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Leading Change Through Faith, Hope and Tough Love: Part I


The operations director stood before his direct reports, boiling over with anger.

“Here we are again!” he said. “Still plagued with the same production, quality and safety issues – problems that we’ve cussed, discussed and created improvement plans for over and over again. I don’t know what’s wrong with you and your people, but we’re going to get to the bottom of this right now. To be brutally honest, I’m not sure that everyone in this room will still have a job next month if you don’t start implementing the changes that will get us different results. So, who wants to kick off this meeting with an idea about how we can become the best division in this company?”

And then there were crickets, only to be interrupted by moments of meaningless, self-protective chatter.

Does this scenario sound familiar? I hope not. The problem is, however, that people are fallible, lessons sometimes aren’t learned, and improvements aren’t always made. This can leave leaders and team members feeling frustrated or apathetic because they don’t know how to right the ship. Regardless of how close this scenario hits to home, what we’re going to discuss in this two-part article will enable you to find greater success today and learn what you need to improve tomorrow.

The Simple Solution
The simple solution – and note here that simple does not mean easy – is to speak from vision, through faith and hope, and lead with tough love.

Before we get into the framework of execution, let’s clarify the fundamental mindset.

Definition of “Faith”: In this context, faith is having trust that you know how things will work out in the end.

The Faith Problem: Regret about yesterday’s performance and fear that tomorrow won’t be any better negatively impact your leadership today. This occurs because you lack the faith required to confidently allow your team to learn from yesterday’s mistakes, capitalize on their successes and find greater achievement today.

The Faith Solution: If you can find a way to speak to your vision through faith and hope because you genuinely believe that you have outstanding employees who know what excellence looks like – who predictably make sound decisions and execute like what they do matters – then you can lead today in a way that supports both immediate operational success and long-term organizational improvement. Let’s break down this statement part by part to see what it looks like in the world around us.

The Faith Mindset Part 1: I Have Outstanding People
To have outstanding employees, you need to hire, retain and grow people whose character aligns with your organization’s vision, mission, values and principles. To be sure we’re all working from the same dictionary, let’s define these keywords.

Character: It’s what makes you distinguishable from everyone else. Character is observed in behavior, but it exists in a person’s ethics, which guide how we think and shape how we feel.

Vision: What do we want to become? Vision is the magnetic true north on our organization’s compass – a direction, not a destination.

Mission: This is what we do, and it moves us in the direction of our vision.

Values: What is important to us? Values serve as boundaries and filters that guide our thoughts, shape our beliefs and determine our actions.

Principles: These are an operational framework for executing the mission.

So, where do we find individuals who we want to hire, retain and grow? One solution is to ask for recommendations from your outstanding employees. My grandmother always said, “Birds of a feather flock together, Jess.” If you want outstanding new employees, hire people who associate with your outstanding current employees. You’ll also want to network in your industry and share contacts and job postings. That birds-of-a-feather thing doesn’t just apply to employees at your company. Additionally, focus on hiring a person – not a position. One of the best managers I ever worked with made a statement that has served me well: “Give me someone who shows up on time and has a good attitude, and I can fill in the rest.” Lastly, team fit is as important as role competency, if not more important.

Once you’ve hired a new employee, your job as a leader is only beginning. You must retain outstanding people by treating everyone with respect, recognizing and rewarding performance, and providing an environment that requires and supports growth. This continuous growth mindset is vital because the standard for outstanding today will become the industry standard tomorrow – and the lagging standard in the tomorrows to come.

The Faith Mindset Part 2: I Have People Who Know What Excellence Looks Like
I remember having an aha moment when I heard the pastor Andy Stanley say words to the effect of, “If it’s a mist in the pulpit, then it’ll be a fog in the pews.” Personally, having been a leader of Marines, public school students and countless workers, I can assure that if you don’t have a clear, vivid picture in your mind of what success looks like, then you will never set well-defined expectations for your team. With clear expectations, they’ll have the ability to assess their operational battlefield, identify risks to the mission and create a plan that targets success – a consistent success that builds momentum, increases your confidence in them and creates hope for the future.

