Season 2, Ep. 7: The Power of Believing in Others

With leadership comes power, and as a leader, your decisions and behaviors can have a profound impact on your team and your organization. But one power that leaders wield which often gets overlooked is the power we have to influence and develop our team members through our belief in them. And in all walks of life, from the boardroom to the classroom, research and experience have proven that people flourish and perform at their best when they have leaders in their lives who believe in them. Join us as we hear from award-winning school counselor Kirsten Perry about how the simple act of believing in someone—and communicating that belief in tangible ways—can transform their life and their work.

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Daniel Harkavy (00:00)
In 1968 psychologist Robert Rosenthal partnered with school principal Lenore Jacobson to devise a study that would measure the effect of teachers’ expectations on student performance. To set up the experiment, Rosenthal and Jacobson gave teachers in the school the names of a certain number of students in each of their classes who had performed well on an intelligence pretest and that their scores indicated these students were primed for intellectual growth and that they would blossom academically in the coming year. But here’s the catch. What the teachers didn’t realize is that the students were chosen randomly, completely unrelated to any supposed to test scores. However, when all of the students were tested later in the school year, Rosenthal and Jacobson found that the students who the teachers had been told would Excel and get smarter actually scored higher and showed greater improvement than their peers. In essence, it wasn’t any inherent aptitude that predicted the success of these particular students, but rather it was the teacher’s belief in them that contributed to their growth because they believed that their students could and would succeed.

These teachers often unknowingly gave more attention to these students and engaged with them differently than they did with the kids who they didn’t have special expectations for. This phenomenon has since become known as the Pygmalion effect. And here’s the thing, the Pygmalion effect is not limited to the classroom. It’s present in many environments including the workplace. And if you’re a leader and you haven’t realized until just now, you have the ability to bring out the best of your team and elevate people to new Heights by just believing in them.

Hi, I’m Daniel Harkavy and this is the Building Champions Podcast. Our goal is to share interesting stories that highlight key leadership issues from a unique perspective all so you can learn how to better lead yourself, your team and your organization. This episode is about the Pygmalion effect, its role in leadership and how your belief in your people can have a profound effect on their growth and performance.

Kirsten Perry (02:26)
So the first part was actually at the Kennedy Center and my award was presented by Michelle Obama. Her first speech, actually after leaving the White House was presenting the award to me. And then I had to do a speech with her standing right behind me so there was that.

Daniel Harkavy (02:44)
That’s Kirsten Perry. In 2018 Kirsten was recognized as the national school counselor of the year for the American School Counselors Association in her work as a K to 12 school counseling specialist for Chicago public schools. Kirsten has seen firsthand the power that believing in students has in their academic success.

Kirsten Perry (03:09)
One of the strongest groups in interventions that I ever did as a school counselor was forming a student council group,

Daniel Harkavy (03:17)
But Kirsten’s group didn’t operate like your typical student council where students vote and it’s always the most popular kids who get elected. Instead, she intentionally sought out students who weren’t popular, who were struggling and didn’t have many friends.

Kirsten Perry (03:33)
And basically what I had them do is I would talk to them like, what can we do to make the school better or what does the school need? And then they would give me their ideas and then we would bring it to life. And then they would be active participants and bringing it to life. And what was so nice to see as a result of it is that they all became friends with each other. They all, you know, started getting more confident in themselves and started to blossom more. And I think that really does come from, you know, giving them the space to express themselves and see that somebody believed in them and their ideas. Cause then, you know, not only did I tell them that I heard their ideas, we actually made them happen.

Daniel Harkavy (04:13)
For the students Kirsten worked with every day. It was clear to them that Ms. Perry cared about them and she believed in them. It was evident not just in her words, but interactions. Likewise, whether you realize it or not, you as a leader are constantly communicating to your people just how much or how little you believe in them. Every interaction, every one on one meeting, every time you shut a team member down or you walk by their desk and you don’t notice them, all of these things contribute to the messages you’re sending to your people about how you feel about them and what you believe about them and about their future. And their potential. And when the message they receive from you is, Oh, my boss doesn’t care, or he doesn’t trust me or he doesn’t see me, he doesn’t see the good in me. They become discouraged, they become disengaged and their performance will suffer. And you may miss out on the golden opportunity to build up the internal talent and potential that could have a lasting positive difference in your organization. This is something Kirsten has dealt with herself, working in a number of different school environments.

