Have faith in your people and they will have faith in you

“Keep the faith, baby” was a battle cry made popular by Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a controversial and theatrical Harlem, New York congressman from 1945 to 1971.

This catchy provocation evolved into the perennial mantra to invoke reluctant and skeptical nonbelievers to become disciples of just about any cause. In addition to furthering religious and spiritual beliefs, having faith in another person, a cause or a company can be a powerful motivator to accomplish Herculean objectives.

In business, employees are beseeched to have faith in management, the company, its products and services. It gets down to “you have to believe, or it likely won’t happen.”

To accomplish major objectives, management must do so through others to make anything scalable. Too many companies and leaders tend to think if they merely will something to happen, it just does. Unfortunately, as virtually everyone in business knows, it doesn’t work that way. Instead, faith must be built on trust, and supported by equipping employees with the right training, tools and motivations to succeed. It would be ridiculous to send a soldier into battle without bullets. It is equally futile to ask your employees to complete tasks without providing them with the requisite arsenal to prevail.

Faith is never a matter of fate. The lyrical melody, “Que Será, Será,” which translates to, “Whatever will be, will be,” is nothing more than leaving success to chance and is simply unadulterated Pollyannaism. Once employees are properly equipped to get the job done, it is up to leadership to imbue them with the confidence to undertake whatever is being asked of them, emboldened by the self-assurance that they’re ready and able to meet the challenge.

Skills, preparation and practice are part of the preamble to winning, but unless subordinates unequivocally know that leadership has faith in them, too frequently, they’ll fall short of the goal. This is no different from when a football coach, a minute before his gladiators take the field, gathers them together in a circle on the sideline and reinforces their belief that they can win by executing the strategy and plays they’ve unrelentingly trained for. At this point, it doesn’t matter if the team is an underdog or the favorite — what counts most is believing they will triumph by the last tick of the scoreboard clock.

Business is no different from sports in this sense. You must prepare your team by providing them with all the elements they need to succeed while elevating their certainty that you have faith in them. A synonym for the word faith, as used in the context of this column, is preparation. Endowing your employees with the right stuff to win is the antithesis of leaving success to mere chance, or fate, and hoping for the best.

When people become true believers and have faith, they also become accomplished doers. After they achieve the goals you’ve prepared them for, their faith in you as a leader will significantly increase.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide. Today, as founder/CEO of Max-Ventures, his firm invests in and consults for retail businesses.