While traveling recently, I had the opportunity to watch ESPN’s 30 for 30, Survive and Advance. This documentary features the 1983 North Carolina State Wolfpack team that won the NCAA Basketball Championship in Cinderella fashion. The Wolfpack were led by the dynamic,  exuberant, and young Coach Jim Valvano.  

I’ve watched this documentary many times before, but with each viewing, I notice a new leadership lesson. This time, what resonated most was a story that Coach Valvano shared about the greatest gift his father gave him.  

From the time Jim Valvano took his first coaching job, his goal was to win the National Championship. His Dad, who was always supportive, packed his bags every year at the start of the NCAA Tournament. He told the young coach that when he made it to the championship game, he would be there. As you might imagine, Coach Valvano’s teams didn’t immediately succeed.  However, that didn’t prevent the senior Valvano from encouraging Jim and sharing that when the team was successful the next year, he would be there. In 1983, he celebrated at mid-court with his son.  

When his father later passed away, Coach Valvano reflected on what he missed the most. It was then he realized that the greatest gift his father had given him all those years was that his father believed in him. 

Belief. When someone believes in you, it is powerful. After seeing Coach Valvano reflect on belief as a gift, I started to think about all the times someone has believed in me. Countless situations flooded my mind, including but not limited to the following:

  • New experiences or environments
  • New teams
  • Career changes
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Selling/Speaking/Writing
  • Failure
  • A new skill or area of expertise
  • New responsibilities or promotions
  • Learning an unfamiliar industry
  • Tough decisions
  • Pursuing big Goals
  • Challenging the status quo

In almost every example, challenge, growth or transition was involved. In my case, there were no “packed bags”, but belief by others was demonstrated in a variety of ways. It was a conversation, a note, encouragement, acknowledgment, feedback, a proposal, and in one case, a package of resources with a suggested development plan. Regardless of form, belief was communicated, and it had an impact. In every case, I embraced the circumstance with greater confidence because someone believed in me. More importantly, I grew in ways I might not have otherwise and for that, I am extremely grateful.

As leaders, regardless of our environment – family, friends, work, community, etc. – one of the greatest gifts we can give to others is our belief in them. That belief can eliminate their doubt, build their self-belief, reinforce their ability to achieve, fortify confidence, and yes, help them grow. It can also strengthen their resiliency when things don’t go as expected or they don’t achieve the intended result.

Think about your own experiences. When has someone given you the gift of believing in you? What were you able to achieve? How were you impacted? Now, think about how your life or career might have changed if you didn’t have someone else’s belief in you. Chances are your experiences and outcomes might be very different.

To pay forward the gift of belief, we need to consider our teams, our clients, and others around us. Who would benefit from knowing that we believe in them? How can we share that we believe in them in ways that are authentic and genuine for us? As leaders, if we believe in someone, we need to let them know. It is a simple leadership gesture that can truly have a powerful impact.