I was reading an amazing Twitter thread about Bill Grundfest, founder of The Comedy Cellar and the guy who discovered some of the most famous comedians.
In the thread, which includes stories of Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, and Ray Romano, the pattern is essentially:
- Bill is able to detect talent, even early on in people’s careers when they haven’t had success yet.
- He’s able to zoom-in on what’s holding them back, and giving them one key piece of advice.
- He believed in them.
The thread focuses on the first two pieces: detecting talent and giving advice. The third piece is a little hidden, but in my mind, it’s probably the most impactful.
I’ve seen over and over in my career how having someone believe in you can be life-changing. I’ve sometimes been the recipient of that, sometimes a spectator, and most recently, I’ve tried to be a provider of that.
People can tell when you don’t believe in them, and they can tell when you do. It has an effect on their behavior, and can be self-fulfilling. This is sometimes known as the Pygmalion effect. Having someone believe in you is tremendously powerful. If someone believes in you, they will give you more support and more opportunity. They will boost your confidence—and I’ve seen lack of confidence hold back way too many brilliant people. And they will help create the type of psychological safety necessary for you to do your best work.
So here’s my rule as a manager. I only hire people I believe in, and I do my best to let them know I believe in them.
Just because someone has been successful, or has a lot of experience, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I believe in them. Believing in someone means that I believe their best is yet to come.
On the other hand, believing in someone doesn’t always mean believing that they will be successful right away, or that they will be successful in the exact way or role I’ve intended for them. Believing in someone isn’t relaxing my standards or expectations of them either. That’s the opposite of believing in someone. In order to believe in someone, you need to maintain high standards for them, and have faith that they will meet those standards.
This applies beyond just managers hiring their teams. If you have the luxury of choosing where you work, you are essentially “hiring” a person as your manager, a team as your colleagues, or a company as your employer. So if you can, always choose to work with people you believe in, and people who believe in you. Work with people for whom you believe their best is yet to come. And if you lose faith in them, or you feel like they lose faith in you, do them and yourself the favor of moving on.