Like many people around the globe, I watched as the new pope, Francis I, came out onto the Vatican balcony earlier this year to address the world for the first time.
What struck me more than anything else was the view from the camera as it slowly panned around the faces in the crowd. I watched all those eyes and saw that look—a look I have seen many times before. I’ve seen it when presidents have addressed this nation and when great visionaries have shared their dreams.
I have also seen it on a much smaller, yet still powerful platform: at conference room tables and in corporate meetings.
The look is one of faith, and it is unmistakable. It shows a commitment of confidence that is a shared experience. There is nothing like it. Large organizations can appear more open and personal when a leader can evoke that brand of trust.
Just as the pope embodies the teachings of the church, so must a corporate leader represent the vision of a company. It’s what senior executives often can’t seem to grasp, and what is sorely missing in the workplace and marketplace today.
Faith is one of the greatest innovators because it drives us forward in spite of our fears. And, in this world of accelerating change, where nothing is certain, faith is the one thing that is absolute.
To invoke the power of faith–of trust–leaders must have a core set of values and a sense of identity that is consistent with their organizations’ brand. A leader needs to be the exemplary team player, with the same qualities expected from employees: respect, willingness, reliability, accessibility, patience, and empathy. Accordingly, customers respond favorably to such characteristics. The great thing about the shared experience of faith is that you inspire the behavior you exhibit.
While the business world has changed a great deal over the years, one thing hasn’t: employees and customers still want to have confidence that leaders will respond to their needs. That’s not fundamental in most of the corporate world today. And it needs to be.
One great example of a successful leader is Tony Hsieh. Hsieh built up an online shoe company, Zappos, based on his belief in superior customer service. His commitment was so strong, he made service the responsibility of the entire company, not just a department.
And it shows.
If you’ve ever ordered shoes from Zappos, you know what I mean. The staff is faithful to service excellence. There are no barriers—every interaction is easy. I love that they have open communication with customers by phone, with clarity, cheerfulness, no up-sell, time constraints, or scripts. Hsieh saw every contact as an investment in building lasting relationships with his customers—the same way he believed in building lasting relationships with his employees. He even wrote a New York Times bestseller, aptly entitled Delivering Happiness.
This is potent stuff. And it doesn’t stop here.
Zappos went on to earn over $1 billion in sales and made Fortune’s Top 100 Companies to Work For.
You see, the power of faith in leadership creates followers: repeat and word-of-mouth customers, as well as the retention of top-tier talent in an organization.
It even converts non-believers. Trust me—I’m one of them. I never thought I could enjoy shoe-shopping online!
Faith gives meaning to business—it’s why we sign on and stay. It has the power to ignite high performance and productivity, and is the motivational fuel that can carry companies to success.
Copyright 2013 Michelle Kerrigan