Kirsten Perry (05:23)
And I found in my experience that you know, I excelled and I was excited to come to work every day and willing to put the hours in every day when I was working with a principal who believed in me and allowed me autonomy over my work and the ability to be creative and, and do what I felt passionate about and just kind of believe and trust in me. But on the flip side, I’ve also worked with administrators who were a little bit more, I guess, top down and wanted to kind of try to dictate what I did and how I did things. And it was the opposite. You know, I didn’t work well like that and I didn’t want to come to work.

Daniel Harkavy (06:08)
Everyone wants to come to work at a place where they know they’re being supported, where leadership believes in them and where they can flourish and succeed. So what can you do? How can you start being more mindful of how you invest in your people and communicate to them that you believe in them? Going back to the experiment from the beginning of the episode, dr Rosenthal found that when it came to how teacher’s behavior toward the supposed gifted students differed from their behavior toward the other students. There were two things which stood out that I think are important for us as leaders to understand. The first thing dr Rosenthal noticed is that teachers created a better learning environment for the students for whom they had higher expectations. They were warmer towards these students. They gave them more attention in class, focused on them during lessons called on them more often to answer questions and allowed them to speak longer when they were called upon.

Daniel Harkavy (07:09)
So essentially the more a teacher believed in a particular student’s potential for learning and succeeding, the more of the teacher’s time, energy, and resources that particular student got. So ask yourself, what am I giving to my people at work? Are you giving them the time and resources they need to succeed? Are you scheduling regular one-on-ones where you take the time to coach and encourage your team members? Are you prepared for those meetings and are you expecting those meetings to bring out the best in your people? Are you empowering them to take ownership of certain projects and giving them the opportunity to learn and to grow and to develop new skills? Are you allowing them to fail and an in that failure, helping them to see the lessons so that they can grow and improve? Are there some team members who you give less time and attention to than others? And if so, why is that? Do you need to consider changing your leadership approach with that person? What is causing you to not believe in them? All of these questions are so important for us to answer as leaders because if we aren’t clear on how we’re investing in our people in concrete ways, we run the risk of alienating them or losing the opportunity to show them we believe in their ability to succeed in their roles.

Daniel Harkavy (08:32)
The second thing Dr Rosenthal noticed was what he called the feedback factor. When teachers believed in certain students, not only did they praise those students more, they also gave them more substantive, helpful feedback when those students made a mistake or shared the wrong answer in class. So while a teacher might simply accept a low quality answer from a student who they don’t believe in and move on, they will take a different approach when they believe in the student who has given the poor answer and they’ll dive deeper and help that student to see where they went wrong and how they could do better next time they give them their best. And this kind of focused attention is something Kirsten is used to help students through challenging situations.

Kirsten Perry (09:19)
I’m thinking of a student that I had worked with and she was in trouble a lot and she would get in fights with her teachers. She wasn’t coming to school. She had bad grades and I worked with her and I definitely had a relationship with her, but I also connected her with another woman who facilitated a counseling group with her and as a result of working with her, she started to improve, but we also did uncover that there was some things happening with her that that no one was aware of. She felt very unsupported and she was, you know, lashing out at everyone as a result of what she was going through in her personal life. And so her having that outlet and being able to talk to somebody and have them understand her and see her perspective, we did see a dramatic shift in her over the course of the school year where by the end of the school year, you know, she was coming to school every day. Her grades improved and I think that that did come down to us really listening to her and helping understand what she was going through.

Daniel Harkavy (10:30)
Rather than letting behavioral issues slide or chalking them up to a student being a bad individual, school counselors take the time to get to know their students, to learn and hear what obstacles they’re facing and what’s holding them back so they understand how they can help them to overcome these obstacles, to learn from the mistakes and to make the behavioral changes that will make school more enjoyable and will enable them to flourish. What leaders can learn from this is that when you truly believe in your people and you’re invested in them, you’re willing to walk with them through their failures. You want to help them to understand the challenges they face and to take an active role in helping them to learn and grow from their mistakes. You coach them. So take some time to reflect on how you approach teaching opportunities with your people.

