Ari on Business

The Role of Belief, conclusion

This essay is an excerpt from Zingerman’s Guide to Good Leading, Volume 3: A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Managing Yourself by Ari Weinzweig (coming in the Fall of 2013). Today’s installment is the conclusion of the essay. 

The Role of Belief in Building a Sustainable Business

5. Belief in Our Coworkers

My recent dialogue with Anese around belief reinforced something that my partner Paul Saginaw said to me many years ago. That, if we don’t believe in the people we’ve hired, quite simply, they aren’t ever going to be great at what they do. Having staff members that we don’t believe are going to succeed is a recipe for serious frustration for all involved. If, that’s the case then our commitment to serve the organization dictates that we need to, respect- fully, help them head elsewhere.

On the upside we have a huge opportunity to help them excel. My belief that the staff member can and will get to greatness starts to change the way they relate to themselves, their coworkers, and the company. People regularly tell stories about the teacher or professor who believed that they would make it when others had said they’d fail. The more we become mindful of our beliefs about our coworkers, and the more constructively we then challenge ourselves to stay focused on positive outcomes for all involved, the more likely people are to do well.

Here at Zingerman’s that plays out on a broad scale—all of our work with open book finance, authorizing everyone to do whatever they believe they need to do to make something right for a customer, our extensive investment in training, all of it is based on the belief that everyone here is more than capable of doing great creative, highly effective work. Amy Emberling, managing partner at the Bakehouse, reminded me, appropriately, that one way the leader can help in this area is simply to take time to listen to others’ beliefs. That simple act can do wonders for people’s feeling of belonging, and we show in the process that we believe their insights and ideas have value.

6. Belief in the Boss

I almost forgot this one! But, if the team doesn’t believe in the coach, if the musicians don’t believe in the conductor, if the staff doesn’t believe in the boss, then most every- thing else I’ve gone over above will start to slide as well. It doesn’t mean that the business won’t run at all—just that a layer of richness, a positive piece of a big puzzle, a key ingredient is missing. And over time, the whole thing becomes less and less compelling, and eventually the business will likely collapse.

mindful Belief

The bottom line on all this comes down to a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to push ourselves to take time for some introspection. What I know for sure is that if what I believe is out of whack with what I want, the odds of me getting to where I want to go are slim, maybe none. And while believing that better things are to come doesn’t get alone get rid of poverty, pestilence, or really poor performance, it sure does increase the odds of them happening. And so, I challenge myself, and invite you, to reflect for a few minutes. What do we believe about:


Our lives?

What we do for a living?

Our friends?

Our staff?

Our boss?



Our future?

The opportunity is that the more we can build that belief balance sheet, the better we’re going to do. When we have strong, grounded, humble, meaningful, positive belief about all of those, the more likely we are to be living that dream everyone is after. I’ll close with a rather compelling quote from early 20th century writer, William Ralph Inge. “Faith,” he said, “is the choice of the nobler hypothesis.”