How to inspire: focus on what you believe

In the 1950s, National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA broadcast a series called “This I Believe”. It was hosted by the famous journalist Edward R. Murrow and it became a real cultural phenomenon. According to NPR, eighty-five leading newspapers printed a weekly column based on ‘This I Believe’. A collection of essays published in 1952 sold 300,000 copies – second only to the Bible that year. The series was also translated and broadcast around the globe on the Voice of America. In 2006, NPR revived that popular radio programme and wrote on its website about the the history of “This I believe”: “Each day, some 39 million Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists and secretaries — anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which the lived. Their words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism and racial division”.

In those days, one of the speakers was Jackie Robinson, a famous athlete and the first black person to play Major League Baseball. After his successful baseball career, he campaigned against racial segregation. This is what he said in his 1952 speech “I believe in the human race” on NPR: “I believe that imperfections are human (…) I do not believe that every person, in every walk of life, can succeed in spite of any handicap. That would be perfection. But I do believe – and with every fiber in me – that what I was able to attain came to be because we put behind us (no matter how slowly) the dogmas of the past: to discover the truth of today; and perhaps find the greatness of tomorrow. I believe in the human race. I believe in the warm heart. I believe in man’s integrity. I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that the society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it – and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist”.

Jackie Robinson believed in the human race. Ask yourself the question now: what do I believe in as a leader? What do I deeply believe in? If you want to inspire your audience, you should adopt a two-dimentional communication approach: focus on what you know, which is the left-brain part of your communication, but focus especially also on what believe – the right-brain part of your message.

To build confidence, inspiring leaders will use the language of belief – not just the language of facts. When challenges are high, your audience is yearning from something to believe in, something that will help them to stay on course. By going deeper and by going beyond the facts of the day, you increase your impact, your inspirational power and the transformational effect of your words.

Inspiring leaders know that belief creates vision and strength when times or challenges ahead are tough. When expressing a belief, you make the invisible visible. You make visible what has not yet materialized or what has not yet been accomplished. Think of J.F. Kennedy who said in his Moon speech in 1961 “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth”. And then he continued by explaining the path to do so: “We propose to accelerate the development of the appropriate lunar space craft. We propose to develop alternate liquid and solid fuel boosters, much larger than any now being developed, until certain which is superior. We propose additional funds for other engine development and for unmanned explorations–explorations which are particularly important for one purpose which this nation will never overlook: the survival of the man who first makes this daring flight. But in a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon–if we make this judgment affirmatively, it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there”.