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Are Your Beliefs Helping or Hindering You as a Leader?
By Susanne Madsen

Have you ever considered how important your values and beliefs are to the results you get (or don’t get) in your personal and professional life? Beliefs are so powerful that they shape your attitudes, decisions, actions, and ultimately determine your results. They are something you accept as being true or real. They are firmly held opinions about what you think you can and cannot do. Henry Ford said it very well; ‘whether you think you can or can’t either way you are right’.

Beliefs play a large role in how we interpret the world and serve as a kind of lens through which we look. The things we see, experience, think and feel are all adjusted through this lens to fit with our beliefs. If we believe that change is good and that opportunity is everywhere that is what we will see. Likewise, if we believe that leading a project is stressful, that customers are demanding or if we doubt our own abilities, then that is what we will experience. Unfortunately most of us are not aware of what our beliefs are and of how they impact our behavior. All we experience is a stressful or annoying situation, without understanding how our beliefs and attitudes are contributing to that situation. To make matters worse, the majority of our thoughts and beliefs in a day are said to be negative. The reason may be that as we grow up we are being made aware of the things we can’t do as opposed to the things we can do.

Beliefs - Attitudes - Actions - Results

Figure 1: Your beliefs inform your attitudes and actions and ultimately determine the results you get or don’t get.

In her book, The Influential Leader, Rebel Brown explains that over 95% of our decisions and actions are driven by beliefs in our unconscious mind and that our conscious mind never even gets involved. She states that whereas our unconscious mind takes in 11 million bits of data per second, mainly from our eyes, ears and feelings, only a very small percentage – 126 bits per second – is selected and presented to our conscious mind. This means that we are in many ways slaves to our unconscious mind and that we are not as logical and rational as we might think. It is the beliefs in the unconscious mind, that filters out the data and decides which part is being passed onto our conscious mind, and which part is being withheld. If we want to change our reality, and the results we generate, we have to change our beliefs so that a different set of data will start to come through to our conscious mind.

A positive and empowering belief system will carry you a long way, and when you master it, there is very little that can stop you in your leadership track. Some of the studies that have been carried out come from educational circles where teachers and groups of pupils have falsely been led to believe that they were significantly more accomplished than the rest of the class. The results of these studies consistently prove that the students who (falsely) believed that they were more accomplished ended up with increased self-esteem and higher grades than their peers.

One of the essential ingredients in transforming into a leader is to replace the beliefs and behaviors that are not serving you with something more empowering. You can begin the process by identifying areas where the results you generate are less than ideal. What you need to look out for are any situations which you experience as complex or problematic – for instance where a team member is disengaged, you have disagreements with peers, user communities are resistant, you feel stressed out, or people are not meeting their commitments. These situations, and the results you generate, always reveal your underlying beliefs if you take the time to look at them in detail.

You can gain further insight into your beliefs by examining the below questions:

  • What do you believe about your successes, your abilities as a manager and your role as a leader?
  • What do you believe about your relationship with senior managers? Do you for instance believe that they are more important than you and that you are not entitled to hold them to account and say no to requests? And what do you believe about your relationship with people who report to you?

  • What are some of the stories you are telling yourself? Do you deserve to be successful? Do you feel that you are good enough, skilled enough and that you have the right gender and age? Do you tell yourself that you are destined to be a great leader – or not?

  • In which positive and negative ways are these stories and beliefs impacting you? Are they moving you further towards or away from the things you want to achieve as a manager and leader?

Susanne Madsen is a project & program manager, mentor & coach, and author of The Project Management Coaching Workbook. She has over 15 years experience in managing and rolling out large change programs. You can read more from Susanne on her blog.

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