Daniel Harkavy (11:26)
Do you intentionally seek them out when a team member is struggling or making a mistake or maybe they’re exhibiting unwanted behavior? Do you look the other way? Do you maybe lash out and shame them or do you coach them and help them to understand how they can change and how they can improve so that they can grow as individuals and be more valuable to your team at building champions wholeheartedly believe in coaching leadership. It’s one of your greatest opportunities to show your people that you believe in them and when you do this, you’re going to see an improvement in culture, in performance, and ultimately results.

I want to leave you with one final thought when it comes to believing in your people when it comes to investing time and resources in them and coaching them through their opportunities as well as their challenges. None of it matters if you don’t have the right attitude. Believing in people isn’t a box that you check on your weekly to do list. It’s not something that can be addressed in a onetime meeting or training. Believing in people is a posture of the heart. It’s a conviction of yours that you have to hold at the core of who you are as a human and then that shows up in how you lead. Kirsten understands this and now in her work training school counselors throughout her district, she relishes the opportunity to support these counselors.

Kirsten Perry (12:56)
I do think about that, like that same concept of believing in people, trusting in people, allowing people to be autonomous. You know, I find myself wanting to be that kind of a leader or a support, I should say. I don’t even like to think of myself as a leader, but really think of myself as a support and helping now school counselors throughout the district. You know, how can I best support you and give you the resources that you’re able to do your job and be authentic and feel supported in your work.

Daniel Harkavy (13:29)
Our schools are so much better for having people like Kirsten leading the way and believing in our students and our teams and organizations would be so much better if more leaders had this mindset where they believed the best about their people. I encourage you, take the time to see the good in every one of your team members. By focusing on their strengths, by focusing on their potential, it will increase your belief in them and then start communicating that belief in an intentional and practical way. I promise if you do, you’ll see so much growth and goodness across your organization. Coming up, we will sit down with one of our Building Champions Executive Coaches to discuss what living out our belief in people should look like and the power that it can have in the workplace.

Todd Mosetter (14:27)
Hi, my name is Todd and I work in the content department here at Building Champions and today I’m excited to sit down with executive coach, author, podcast host extraordinaire, my good friend, Bill Hart. Bill, thanks for joining us. So Bill, I think we have a topic here that is so applicable for so many of our leaders. This concept of believing and when I think about somebody who demonstrates the way you believe in your clients, friends, your colleagues, you perfectly come to mind. What impact have you seen belief have in the lives of others?

Bill Hart (14:59)
Such a good question. I, you know, you asked me a question like that in my head just goes through a, you know, 17 years of clients, right? Just seeing both the, the positive and the negative. And of course I think we’re all aware of the downside, Todd. It’s, it’s very easy to see people with limiting beliefs in boxes that they find themselves in. But what I’d rather do is shine some light on the good side and the, and the good side, right is the, the all the opportunity that like what Daniel spoke to earlier with the Pygmalion effect, just the ability to be able to see what’s possible. That there’s more that can be done. I’ve just, I’ve seen so many great examples of that and I’ve also had the opportunity to call it out and a lot of clients where maybe they had never really heard that.

Todd Mosetter (15:43)
We wanted to start with the positive. So when we think about successful people that you’ve had the chance to coach with, what are some of the common beliefs that they hold about themselves?

Bill Hart (15:52)
I think highly effective people with, with belief systems that allow them to step into those opportunities is they don’t tend to see walls, right? They, I know this is trite, but they, they see doors and they see windows and they figure out a way to get there. And so as an example, there was a client that I had that had a very specific market segment, Todd, that he wanted to pursue and he thought he had it. And I thought too, by the way, when he laid it out, he thought he had a fantastic approach to that. And he, it was all laid out in, within about six months, we both realized, yeah, you know, that’s not really working out. And I think most people at that point would have said, yeah, so let’s just close that chapter. That’s not what this guy did. This guy just retooled and came back and said, you know what? I’m going to go after this another way. And so what he did is he made some decisions and choices about becoming a, a subject matter expert in that particular niche that he was going after. It took a much more global approach than a very specific approach. And now I gotta think it’s eight years later, he would look back and tell you that has not only changed the trajectory of his business but of his life.

