Imagine for a second that your boss is miles away from the day-to-day. A sufferer of Corner Office Syndrome he or she continues to make command decisions without consulting the team. The decisions are astounding to you and you start to question these far-off choices.
Now, your attention isn’t on doing the right thing for the business, but on how to stop the wrong thing your boss has put in play. You have two options. You could bite your lip and go with the flow. …Or …try to address this head-on which is no easy feat.
It could be too big of a risk to put your livelihood at stake. Your mind drifts again — pondering if this company is the right place for you. You wonder why you care so much. The easy thing to do would be to care less.
The truth is your faith in the business has splintered.
This inner conversation happens to many of us. When it does, you are officially not a believer anymore. You are transgressing into a fake believer.
When you lose belief, or don’t have something to believe in, it’s easy to fake believe.
But as Navy SEALs Jocko Willink & Leif Babin remind us in their book, “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead & Win”, “They must believe in the cause for which they are fighting, they must believe in the plan they are asked to execute, and most important, they must believe in and trust the leader they are asked to follow.”
Building a cultural rocket ship is more rocket art than rocket science.
If your responsible for hiring talent in your company, then you already know it comes down to creating, retaining and sustaining internal believers.
Why is this so important?
Because believers aren’t just wanted—they are needed in order to create the necessary conviction that makes your organization thrive.
Consider these questions for a second: Do you often feel like you are on an island alone in your company? Do you have coworkers you can genuinely trust? Do you feel you’re being sucked into corporate politics? Are you in a Watch-Your-Back Culture or a Got-Your-Back Culture?
These are the questions that need to be openly talked about with your teams. And these are the types of conversations that are welcomed by true leaders.
This might be a good time to share a truth. I have a major gripe with the word leadership. Make no mistake that I believe we are in dire need of courageous leaders. However, I’ve seen too many poor leaders turn leadership into cheerleadership.
Poor leaders start ra ra’ing to their employees, which may work with some of your workforce, but your elite producers can see right through it. Internal discord starts the minute you send staff down inside themselves questioning, wondering and calling out a faulty decision.
Management guru Ken Blanchard is spot on when he writes……“It takes a whole team of people to create a great company but just one lousy leader to take the whole business down the pan.”
Making Believers all starts at the top with what I call your Believership.
I’m sure you noticed the world choice. The clear mission of leadership is to transform into the company’s Believership. The Believership’s job is to create believers in all directions: making believers out of your employees, your prospects, your customers and, when appropriate, your board.
One final reason I like calling it a “Believership” is because successful leading is not simply about one person. There’s a checks and balances system working together at the top – if you’re lucky, that group shares values but brings breadth of experience to the table. Courage and business are both team games.
Having an aligned Believership makes it easy for employees to believe. They set the vision for the company, deliver the truth (no matter how hard the circumstance) and create trust – the most essential ingredient – that unlocks a successful team.
You’ve probably felt the battle raging within you. To hold onto your beliefs. To boldly proclaim and do what you feel is right.
The world is crying out around you to do that what they believe to be true. All the while trying to pull you to their side and strip away your integrity.
There’s a battle happening. The battle to maintain our integrity while living in a world that beckons us with the desires of others.
While these posts received quite a bit of positive attention, there were also questions regarding the posts. Partially relating to maintaining your integrity while being told to tweet something one of these great men had said.
Instead of tweeting out quotes from Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King Jr, it was suggested to take the quote, make it your own, and take action. Eventually changing the world because of the action you took.
This blew me away as I never equated asking someone to retweet a quote to losing their integrity. I thought it was a great way to remember these special men and to share some of their great insights.
After this was brought up, I can see how one could possibly begin to lose the fight to maintain integrity. If all we ever do is tweet good words and yet never act on them, what good are we? How are we really improving the world?
Those thoughts brings me to this post and the idea of maintaining our integrity while living a life true to ourselves.
So, what can be done to win the battle that wants us to lose our integrity?
