Why Understanding Belief Systems is Critical for Leadership

Belief Systems in LeadershipLast week in a presentation on The New Psychology of Money given by my To Be A Woman business partner, a gentleman in the audience suggested to her that women are dependent on men because we depend on men to make money for us to live. You could literally feel people cringing in the room – and not just the women.

This was a reflection of his belief system, not a universal truth, and my business partner (a strong, successful and financially independent woman) told him so. She told him very respectfully that she has a different belief system. He was an older gentleman from a European country who had clearly grown up being taught a set of beliefs that represent a particular way of looking at the world, which is in essence what a belief system is.

How we view money, our own relationship to it, and how we view others who either have it or don’t, represent one form of a belief system. Ask yourself how you feel when you think about money, and what money means to you, and you’ll get a glimpse into your own belief system about money.

Most of us don’t realize it but when we leave the nest of our parents to go out into the world we’ve already adopted a belief system that we take with us based on what we were taught in the early years of our lives. It’s difficult to change a belief system that has become firmly rooted, but it can be done by:

  • Recognizing it and how it influences our thinking
  • Interrupting it when we acknowledge it’s coming into play in certain situations
  • Allowing ourselves to be open to seeing the world from a different perspective

Political Belief Systems (Solely as an Example)

Political viewpoints are another example of how belief systems take root. As an oversimplification just for the purpose of example, a woman who grows up in a home with liberal parents might be taught that liberals care about others and want to help people and conservatives “just want to keep money to themselves.” While the same woman growing up with conservative parents might be taught conservatives believe in independence and not relying on other people (the government) to do things for you or give you money, while liberals feel entitled to other people’s money.

None of this represents a universal truth, and to be very clear I’m not asserting any of this is true or fairly represents either side. These thoughts just represent different belief systems that some people may hold. People who adhere to these thoughts are actually all good people; their actions will simply represent a different way of looking at the world.

Being Open to Other Belief Systems

I think we’d all agree the US news channels MSNBC and FOX represent the opposite side of the spectrum when it comes to political belief systems. I listen to both channels during the day. By doing so, I get a better appreciation for the belief system of people on “the other side of the aisle.” I have come to understand that people on the other side of the aisle are simply passionate about how they want the world to look, just as I’m passionate about my own views.

When We Judge Others

Allow me to assert that our belief systems may lead us to judge others harshly. For example, have you ever heard someone say, “He’s been divorced twice already,” with a derogatory tone, or personally made a judgment about someone based on how many times they’ve been married? There are some who hold a belief system that once you’re married you stay married forever, no matter how unhappy you are, and others who firmly believe you should be married to the person who helps you awaken your true self at each stage of your life, and that it’s ok for spouses to change over time as we evolve. You may personally find one of these views to be absolutely incomprehensible. It’s a reflection of your personal belief system.

Real empowerment comes when we let go of our concerns that others will judge us and replace these concerns with the understanding that when they do it’s a reflection of their belief system and not of our personal value, worth, or truth.

Why This Matters in Leadership

As leaders it’s important to recognize that we lead individuals, each of whom has a different belief system largely shaped by what they were taught early on in their life. We cannot change someone’s belief system, only they can do that. We can – and will – certainly disagree with each other at points because of these belief systems, and this is where the values of respect and withholding judgment come into play.

How we respect others, how we withhold judgment of others, how we value others who have a different belief system, and how we seek to better understand others who have different belief systems will set the course for the culture in our companies and organizations. If, as George Bradt asserts, culture is the only sustainable competitive advantage, then this is absolutely critical to the long-term success of our business!

What does your belief system say about this?

Please join me and Steve Woodruff tomorrow night at Leadership Chat – 8:00 pm Eastern Time on Twitter – to delve into this meaty and important  leadership topic!

~

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Comments

  1. Hello,

    About the 1st paragraph. I have experienced, my wife saying or clearly implying this concept to me on multiple occasions. In fact, while I was suffering from chronic depression and anxiety, for 4 years she continued to work for minimum wage while I was burning through my 401K because I was unemployed. Here’s the best part, now that I’m on medications for the past year, rebuilding myself, and making some money, she now wants a divorce! So, much for that particular woman’s commitment to marriage. Oh, one more thing, she and her 17 yr old daughter told me to lighten up because “everyone’s doing it”!!!

    So, yes, it does happen, and someday I’m going to write about it, so all the details of how a man can make the biggest mistake of his life by idealizing his wife, and leading with his heart, instead of simply following it.

    I mean no harm, or insult. I read a funny tweet today; women can fake orgasms, but men can fake an entire relationship. (Just so I even things up a bit).