Todd Mosetter (17:02)
I think the example you shared, Bill is great and it highlights that that that client was able to believe in themselves despite the obstacles they faced. Too many, too many folks have a hard time believing in themselves. Is that an ability that you think can be developed?

Bill Hart (17:16)
I do. I mean, I know that’s true because I’ve seen it happen so many times in coaching and I’m telling you that on more than one occasion I realized I am the only voice to have spoken into this person to say dream bigger. Todd. I’ll often tell a client, I actually see an outline of you like picture yourself standing against a wall. So I’m six three 230. Picture that arranged however you like. And preferably in a very strong physical format would be ideal. But around me is this like, like a foot, larger dark outline. And that’s what I picture with people. It’s like you have so much more that you can step into. And so more often than not at this stage of the game, for me in coaching, I find myself doing that all the time. Like, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, hang on. Why? Why are you thinking small there? Standby. Do you know who you are? Let me remind you of what you’ve done. So yes, to answer your question, I think it can absolutely be developed, but I think one of the most important things that we can do is to have that voice, we would call it the voice of the outsider, but somebody that can speak into us and call us up to what our potential might be.

Todd Mosetter (18:30)
You talked about the power of the outsider and the opportunity that we have as leaders is we can be that outsider to a lot of people, right? Whether they’re in our teams, whether they’re our partners, whether they’re in our community. What advice would you give someone, especially a leader if they have a chance to show the people on their team that they believe in them? How can that be done?

Bill Hart (18:51)
Yeah. Well, I’ll, I’ll give you a very specific example that I use in coaching quite a bit. If I find somebody that I believe has a preponderance of self-limiting beliefs, I’ll have them do this exercise, which is kind of a strengths inventory. It’s like an impact assessment and Todd. And so what I’ll ask them to do is select eight to 10 people whose opinion they respect and send them a message, a text or an email that says, Hey, I heard this podcast and it was suggested to me that I reach out to some people whose opinions I respect. You’re on that short list and ask you very specifically, when you think of me, what would you describe as my unique value? Or what would you describe as the things that I tend to do particularly well? I greatly appreciate your time with this. Can’t wait to chat with you about it afterwards.

So let me give you an example of what I heard from a client one day. This guy was great. He was great at his business. He would over deliver under promise. He was just always a a sharp guy in his business, sort of technically right. And we would anticipate that what we didn’t anticipate back is, I would say out of the eight to 10 I’ll bet he had five or six different responses that said, you know what? You are the ultimate connector. It’s like, you know everybody, if I need a specific suggestion or referral, you’re my go to guy. Well the beauty of that is we real, this guy was in sales. And so we are able to weave that into his unique value proposition. So now the way he shows up when he’s having a conversation comparing himself to other people that do, what he does is he’s able to call that out and it’s sort of a, it’s a cool benefit and in a non kind of adversarial way, right? It’s like, you know what? If you need to find somebody in insurance or you need somebody that can repair that in the back of your house, there’s a pretty good chance I know that person. So that’s a very tactical example of to help somebody go to people who they respect and have them shine Amir back on them and say, you know what? Here’s a few things that I see in you that you may not see in yourself.

Todd Mosetter (20:58)
What a great way to get multiple perspectives on the value that somebody is bringing. What a great example of a way to do that at scale. Yeah, it’s huge, man. One of the things that I loved about the first half of the episode and when we were doing the research was the science that back this up, right? So the study that was done, the two things that really stood out to me were that when the teachers believed in the students, they a spent more time with them, right? So they made themselves more available, but then B, they challenged them, they pushed them, they sharpen them more. When we think about the ability as leaders, we’re making decisions all the time about the people that are on our team. And if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, we’re probably not giving everyone the same amount of attention, the same amount of sharpening, the same amount of push. If you’ve got a leader and they’re struggling with someone on their team, how can you help them see the goodness in that person so that they can boost their own belief level?

