Like so many words that start with ‘f’ (fairness or federalism, for example), faith can be a topic that leaves some of us slightly twitchy. As a word, its roots are actually secular: it derives from the Latin word for trust, and the religious sense was a 14th century acquisition. But for all the trouble humanity has wrought upon itself around faith in a theological sense, is it worth asking if we have successfully mastered the idea of faith in the broader, earthly sense?

I came across an old adage – “Fear can keep us up all night long, but faith makes one fine pillow” – that left me wondering if we don’t put too much emphasis on what we believe about the world around us, rather than on being mindful or receptive to the faith that others have in us? Most of us appreciate the merits of a fine pillow: whether we hold to a religion or live as atheists or agnostics, our lives are still touched by sorrow, frustration, setbacks or doubt, and a little pampering never goes amiss.  In terms of the comfort or sense of strength that it can bring, faith can definitely be its own reward. But I’m thinking about the idea of faith in a less … well, self-centred way: the benefits we can bring about by showing faith in others.

We place a lot of value on self-confidence and self-belief, not least because we do actually believe that (cliché alert) faith can move mountains. As an organisation or a manager, it’s understandable that we’re going to look favourably on the self-confident. Most people’s working lives have one or two mountains that need moving, and it’s the kind of task most of us would delegate given half a chance.

It’s where faith meets delegation that the trouble can arise. Delegation isn’t abdicating: done properly and effectively, it involves making sure that the delegated task or responsibility is achievable. Delegating is about making sure, within the bigger picture, that the job gets done, not just that you’ve managed to remove it from your own in-tray, to do list or workflow system. It’s not about passing or stopping bucks, it’s about helping to make them.

Put yourself in the shoes of the reportee who’s now holding the shovel and ponder how much impact your ability to not just have faith in them but to demonstrate it can make a difference. With only a shovel beside you and a mountain in front of you, knowing someone else has faith in you might not be a pillow exactly, but it certainly helps. (Paradoxically, given the opening paragraphs, The Bible has a good quote to offer:

Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you. [Peter 3:15]”

If your plucky (or, more likely, anxious) shovel-bearer is wrestling with a few doubts, your faith in them can be a step towards them building their own self-belief. This should be a point not lost on any line manager, or on L&D practitioners. When we reviewed the responses to the 2010 Learning Transfer Survey, the questions where respondents indicated the least frequent use of effective techniques in supporting learning transfer and development included:

  • Do non-monetary reward strategies encourage learners to transfer and apply new learning?
  • Do non-monetary reward strategies encourage line managers to support training transfer?

Other aspects that bear consideration in relation to our hypothetical mountain-shoveller were also brought to light. The Survey showed that Learner Selection for development is the least used cluster of learning transfer practices, including aspects such as learners’ belief in their own competence, and the extent to which they are motivated by achievement. The latter can be a conundrum: those most motivated by an ideal of achieving mastery can be those most affected by a lack of confidence in their own ability to overcome challenges.

This is a situation, as Cyril Kirwan explored in his book, Improving Learning Transfer (which our MD, Anton Franckeiss, reviewed for Training Journal) (download the review as a PDF file), where mentoring, coaching and feedback from a line manager can make a fundamental difference:

Perhaps the most important way in which changes in self-efficacy and motivation are enabled is through the feedback process. […] However, the way in which either positive or negative feedback is given is extremely important. Badly given feedback will tend to widen the gap between perceptions of demands and ability […], while properly given feedback should help close it.”

While it’s worth recognising that some line managers find the progress of those that report to them a threat to their position and status, we should at least hope that the majority recognise that the on-going health of the organisation (or, to put it another way, ‘the hand that feeds’) stands to potentially benefit rather more if everyone’s abilities are developed more effectively. In a manager’s capacity as coach, helping people on their way to greater fulfilment of their promise can sometimes involve helping at the starting point. As another man of the cloth, Martin Luther King, once put it:

Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

And if any managers are wondering where their reward in their faith in others lies, there’s a strong argument that this faith is also its own reward. Consider the words of Deena Ingham, interviewed previously on this blog, in her short biography:

One of the main focuses of [my] work in Higher Education is encouraging lifelong learning – getting people to recognise that it is never too late to learn a skill or develop an academic approach that will prove life-changing. Graduates who never had enough faith in their own abilities to believe they could achieve are transformed, and that in itself is inspiring and hugely satisfying.”

For another testimony to the power and impact of placing faith in others – and to the value they receive from your having done so – I’d wholeheartedly recommend a post on Jon Bartlett’s ProjectLibero blog, called The Debt. It’s a tribute to a man who loaned him (without obligation) the money to pay for the completion of his training, and who died recently. Whether we remember good samaritans for their intentions or their money, Jon’s closing words have something important to say about value, and the power of a very earthly faith in one another:

Earlier this week I blogged on price vs value. Although the blog was popular I felt I’d not fully made my point. Little did I know that John would make the point more eloquently than I ever could. He invested in me when I wasn’t sure of my value. There was a specific price to pay but he was willing to gamble all that money on the potential value within me.

Thank you John for that belief in me, for fanning the flames and giving me that chance. I know the money was repaid but I’ll always be in debt to that trust. I’ll miss you.”

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