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Nitish Mukherjee

The author is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion

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Dark Roast Double Shot: Belief or Hope? What Will It Be?

From nation states to organisations, those with sharply defined beliefs have always shown more rapid progress.

Photo Credit : KieferPix/Shutterstock

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If there was an award for the best teacher in my living memory it would definitely go to the year 2020. Innumerable interactions in a period of incogitable immobility. Jillion voices sharing their innermost thoughts. It was a listener’s paradise. Voices that led, voices that willingly followed, voices that were unsure, voices that transmitted desperation, voices that faded away. And the immeasurable learning that flowed from it.

There were those who even in chaos kept calm and others who moved from uncertainty to chaos to anguish and depression. And the two stimuli that seemed to play out a significant role in the crisis were ‘belief’ and ‘hope’. As leaders, thinkers, health care workers, economists, social workers, bureaucrats, researchers, epidemiologists, industrialists or even individuals grappled with the pandemic we saw the difference in outcomes with the difference in their outlook and belief.  The effect was so potent that a better understanding of the phenomena and the role that they can play in the lives of leaders is of great value. 

Positive thinking is a powerful force, because it resides in and influences the most powerful of human assets: the mind. In the human body it can create biological changes. There are well documented and recorded proof of these changes of almost magical proportions. In organisations too it channelises behaviour towards positive outcomes. On the flip side, negative thinking too has an equally potent effect and creates the nocebo effect which biologically manifests as a detrimental effect on health induced by psychological or psychosomatic factors. In organisations it creates disharmony, inertia, lack of accountability and other such behaviours that lead to negative outcomes. The belief system that leaders create has a direct and telling effect on company performance.

Belief is often described as trust, faith or confidence in someone or something. An acceptance that something exists or is true. But a more granular explanation will help understand it better. Beliefs are strong perceptions that have become fundamental to our way of thinking and responding. It is actually a conditioned learning process where neural pathways become hardwired between stimuli and behavioural response. So, your ‘belief’ is in effect evidenced by the sum total of your conative and cognitive intelligence. This ‘belief’ then triggers the biological, psychological and behavioural responses that govern our existence and response to external stimuli. What leaders believe determines their behaviour; which in turn creates the culture that forms the basis for organisational response to challenges and relationship with stakeholders.

Our beliefs reside in our subconscious. As much as they are driven by our knowledge and experience the flip side is that they are equally limited by it. This limitation causes our biases. Luckily for us, humans have evolved a specialised region of the brain associated with thinking, planning and decision-making called the prefrontal cortex. This is the seat of self-conscious mind processing. The self-conscious mind is self-reflective and can observe our own behaviours and emotions. This allows us to evaluate our programmed behaviour which resides in our subconscious and consciously change it. We can therefore with deliberation choose how to respond to external stimuli. In leaders this self-awareness and ability to manage behaviour is key to managing change. As the external environment changes, the ability to contextualise previous information and the attendant behaviour to the current context and required future behaviour with speed, is the mark of progressive leadership. 

Hope is described as a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen. And it is just that. Unlike belief it is not rooted in previous knowledge or experience. It can exist without any basis. Hope resides in the human spirit but can have a salutary effect on the mind. In itself it can’t do anything but it can create the time and space for things to happen. It has the power to create positivity that can keep a flame alive in your darkest hour. Hope can even be found in the depths of hopelessness. As Fyodor Dostoyevsky rightly put it “to live without hope is to cease to live”. The ability to create the vision and dreams that inspire hope is the true art of leadership. It can build resilience for the long-haul and be the fountainhead for unbounded energy. It has the power to activate individuals or move nations.

Belief has a bias for action and that is why choosing what you believe in can make all the difference. If an organisation believes that time is their most important asset their behaviour will automatically reflect that. People will be more punctual, meetings more efficient, productivity will be a key consideration in decisions and as these behaviours yield positive results the belief will get further ingrained. From nation states to organisations those with sharply defined beliefs have always shown more rapid progress. Those who don’t have well defined or strong beliefs meander on the road to success or failure as the case may be. Hope doesn’t deliver on specificity of action.

Leaders must carefully choose their beliefs and those that they want to instil in their organisations; making sure that they use the self-conscious mind and self-awareness to course correct with changing environmental stimuli. Learning, listening and observing on an ongoing basis is essential to reprogramme the belief and behaviour. A great way to start would be to list what your beliefs are and why you believe in them.

Belief can inspire hope and hope can give belief another chance. There are times when your strongest of beliefs may come to naught due to the unexpected or circumstances beyond your control. It may not be because of a misplaced belief but simply because of ineffective execution. When bouncing back from failure the ability to hold your dreams and desires close and make it count is what good leaders do best. Creating hope is the road to renewed vigour and success. Great leaders inspire and stimulate belief but they also know how to generate hope because they are aware that at times hope is what is left behind when belief has ebbed away.

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(Nitish Mukherjee is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion.)