Bill Hart (21:55)
Mm. You know, one of the things that I love for that actually is the team assessment tool, Todd. And the thing that I love about that is, as I recall, there are 15 characteristics of highly effective team members and that allows you to go through and sit down with that team member and use each of those as sort of a benchmark to compare like how do I see you in terms of your communication skills or your passion or your emotional intelligence. And you know, there’s no, there’s no real inherent criticism in that. It’s just, it’s just an assessment and it’s a way to open up a dialogue. And I think what often happens cause I use this a lot with clients who are using it with their clients, is it opens up dialogue and conversations in areas for potential growth that informal like an employee review probably wouldn’t touch on because for the most part it’s going to be talking about how am I doing my job? But it’s not looking so deep as to like, how am I actually wired? How do I show up every day? So that’s a, that’s a very real example that I would describe. It’s a tool that we use in coaching that I think is fantastic for that.

Todd Mosetter (23:04)
I think one of the things that you touched on there, and it’s outlined in that type of process is being curious, right? It’s asking questions. It’s a conversation to get to know someone. I think about the way that belief works and absent of relationship, it’s almost hard to believe in someone, right? To believe the best in someone, I think takes a level of relationship it takes knowing them, right? Building trust with them. When you think about a leader’s ability to really connect with their teammates? Yeah. It’s really hard to believe in someone if you don’t know their story. Where have you seen leaders really do well in investing the time and energy and maybe some ideas. How can you really get to know the story?,

Bill Hart (23:46)
Yeah. You know what’s funny about that is I think it’s one of the biggest challenges that leaders have because it’s hard to prioritize that until you do. And so I think of leaders who do a good job with that, that I’ve coached and it’s because we’ve landed on that in agreement in a coaching session saying, you know, I need to do that. And so what they do is they prioritize the time, they schedule it, that time is sacrosanct and they hold to it and it, and it’s a, it’s a constructive period of time where it’s set up. The way that it’s framed with the team member is to say, I just need to know you a little bit better. And then if you can get them, you remember the old Ford thing, right? F O R D family occupation. Recreation and dreams if I use nothing else.

But that framework and I sat down with you and said, Todd, I know that you’ve got some kids. As a matter of fact, I go, I know you’ve got a lot of kids, but I don’t know how many or what ages. Like tell me a little bit about your family and then I find out about, so how did you get into this content thing with building champions? Where did that start and what is it that you do when you have some extra time? What do you do to enjoy on the weekends? And then the big one to me is the D. So Todd, tell me a little bit about your dreams. Like where’s this all taking you? Is there a big trip that you’ve got planned for your family? Is there a book in you? What, what’s down the road for Todd? Moe said are three to five years down the road.

I believe if I use a framework like that with people, anybody that I want to get deeper in relationship with, and I don’t mean at that formulaic of course, start with D, use R next week, it doesn’t matter. But to use that as just a rough framework, it’s what, 50 years old. Probably that acronym. But it’s such a great fundamental way to build relationship with people. So that’s, that’s a tool that I would give you. That’s one that you can, you can just always remember because it will be your new favorite vehicle when talking to team members.

Todd Mosetter (25:38)
Yeah. I love that practical example because it’s hard to believe in someone if you don’t truly know them.. Bill, when you think back over your career, both as a coach and before, my guesses is there was a leader, there was a friend, there was a mentor, there was someone who spoke into you, a level of belief that helped shape who you are today. Does that, does that person, has that story come to mind?

Bill Hart (26:01)
Well, yeah. I mean it was actually Daniel Harkavy. We had known each other. We had been around each other professionally, but he began speaking into me as a coach and he said, I, you would be a fantastic coach. And so it all started there and it happened a second time with Daniel when we were talking about my book, white collar warrior. And I was really stumped. I like, I knew I wanted to write a book, but I didn’t really know what it was. And he as he does, as you know, he just listened very quietly, was very discerning. And he said, well I think I know. And it’s like all of you know, you should share it with me cause I got to write it. And he said, well, here’s the thing. You’ve been interviewing for years, you a passion for the military and you’ve been a coach for a long time. You’re great at that. Like if you could combine all of that, I think you’d have a pretty amazing book. And I’m telling you, Todd, it was though I went from having a blank canvas on an easel to having one that was immediately just like done in Technicolor. And I remember talking to my wife driving home from that meeting, I said, honey, it’s going to be called white collar warrior. Like I immediately had the title and that was all because he spoken to me. He saw what I had not yet seen.