Be true to yourself: First and foremost, be true to yourself. If someone asks you to retweet a quote or a link and you don’t feel it lives up to your standards or goals, don’t do it. Or if someone asks you to do something that goes against what you believe, tell them no and don’t do it.
This brings up memories of my middle school days. In 6th or 7th grade, my friends began to think it was fun to use profane words.
These guys would hang out behind the school whispering and sharing the bad words they’d learned.
One day a couple of these friends approached me and tried to influence me to curse with them. However, even at that age, I knew it would affect my integrity to do so.
When I refused to use the same words they used, they resorted to offering me cold, hard cash to do something against my beliefs. In the end, I knew what was right and what was wrong. I refused to do what was asked.
Don’t cave into the requests of others just because you follow them and they ask. You’ve got to stay true to your direction even if that means going against the request of someone else.
Be honest with others: I’m so glad a couple of readers brought up this issue with the request for tweets. This issue of integrity never crossed my mind when I asked others to retweet the quotes.
Rather, I was hoping it would inspire people. That they would see what great men have done and hope to do the same.
With this honest reply, I was able to see not everyone sees this in the same light. It also helped me realize people react to requests in different ways.
Honesty opens up the eyes of others and allows you to be true to yourself.
Be aware of your choices: Robert Brault once said
“You do not wake up one morning a bad person. It happens by a thousand tiny surrenders of self-respect to self-interest.”
Each choice you make has an effect on your integrity. You either make choices that add to your integrity or choices to surrender and lose the integrity you hold so dear.
Learn to examine the choices laid before you. Decide whether or not they add to your integrity. Make the choices that will make you a person of integrity.
Integrity can be an easy thing to lose. It can also be an easy thing to maintain when we’re aware of the actions we can take to keep it.
I know you want to live a life of integrity. I encourage you to do so.
Remember, be true to yourself, be honest with others, and know the choices you make affect your integrity.
Question: How do you maintain your integrity?
But because someone says truth is relative, does it make it so? No, and you know this.
Look at the grass outside of your office window. What color is it? There’s typically only two answers to this question:
The grass is green.
The grass is brown.
One is a sign of healthy grass. The other is a sign of dead grass. Yet there’s typically only two colors of grass.
Now, if you looked out your window and saw a lawn full of green grass and someone told you the grass was pink, what would you do? You’d probably laugh. I know I would.
You wouldn’t coddle the person and tell them they’re right. After laughing, you’d probably correct them. You’d tell them: Sam, the grass isn’t pink. The grass is green.
The truth is the grass is green. There’s no two ways about it.
You cannot change the fact that the grass in front of you is green. It is what it is. And grass being the color green is the truth.
You can try to twist the truth of the grass’ color as much as you would like. Your twisting of the colors wouldn’t change the truth.
But how often do we try to twist the truth when it comes to our businesses, organizations, or relationships? We try to twist the truth to what suits our desires, needs, or wants.
And still, no twisting of those truths makes our lies in business any less wrong.
There’s a reason truth matters. Truth is a guiding compass for what is right and what is wrong. You can look at the truth and know whether or not what you’re doing is right.
Truth allows you to know true north. It allows you to get to the destination you’re heading. And it helps you accomplish this with integrity.
Be careful of twisting truths to fit your narrative. It’s a dangerous path to go down.
The more you twist the truth, the more you’ll be willing to do the next wrong thing. Then the next. And then another…
But if you stay on the straight and narrow… If you’re willing to stand for truth… If you’re willing to say truth matters…
You’ll have an unshakeable character. You’ll earn the respect of others. And you’ll know you did the right thing.
I hope you’re not living in a state of relative truth. I hope and pray you’re living a life of truth.
The economist J.K. Galbraith once wrote, “Faced with a choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy with the proof.”
Leo Tolstoy was even bolder: “The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him.”
What’s going on here? Why don’t facts change our minds? And why would someone continue to believe a false or inaccurate idea anyway? How do such behaviors serve us?
Humans need a reasonably accurate view of the world in order to survive. If your model of reality is wildly different from the actual world, then you struggle to take effective actions each day.
