That simple question, asked of me 17 years ago, led to a complete overhaul of how I see myself and others. The question was posed by my Astrophysics Professor during a theological debate after class. My response started something like this:
“I think there’s a possibility that—”
“I didn’t ask what you think,” he interrupted. “I asked what you believe.”
His clarification stopped me in my tracks. What did I believe? Good question. I could tell him what I thought. I could tell him what I felt. Heck, I could even tell him what I said I believed. But how do I know what I truly believe? It occurred to me that the only way to tell what I believed was to look at how I lived my life. I reasoned that if I really believed something—not just claimed to believe something—it would necessarily manifest itself in my choices and consequently my behavior.
Since that day I’ve seen this confirmed over and over: Beliefs drive behavior.
Exceptional leaders leverage this truth to motivate people and set them free. If you want to alter someone’s behavior (i.e.. improve performance, increase productivity, encourage creativity, eliminate bad habits, etc.), don’t just focus on external actions—those are just results. At best that creates a hollow bureaucracy; at worst, mindless automatons.
Focus on building beliefs that will produce the desired behaviors. For instance, improving performance might be achieved by helping someone believe in themselves. Increased productivity might surface the moment someone starts believing in the merits of a reliable filing system. Some people just need to believe they have permission before creativity flows out of them. Often, bad habits can be dismantled by exposing—and replacing—the false beliefs people have bought into.
Belief management is the best solution for achieving true, long-lasting behavioral change. I believe that with everything I’ve got.
However, I still can’t muster a belief in extraterrestrial life.
What role do you think beliefs play in leadership?