belief is the visionary element of conviction.

All four of these elements are necessary for conviction in leadership. The combination of knowledge, passion, purpose, and belief is a powerful one, and the leaders who master it will create certainty and conviction in all who follow them, and they will lead their teams to success.

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