How the Show Goes On

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison explains how belief plays a critical role in leadership.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and the author of Take Control: The Career You Want, Where You Want.

Gus had spent his whole life on the circus crew, cleaning up after the animals… as the fable goes. It was a job that required some (pardon the pun) heavy lifting.

One day, the star of the show stopped by where Gus was working. “You ever think about retiring, Gus?” she asked.

“What!” Gus replied with a shocked expression on his face. “And give up show business?”

We know them when we see them—those people who are different. They love what they do.

Think about that person who greets you by name at the grocery store. The nurse who looks you in the eye and provides those words of assurance—you know you’re in good hands. And the colleague who not only exhibits caring and empathy but, more importantly, exudes authenticity.

It’s not just what they do—it’s who they are. They believe. And that’s how the show goes on.

Most of us want to believe—there’s a little Gus in all of us. This is where we find hope, context, and perspective. But if we are honest, do we always believe in the journey, the mission, and even in ourselves? If not, we will never be able to bring that belief to others.

This is not something we can outsource—rather we have to insource. It starts with each of us:

Do you believe? Let’s step back—take ourselves out of the moment and ask ourselves an esoteric, existential question. Why do we do what we do? We probably don’t think about this very often. But here’s the thing—if we don’t believe… no one else will.

Are you believable? People can relate to us when we’re authentic and emotive. When there is no daylight between our words and our actions, we’re believable. And there’s no faking this. But let’s face it—we can all get out of sync and out of tune at times. It’s the noise of life. Yet when we are at our best, we’re the equivalent of a Sitzprobe, bringing the vocalists and the orchestra into harmony. With believability, we all stay on beat.

How do you radiate belief? It’s not about others believing in us. It’s about us believing in—and for—others! In a swipe left, swipe right world this can be hard work. Believing in someone is an expression of confidence but believing for them is purposeful intention. Here we find the full-circle moment when what we believe transforms into what others achieve. The impersonal becomes the personal.

It’s nothing less than the essence of leadership: inspiring others to believe—and enabling that belief to become reality.

Indeed, where there’s belief… there’s a show.