However, truth and accuracy are not the only things that matter to the human mind. Humans also seem to have a deep desire to belong.
In Atomic Habits, I wrote, “Humans are herd animals. We want to fit in, to bond with others, and to earn the respect and approval of our peers. Such inclinations are essential to our survival. For most of our evolutionary history, our ancestors lived in tribes. Becoming separated from the tribe—or worse, being cast out—was a death sentence.”
Understanding the truth of a situation is important, but so is remaining part of a tribe. While these two desires often work well together, they occasionally come into conflict.
In many circumstances, social connection is actually more helpful to your daily life than understanding the truth of a particular fact or idea. The Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker put it this way, “People are embraced or condemned according to their beliefs, so one function of the mind may be to hold beliefs that bring the belief-holder the greatest number of allies, protectors, or disciples, rather than beliefs that are most likely to be true.”
We don’t always believe things because they are correct. Sometimes we believe things because they make us look good to the people we care about.
I thought Kevin Simler put it well when he wrote, “If a brain anticipates that it will be rewarded for adopting a particular belief, it’s perfectly happy to do so, and doesn’t much care where the reward comes from — whether it’s pragmatic (better outcomes resulting from better decisions), social (better treatment from one’s peers), or some mix of the two.”
False beliefs can be useful in a social sense even if they are not useful in a factual sense. For lack of a better phrase, we might call this approach “factually false, but socially accurate.”When we have to choose between the two, people often select friends and family over facts.
This insight not only explains why we might hold our tongue at a dinner party or look the other way when our parents say something offensive, but also reveals a better way to change the minds of others.
Convincing someone to change their mind is really the process of convincing them to change their tribe. If they abandon their beliefs, they run the risk of losing social ties. You can’t expect someone to change their mind if you take away their community too. You have to give them somewhere to go. Nobody wants their worldview torn apart if loneliness is the outcome.
The way to change people’s minds is to become friends with them, to integrate them into your tribe, to bring them into your circle. Now, they can change their beliefs without the risk of being abandoned socially.
The British philosopher Alain de Botton suggests that we simply share meals with those who disagree with us:
“Sitting down at a table with a group of strangers has the incomparable and odd benefit of making it a little more difficult to hate them with impunity. Prejudice and ethnic strife feed off abstraction. However, the proximity required by a meal – something about handing dishes around, unfurling napkins at the same moment, even asking a stranger to pass the salt – disrupts our ability to cling to the belief that the outsiders who wear unusual clothes and speak in distinctive accents deserve to be sent home or assaulted. For all the large-scale political solutions which have been proposed to salve ethnic conflict, there are few more effective ways to promote tolerance between suspicious neighbours than to force them to eat supper together.”
Perhaps it is not difference, but distance that breeds tribalism and hostility. As proximity increases, so does understanding. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.”
Facts don’t change our minds. Friendship does.
Years ago, Ben Casnocha mentioned an idea to me that I haven’t been able to shake: The people who are most likely to change our minds are the ones we agree with on 98 percent of topics.
If someone you know, like, and trust believes a radical idea, you are more likely to give it merit, weight, or consideration. You already agree with them in most areas of life. Maybe you should change your mind on this one too. But if someone wildly different than you proposes the same radical idea, well, it’s easy to dismiss them as a crackpot.
One way to visualize this distinction is by mapping beliefs on a spectrum. If you divide this spectrum into 10 units and you find yourself at Position 7, then there is little sense in trying to convince someone at Position 1. The gap is too wide. When you’re at Position 7, your time is better spent connecting with people who are at Positions 6 and 8, gradually pulling them in your direction.
The most heated arguments often occur between people on opposite ends of the spectrum, but the most frequent learning occurs from people who are nearby. The closer you are to someone, the more likely it becomes that the one or two beliefs you don’t share will bleed over into your own mind and shape your thinking. The further away an idea is from your current position, the more likely you are to reject it outright.
When it comes to changing people’s minds, it is very difficult to jump from one side to another. You can’t jump down the spectrum. You have to slide down it.