  2. Great post, Lisa. Simply understanding that someone’s belief system differs from ours (sometimes even regardless of the specifics) gives us a leg up in the communication process. And that helps us prevent conflict. Kudos to your business partner for responding from a place of self-awareness and putting the audience at ease as well. Thanks for this insightful post.
    Michelle Agner´s last blog post ..The Key to Not Screwing Up: Knowing What Not To Say

  3. Lisa – Well done. Belief Systems & Culture are quite important for all of us and particularly as leaders.

    My comment extends a bit beyond the post; I trust it will be complimentary.

    Having worked across borders & found studying the local lanquage (to any extent) is beneficial. You cannot separate Culture from language. In dissecting the language you learn the Culture.

    A great example is the various forms used within the Korean Language. A simple form is used for addressing subordinates (and children), a common form is used for peers, and the language becomes formal with superiors. This understanding of the layered hierarchies withing that society, as learned through language study, aid personal and business navigation.

    The time I put into learning and appreciating another world view is beneficial to relationships and is personally enriching.
    Scott Smith´s last blog post ..Balanced Scorecard

    • Scott, this is a beautiful extension of the post and adds tremendously to it. Thanks for the reminder that it’s important if we want to create strong relationships for us to put effort into understanding other people’s culture, which forms much of their belief system! The fact that you find it personally enriching shows you’re a stellar leader. Thank you and I hope we’ll see you on Leadership Chat!

  4. Apologies in advance for this slightly tasteless example, related to belief systems. However, it made a lasting impression on me, to be very careful to identify and understand those others’ beliefs’, even those repugnant to you.

    Right after the events of 9/11, nearly everyone was feeling horror and anger at the perpetrators of the attacks on the WTC. When I would point out that the pilots were doing what they believed was just, and would result in heavenly rewards; many could not (would not) understand that the pilots did not believe they were doing wrong (looked at from the perspective of our belief system).
    CASUDI´s last blog post ..THE ENTREPRENEUR’S LIST

    • Caroline, It’s actually a brilliant example that helps us understand just how ingrained our belief systems become. When you understand this, you understand the perspective of those who say you can’t negotiate with a terrorist – because they fully believe their actions are warranted. Thank you for adding this stark but insightful perspective!

  5. HI Lisa, I would have loved to be on the chat last night, however I was not able to. I love this topic because it can potentially be the wake up call for so many people. Our brain forms perceptions/beliefs based on a variety of factors, some of which are discussed here and then, as we look out into the world, we tend to “categorize” (judge) based on our own “story” of “how life/people are. The challenge is that so many people equate their opinion or belief with their very sense of identity which leads to feeling offended if someone disagrees. (In actuality, YOU, are not your thoughts!) As I’ve become far more self-aware than I once was, more and more I can allow the space for people to have a different viewpoint and totally not take it personally. It IS all about THEM. I’ve also learned that judgment can be a form of projection and it can also be due to a need to feel “safe” in one’s own comfort zone, the “need” to be right and even insecurity. Trust me, I have had to deal with all of these issues in my journey and it is very freeing to generally no longer have to deal these issues….though, of course I am and we all are still growing…so a little patience and compassion goes a long, long way. Besides, how can we innovate and grow if we think we already “know it all”, yes? And as a leader, how can one seek to understand if she or he are always on guard and ready to defend their own point of view….not a collaborative way to lead. :-)
    Valencia Ray MD´s last blog post ..Is It Truly Visionary Leadership or Are We Just Waking Up?

    • Valencia, I wish you could have been there as well because you add so much depth and insight to these conversations! Thank you for doing that here with this comment – and for sharing your wisdom with the Visionary Leadership Community! It means so much to me!

Trackbacks

  1. […] LeadershipChat topic – bring your ideas and your questions (and be sure to read the prep post, Why Understanding Belief Systems is Critical for Leadership, by my lovely LeadershipChat co-host, Lisa Petrilli). We look forward to welcoming you to the […]

  2. […] Prep post: Why Understanding Belief Systems is Critical for Leadership (Lisa […]

  3. […] Why Understanding Belief Systems is Critical For Leadership by Lisa Petrilli Most of us don’t realize it but when we leave the nest of our parents to go out into the world we’ve already adopted a belief system that we take with us based on what we were taught in the early years of our lives. It’s difficult to change a belief system that has become firmly rooted, but it can be done by: […]

  4. […] Why Understanding Belief Systems is Critical For Leadership by Lisa Petrilli Most of us don’t realize it but when we leave the nest of our parents to go out into the world we’ve already adopted a belief system that we take with us based on what we were taught in the early years of our lives. It’s difficult to change a belief system that has become firmly rooted, but it can be done by: […]

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