What can we believe in?

At the very core of what it is to be human is our need to belong. That is how we connect to others, our community, family, sporting teams, companies, or country to name a few.

Part of our experience of ‘belonging’ is believing that our lives are somehow enhanced because we are a part of that institution or group.

I reflect on how my teenage years were so vastly different than that of my children’s. “In my day” – I write knowing how pompous that will sound to anyone born after 1980 – at age 17, I believed in politicians, law enforcement agencies, religions, sporting teams, corporations and even celebrities.

My heart was broken when I learned that my much loved Australian Rules football has a team of cheats taking performance enhancement drugs. Thank goodness it was not my team; I would have been truly devastated. I love my Swans! I believe in them. I believed in the game – the AFL’s reputation has been tarnished.

It seems that one by one, over the last two decades, these supposed pillars of our communities have been somehow disgraced or at best shown to be lesser mortals than we believed them to be.

Who can my children believe in? Who can I believe in? Who can I trust to follow through on what they said they would do?

We are in the midst of the final stages of the federal election campaign in Australia – and each candidate is contradicting the other to the point where it has become impossible to respect the leadership qualities of anyone. My children take no politician seriously – and definitely would not aspire to a career in Parliament.

As we continue into the century of transparency – and I suspect there will be more and more “name and shame” moments in the media – I ask: who can I believe in? I really do want to be able to trust those people, institutions and teams I associate with.

The business I founded a dozen years ago has always at its very core lived by our set of values. To be a RedBallooner is to live those values. Over lunch this week with a new colleague – our CTO – he reflected that the first few weeks have been completely consistent with what he expected of the business. We have fulfilled on our promise to him, but, he said, “I still can’t help the idea that one day I will wake up and it won’t be true.”

My commitment to you, Simon, and the whole team is that you can believe. Whilst you may no longer believe in so many institutions, what I can commit to is that you can believe in the business you have chosen to share your talents with.

So here is my plea. Whilst I may struggle to change the world and all institutions, to rebuild the trust that has been lost, I can determine my own company. So I urge other business leaders and people managers to do the same. To run your businesses based on values, to give your employees something they can believe in – and in return they will give you their engagement and discretionary effort.

When we experience that level of connection with a group – especially our employer – we can begin to believe again.

One step at a time, it can be done.

(For further information on values-led business, have a look at the work by Fred Kofman, LinkedIn Influencer and author of Conscious Business.) Thank you to Carolyn Taylor of Walk the Talk for the inspiration for this article.

Naomi Simson has received many accolades and awards for the business she founded, RedBalloon.com.au, including the 2011 Ernst & Young National Entrepreneur of the Year – Industry.



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