The Faith Mindset Part 3: I Have People Who Make Sound Decisions
A clear picture of success is a requirement for your team, but unfortunately, it’s far too often an unfunded requirement because many leaders don’t prepare their teams for success. This preparation looks like alignment, training and continuous learning. Faith-filled leaders align their people with the company’s vision, mission, values and operational principles, and it isn’t a one-time deal. You must speak from vision – not reality – both consistently and constantly.

Most leadership gurus, including Ken Blanchard, Jim Collins and John Maxwell, agree that people need to hear the vision at least 20 times before it takes hold. As it begins to take hold, they’ll start performing the new processes; this often requires additional procedural development and training so that individuals can develop the new habits that will lead to greater success. Lastly, when it comes to making better decisions, you must help your people learn through after-action reviews, by discussing how well today’s decisions aligned with expectations and by championing the changes that bring about increased efficiency.

The Faith Mindset Part 4: I Have People Who Execute Like What They Do Matters
When your team knows that what they do matters – when they understand that their actions contribute to accomplishing the mission and taking one more step in the direction of a shared vision – they will execute with decisiveness and overcome the inevitable obstacles that stand in their way. So, how do you help them see their value? Here are three leadership actions that you can take. 

Leadership Action Item 1: Define each team member’s distinct role and clarify their value.
This is a concept I learned as an infantry Marine. The idea is that if I understand the bigger picture and the support roles required for my success, then I’ll see reality through the eyes of the whole organization – not just my little world. When everyone understands the bigger picture, they can identify threats as well as opportunities that support the greater mission. Additionally, when I better understand how my efforts contribute to success, I’m more likely to not only persevere but also to encourage those around me, creating a synergistic effect where the result is greater than the sum of its parts. But how do you instill this in your team? You must take the time to understand each team member and have those one-on-one conversations that develop and encourage them. This should be a consistent and continuous thing – not a one-and-done sort of thing.

Leadership Action Item 2: Celebrate wins.
It’s here that true value is realized. You don’t celebrate during the battle or wait until the war is over. You celebrate after each battle that’s won, and you don’t go at it half-cocked on the fly. The more thought you put into how each of your people contributed, the more it will set in their minds that what they do matters – and then they’ll do more of whatever you praised them for. The other side of this is team-building and the concept that if we work hard together, then we’ll celebrate together later. Don’t underestimate the power of a good celebration.

Leadership Action Item 3: Give specific feedback.
Celebrating wins is a part of this, but it doesn’t stop with just the good. Delivering specific feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly – lets your team know that we’re not just here for a participation ribbon. It helps them see how what they do matters. Too many managers lead with the mantra of “Us not having to talk about your performance is a good thing.” But that doesn’t build trust or confidence, nor does it increase employee engagement. If you don’t take the time to provide specific feedback, your team will figure that what they do isn’t worth their leader’s time, so why should they bother giving it their all?

Faith is crucial for future success. It allows you to have hope because you genuinely believe that you have outstanding people who know what excellence looks like, predictably make sound decisions and execute like what they do matters. From there, you’re free to lead like yesterday’s lessons learned will be integrated today and lead to greater success tomorrow. And when things still fall short today, you’ll have the intestinal fortitude to address the issues in a tough-love sort of way – but without any yelling or screaming because doing so is juvenile and ineffective.

Next, in the conclusion to this article, we’ll get into more detail about how faith and hope lead to effective tough-love conversations, in which you treat your people with respect, showing patience in humility and choosing to water and fertilize the good grass rather than waste time plucking weeds. In doing so, you’ll provide them with the tools and protection they need to find success today, tomorrow and in all of the tomorrows to come.

About the Author: Jesse Hardy, CSP, CIT, CUSP, is executive vice president of health, safety, environment and quality for Ferrovial Services (

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