Todd Mosetter (27:14)
I love that example. And I wanted to ask the question for a very specific purpose. When we have a chance to lead events and workshops with folks, one of the questions we often ask people is think about the greatest leader that’s ever impacted you. And we have them mentally, mentally think of that person and then describe them and they share that experience in a common theme we hear is he or she believed in me. And when we ask ourselves to think about those stories, they usually come to mind. And the opportunity I think we all have is we can remember that person that believed in us and we can remember how that felt and the impact that it had on us. And that is something I think we can all use as fuel for us to speak that belief into others. Because if we can keep a reminder of how we felt when someone did that, it should only motivate us to share that belief with others even more so. When you think about the opportunity, we all have to speak belief into others. Can you think of any other practical ways that you would encourage people to make sure they’re doing that?

Bill Hart (28:17)
Well? I’m actually going to take you back until I was a, when I was 18 this is going to sound so out of left field, but it’s the classic example that comes to mind. I had graduated high school, had no plans for college. I was laying around at 10 30 on a Saturday morning. I live in Southern California. My mother came into my room and she looked outside the window of my room and it was a beautiful day and she said, if I were a young man like you on a day like this, I’d go over to the Burbank airport and find out what it would take to learn to fly. Now I knew my mother wasn’t saying and we’ll be happy to pay for it. That was like not a part of the equation, but I immediately listened to her, which was a little uncharacteristic of an 18 year old.

And I said, that’s a great idea. And Todd, I went to the Burbank airport and wait for my very first flight lesson. I figured out how to pay for my pilot’s license. It changed the trajectory of my life. And so I say that more to all of us who are parents. I’m telling you, you have so much more influence on your kids than you believe. I know most of the time they’re not listening to you and they’re distracted by electronics and they’ve got headphones in. But I’m telling you, that moment in time, it completely changed the trajectory of my life. I didn’t go on to become a professional pilot, which was my goal. But in that process, it influenced everything else that I’ve done professionally. And to this day, you know, my love for aviation is insatiable.

Todd Mosetter (29:47)
I think that is a great story to end on that may we never forget not only the power of belief, but the power of our words, right? And the impact that we can have on other people. And bill, I can speak both personally as well as I’ve seen the impact that you’ve had as a coach and as a friend. You are able to speak belief into people in a way that helps them achieve some extraordinary things. So thanks for joining us today. Thanks for the impact you’re having for our clients and thanks for the impact you’ve had on me and my friend,

Daniel Harkavy (30:15)
Thanks so much to our guest, Kirsten Perry for her stories, her wisdom and her insights. It was such a pleasure to hear from her and I want to encourage you, there’s two books that I think that you would benefit from if this is a topic that interests you. My good friend, Dr. Henry Cloud wrote The Power of the Other and it is phenomenal. It’s filled with research, stories and practical tips that can help you to improve your coaching leadership. And then about 15 years ago, I wrote a book called Becoming a Coaching Leader. And in there I addressed the mindset, the skills, the systems, all of the tactics that will enable you to be a better coaching leader. I encourage you to pick these two books up.

As a reminder, you can listen to the other episodes and access relevant tools by visiting building and we’d love it if you could share the podcast and leave us a rating and review in your Apple podcasts app. Doing so helps people to find us and it helps us to learn what we’re doing well and how we can continue to grow and provide our listeners with content that will truly transform their lives and their leadership. Thanks for joining us and a big thanks to Lucian Green who helps us with the research and the writing for the podcasts and my longtime friend, Scott Higby, who does the audio and production, and he has Studio C Creative Sound down in San Diego. Thanks again.