Confidence Without Evidence

When we're taking over a new team or building a new culture, we have to remember that success might come later.

It took J.D. Salinger 10 years to write "The Catcher in the Rye."

It took Michelangelo five years to paint 343 figures on the top of the Sistine Chapel.

It took Al Pacino five years on Broadway until he received a role on the silver screen and six years before becoming Michael Corleone.

It has taken Robert Caro more than 40 years to write the complete history of former President Lyndon B. Johnson's life in politics.

James Clear, the best-selling author of Atomic Habits, recently wrote in his weekly newsletter:

“Most big deeply satisfying accomplishments in life take at least five years to achieve. This can include building a business, cultivating a loving relationship, writing a book, getting in the best shape of your life, raising a family, and more. Five years is a long time. It’s much slower than most of us would like. If you accept the reality of a slow process, you have every reason to take action today. If you resist the reality of slow progress, five years from now you’ll simply be five years older and still looking for a shortcut.”

 Some say great work takes patience, but that's not always the most vital quality. What is most essential and what every name above possessed was confidence without the need for evidence. They knew their work was good and didn’t need approval from others to keep their attention on the task at hand. Their momentum kept them from becoming distracted or sidetracked.

When we lead our teams, we frequently gain strength from success, as our messaging is built around attaining positive results. Being successful or winning helps our credibility and allows us to gain a more receptive audience, especially when we give our team members a road map to victory. 

But when we're taking over a new team or building a new culture, we have to remember the results aren't always immediately there. And as losses mount, buy-in and enthusiasm can evaporate as the team can easily want to change direction. To build a sustainable system, we must teach confidence without evidence.

So how do we gain believers without tangible evidence like wins?

  1. We have to be specific with our intentions. Salinger knew the book he wanted to write, he understood his plan was solid, and gained confidence from that vision, even when he had a bad day putting words onto the paper.
  2. We develop other areas to measure outside of wins. A good drill, practice, an engaging meeting, all designed to facilitate our intentions. Michelangelo likely never thought he painted 343 figures, he painted one 343 times. One led to another and then another. He created his momentum of thought.
  3. Celebrate small achievements. The quality of one day will lead to another. Becoming confident takes momentum of thought and through the small celebrations, we create positive beliefs in what we are doing.
  4. No finish line. We are never in love with completion, we are in love with the work we do each day. By focusing on quality, we then remove the finish line. Singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen once offered this advice: "I’m not in any rush. I’m not somebody who if I write a song, I get it out. That’s not something I’ve ever really done.”

As leaders, we don’t need more patience. We need more confidence without the need for evidence.

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