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Belief Drives Leadership Behavior

Udayakumar Nalinasekaren
Mar 31, 2017


A young woman got married. She was instantly pushed out of her comfort zone and had to build new bonds. To her credit, her culinary skills were above average. She was a food lover too. She loved to explore and innovate and was good at these things. Through her fine upbringing , she believed in herself and leveraging her strengths to tackle challenges. She therefore devised a simple strategy to lead herself. She conveyed her love for her better half by trying to conquer his taste buds and she did succeed.

Years passed. One day her husband went for a regular medical check up. The diagnosis indicated border line diabetes and high levels of cholesterol. The prognosis indicated that a more positive lifestyle could reverse the adverse looking trend.

From the very next day, the wife changed her behavior – like the flip of a switch. Now she started conveying her love for her better half by focusing on a healthy diet even after seeing signs of disapproval from him. Conveying love through the taste buds was put on the back burner instantly. While she continued to be a perfectly healthy individual, she decided to follow the diet of her loved one, thereby sacrificing her own needs and wants. In addition to herself, she started leading her husband differently.

The root of all this near instant transformation is the change in belief from “a loved one is healthy. I want to make his life better by making him enjoy great food” to “health has become a challenge for him and I am a key influence with regard to his food habits and behavior”.

There are some insights we get from the above:

  1. Beliefs are powerful. It is the belief system that drives human behavior
  2. Humans are reprogrammable. It is possible to acquire new behavior through a change in the belief system
  3. Powerful belief changes can result in instant behavior changes in humans.It just needs one ‘AHA’ moment for the belief system to change.

Beliefs play a huge role in the enterprise/corporate context. In the example above, we talked about a husband and wife relationship which has its own context and dynamics. In the corporate context, the relationship between a CEO and his/her board members has very different dynamics.

However, the same belief system and its function on human behaviour play a huge role on the relationship between the CEO and the board of directors. This needs to develop as a very positive, collaborative relationship. While a CEO leads the company, the board of directors are there to protect the interest of the investors and guide the CEO with their rich experience through tough times.

For those of you who have had the experience, it could get very lonely at the top. The chief executive does not have a manager to seek guidance or support when necessary. The board can play a vital role and fill this gap.

Yet many CEOs I meet see the board as unnecessary intrusion and control. Sometimes, the belief I see is “This is a company I built from the ground up. I know how to run it. I am confident of my ideas. I do not need any help or oversight”. Remember that the hugely successful Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, was once fired by the board.

In contrast there are CEOs who believe that they need to manage the board by investing in a positive relationship with the members, maintaining necessary and sufficient transparency and pro-actively anticipating and preparing to answer any questions that board members could have on the company’s progress. These CEOs are usually very effective in garnering the support of the board members when taking big, risky and impactful decisions.

Coaching is a very effective intervention to take a guided tour through your personal belief system and how it is driving your behavior. Effective Coaches can act as your non-intrusive thought partners in pacing your transformation and acquiring new skills –for example “managing up”. 

Do you understand what your belief is that is driving you from inside?

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