The Power of Rituals
You may think that your Vision, meticulously built over time, will shape the future of your company but you would be wrong.
Your daily habits are shaping your future, and have a far more significant influence than you might expect. A vision is a potent leadership tool that will help you, and your team, recognise that you’re on the right path. However, what you repeatedly do, the choices you make each day, the rituals you engage in with your leadership team — defines your leadership; it is these small things that will become your legacy.
“You are what you repeatedly do.” Will Durant
A short case study
I worked with an organisation a few years back. They had a vision, and a leader who spent the most part of every day, coalescing stakeholders and team members to get aligned and deliver goals that would deliver the Vision. Sadly, the leader died suddenly; the loss shocked everyone, leaving a massive leadership void. The other executives rallied round, and one took over at the helm.
About a year later, I came in and assessed the leadership culture. I heard much talk about the Vision and the road map, but I never saw it used in a meeting, I asked if the Vision was used to set the agenda of problem-solving sessions or strategy sessions. It was not. Meetings had become read-outs and check-ups. No one was coalescing teams to solve problems or maintain alignment any more. The Vision was now just a document.
Without the daily rituals used by the late leader, nothing was keeping the Vision alive; it became a document on a disk drive, an artefact that no longer had any potency.
The funny thing about rituals
Even those who say they don’t believe that rituals work appear to benefit from taking part. In the story above, the executive that took the helm spoke fondly of the early morning meetings he had with his friend, the endless discussions about the Vision and the actions needed to make it real. He talked about his energy and relentless commitment to the Vision.
Research has shown that rituals give people focus and control, especially when they are faced with high-pressure situations. I worked on a turn around years back, and we had a daily ritual of checking cash flows for the day ahead and then looking at each week’s challenges. We would problem solve the shortfalls each day and agree on a plan to get us through. This ritual had the effect of binding a team together against a common enemy, the sins of the past. Each day we won, or survived, increased our belief in each other and our mission.
I believe we survived that period because of our daily rituals, and the belief they gave us, more than pure economics. I witnessed team members finding new solutions to old problems, engaging stakeholders, such as the tax office in new ways that give us time to solve problems. Customers, too, were asked to help, and they did, some paying more and some paying in advance, all working to help save a provider doing valuable work.
Recently, a series of investigations by psychologists have revealed new results that demonstrate rituals have an impact on people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Nicholas Hobson, a psychology and neuroscience researcher at the University of Toronto conducted an experiment to see the effects of rituals on a group of normal office workers.
He divided his subjects into two groups. One group was asked to practice the ritual of “action sequences” of body motion for just 2 minutes each day for a week. This group was told that the movements were part of an ancient practice related to cognitive processes.
The second group had no rituals and did nothing to make each day special. After a week both groups played a trust game; members were asked to give away $10, which would result in the receiver getting $30. The group that had practiced the ritual, for just two minutes a day for a week, trusted each other more than the group with no ritual. The ritual group were more likely to trust each other an give away the $10 believing that the reciever would play fair and split the rewards.
Just 2 minutes a day for a week improved trust.
In another experiment, people were given either a lucky golf ball, or an ordinary golf ball and then asked to perform a task. This superstitious ritual enhanced people’s confidence in their abilities, motivated considerably more effort – and improved subsequent performance.
Success in Sport
Sports psychology has shown a positive correlation between pre-performance routines and improved attention, execution, as well as an increase in emotional stability and confidence. There are many examples of rituals helping in the sporting arena, from the All-Blacks HAKA to more private rituals such Michael Jordan who wore his North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts in every game.
Rituals improve performance
Ferris makes his bed; this is his first accomplishment of the day. Second, he meditates, and then he does 30 minutes of light exercise followed by some strong tea. He finishes is morning ritual by journaling for five to ten minutes, which in his words “helps push the ball forward and feel better throughout the day.”
Oprah Winfrey also starts with meditation, then the treadmill to get her heart-rate pumping. Next, she “tunes herself in” by going for a walk, listening to music or preparing a nice meal. Finally, she always concludes her ritual by eating a healthy meal.
The great, and sadly no longer with us, Steve Jobs, had a simple morning ritual. Each day he would ask himself one question, “If today was the last day of my life, would I be happy with what I’m about to do today?” If the answer was “no” too many days in a row, he knew something needed to change.
Ancient wisdom could help you drive change in your business.
In the late 1910s, anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski lived among the inhabitants of islands in the South Pacific Ocean. These people often fished in turbulent, shark-infested waters beyond the coral reef. To ensure that they would return safely, they performed specific rituals to invoke magical powers for their safety and protection.
When they fished in the calm waters of a lagoon, they treated the fishing trip as an ordinary event and did not perform any rituals.
Malinowski concluded that where the outcomes are important, uncertain and beyond control, people are more likely to turn to rituals.
When sharks are present, you have an opportunity
People feel uncertain and anxious in a host of situations beyond laboratory experiments and sports – like dealing with a new normal or having to reinvent their business model because the world has changed. Today’s uncertainty is an opportunity to place the problem in the middle of your team and begin to solve each challenge as they become visible.
Start and end meeting with rituals for these 4 reasons:
- You are what you repeatedly do.
- Just 2 minutes a day for a week improved trust.
- There is a correlation between pre-performance routines and improved attention, execution, emotional stability and confidence.
- Without the daily rituals, artefacts no longer possess any potency.
Remember doing is believing, no one ever built a great business without acting first, learning second and pivoting when the market gives feedback. Keeping going in the face of adversity is helped by having some rituals to support your mindset, whether it is your luck tie, repeating a mantra, or calling the team together for one final walk through before your pitch, rituals are all around us, we use them very day, be brave and courageous and bring them to your team meetings. Remember, its OK to invoke good luck by acting out a ritual because the sharks are out there!!!!
I’ll leave with a final word from a champion….Rafael Nadal
“When you compete every week, when you play under pressure daily, you find your rituals to be 100% focused on what you’re doing.”