Any idea that is sufficiently different from your current worldview will feel threatening. And the best place to ponder a threatening idea is in a non-threatening environment. As a result, books are often a better vehicle for transforming beliefs than conversations or debates.
In conversation, people have to carefully consider their status and appearance. They want to save face and avoid looking stupid. When confronted with an uncomfortable set of facts, the tendency is often to double down on their current position rather than publicly admit to being wrong.
Books resolve this tension. With a book, the conversation takes place inside someone’s head and without the risk of being judged by others. It’s easier to be open-minded when you aren’t feeling defensive.
Arguments are like a full frontal attack on a person’s identity. Reading a book is like slipping the seed of an idea into a person’s brain and letting it grow on their own terms. There’s enough wrestling going on in someone’s head when they are overcoming a pre-existing belief. They don’t need to wrestle with you too.
There is another reason bad ideas continue to live on, which is that people continue to talk about them.
Silence is death for any idea. An idea that is never spoken or written down dies with the person who conceived it. Ideas can only be remembered when they are repeated. They can only be believed when they are repeated.
I have already pointed out that people repeat ideas to signal they are part of the same social group. But here’s a crucial point most people miss:
People also repeat bad ideas when they complain about them. Before you can criticize an idea, you have to reference that idea. You end up repeating the ideas you’re hoping people will forget—but, of course, people can’t forget them because you keep talking about them. The more you repeat a bad idea, the more likely people are to believe it.
Let’s call this phenomenon Clear’s Law of Recurrence: The number of people who believe an idea is directly proportional to the number of times it has been repeated during the last year—even if the idea is false.
Each time you attack a bad idea, you are feeding the very monster you are trying to destroy. As one Twitter employee wrote, “Every time you retweet or quote tweet someone you’re angry with, it helps them. It disseminates their BS. Hell for the ideas you deplore is silence. Have the discipline to give it to them.”
Your time is better spent championing good ideas than tearing down bad ones. Don’t waste time explaining why bad ideas are bad. You are simply fanning the flame of ignorance and stupidity.
The best thing that can happen to a bad idea is that it is forgotten. The best thing that can happen to a good idea is that it is shared. It makes me think of Tyler Cowen’s quote, “Spend as little time as possible talking about how other people are wrong.”
Feed the good ideas and let bad ideas die of starvation.
I know what you might be thinking. “James, are you serious right now? I’m just supposed to let these idiots get away with this?”
Let me be clear. I’m not saying it’s never useful to point out an error or criticize a bad idea. But you have to ask yourself, “What is the goal?”
Why do you want to criticize bad ideas in the first place? Presumably, you want to criticize bad ideas because you think the world would be better off if fewer people believed them. In other words, you think the world would improve if people changed their minds on a few important topics.
If the goal is to actually change minds, then I don’t believe criticizing the other side is the best approach.
Most people argue to win, not to learn. As Julia Galef so aptly puts it: people often act like soldiers rather than scouts. Soldiers are on the intellectual attack, looking to defeat the people who differ from them. Victory is the operative emotion. Scouts, meanwhile, are like intellectual explorers, slowly trying to map the terrain with others. Curiosity is the driving force.
If you want people to adopt your beliefs, you need to act more like a scout and less like a soldier. At the center of this approach is a question Tiago Forte poses beautifully, “Are you willing to not win in order to keep the conversation going?”
The brilliant Japanese writer Haruki Murakami once wrote, “Always remember that to argue, and win, is to break down the reality of the person you are arguing against. It is painful to lose your reality, so be kind, even if you are right.”
When we are in the moment, we can easily forget that the goal is to connect with the other side, collaborate with them, befriend them, and integrate them into our tribe. We are so caught up in winning that we forget about connecting. It’s easy to spend your energy labeling people rather than working with them.
The word “kind” originated from the word “kin.” When you are kind to someone it means you are treating them like family. This, I think, is a good method for actually changing someone’s mind. Develop a friendship. Share a meal. Gift a book.
Be kind first, be right later.