Leadership Begins with Examining Beliefs

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We’ve all heard the adage that you can’t solve problems with the same consciousness that created them. However, we don’t hear enough about how to move to a consciousness that would solve the problems currently plaguing our businesses and societies. The movement has to start with examining our beliefs,
as everything else flows from beliefs.

Belief as the Foundation of Our Experience

By way of definition, a belief system is an encapsulation of how a person or organization thinks about the world and their place in it. My interest is in economic thriving, at the business and societal level, so let’s explore how our beliefs determine whether or not our societies thrive economically.

An economic belief system starts with thoughts about physical security, such as who is worthy of having money and physical comforts, as well as whether these things are abundant in the world. It also reflects how people think about relationships with others, such as who is worthy of partnership and who is considered competition. And finally, it includes self-esteem and respect, including whether people are confident in their abilities to gain wealth and whether having more money makes people worthy of more respect.

These beliefs about money drive our economic behavior and experience. They determine how much effort we’re willing to exert and if we’re willing to cheat others to make money. They also establish who we’re willing to benefit if we have excess material wealth, as well as how we’ll care for others if we’re in a position of power. Beliefs shape whether we have a predisposition to compete with or collaborate with others, as well as who we’ll accept as a colleague. And they dictate whether we pursue wealth with confidence or fear. There’s even evidence that beliefs impact the very form of matter.

Our beliefs are programmed in our subconscious and even in our body, so that they shape our behavior and experience without our conscious awareness. We make choices all the time, always conforming to our beliefs, and usually without even being aware that they’re driven by subconscious beliefs. The first step to moving to a consciousness that addresses our problems is to become aware of our subconscious beliefs and determine if they serve us.

The Content of Our Beliefs

Many of our beliefs in Western society originate from our interpretation of the Judeo Christian doctrine. Although this has created a lot of beneficial beliefs, it has also generated some beliefs that don’t serve our goal of creating societies that thrive economically. Let’s take a closer look at the beliefs that don’t serve us.

We have been taught that God has all the power, and we are at his mercy. This leads to us having a lack of confidence that we’re strong enough to ensure our own welfare, much less being able or responsible to help others.  We therefore must rely on a (big) government to ensure the wellbeing of the people.

We’ve been lead to believe that God’s love is conditional, so we have to prove that we’re worthy and only the worthy have the right to life. Because God is selective about who is worthy, we must compete with others to prove that we’re the most worthy. Therefore, we are predisposed to competition, and we believe it’s okay if the losers perish.

We are told that God created an ideal world, but immoral people cause the problems, and they must be punished to create a decent society. From this, we’ve formed the belief that some person is at fault if bad things happen, and we must set up rules to keep society in order and be quick to punish those who don’t follow the rules. Therefore, we’ve become a litigious society.

It doesn’t serve our businesses or our societies to be burdened with a big government, to be quicker to compete than collaborate, and to be constantly wary of litigation. Contrary to what we’ve been historically taught, I believe we have the power to control our experience of life, we don’t have to prove we’re worthy to have the right to life, and we’re not naturally immoral. I’m not asking to engage in a religious battle, but I propose there’s a preponderance of people who believe similar to me. Yet we’ve allowed mis-guided beliefs to form the foundation of our societies. Let’s become aware of our unconscious beliefs and then consciously determine if we want to accept or change them.

As we learn more from neuroscience about the incredible power of group emotions, we see reasons to adopt techniques beyond the ordinary. For more on shaping team emotions to increase creativity and performance, including research references, get notified of the upcoming book Primal Teams: Harnessing the Incredible Power of Group Energy or sign up for a monthly summary of articles.


About the Author:

Jackie Barretta is a writer, speaker and consultant helping organizations strengthen agility and performance by shaping emotional energy. She is a thought leader bringing to light the new science of group emotional energy and connecting it to business performance. She has had a 28-year award winning career as a C-level Fortune 500 executive and Big Four consulting firm professional.
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  1. Hans-Ueli Schlumpf  January 30, 2012

    You bring up an important point, Jackie! Our beliefs are a very powerful source and guide for our thoughts and actions, which eventually control and determine the results we achieve daily – personally or professionally.

    Our religious foundation is one of the grounds where our beliefs are rooted, and the important point is how that religious foundation was built, how we experienced religion throughout our biography. Yet, our religious background is not the only ground where our beliefs root. There is our whole education system, our society, and cultural traditions that influence our beliefs about ourselves, about others, and about life in general.

    It is highly revealing as well as healing to explore our own beliefs. In order to initiate significant change for the better in our lives, there is no shortcut around doing this. If we master our beliefs, rather than have them control us, we have a good chance to become better leaders of ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.

  2. Martin Oliver  January 30, 2012

    Yes, Jackie, I know exactly what you are saying. Suppose we were taught things that were not true and our whole personality and outlook was negatively impacted because of it? That is why it is so necessary to do our own homework and make sure that what we believe is accurate. Don’t you agree?

    For instance one of the most powerful and yet scary scriptures in the Holy Bible referring to the human race is this one: “”Because they rejected the truth and light but rather chose darkness and a lie, God will allow to be sent to them, a great delusion or deception that they might believe a lie and be dammed, who rejected and had no pleasure in the truth and righteousness.”” Wow, HEAVY… can you image that?

    Then in another place the Bible quotes Jesus Christ Himself when He said: “”I am the truth, he or she that follows me will not walk and then stumble in darkness…I am the light of the world, in Me is no darkness.””

    As for me and my household, we will live in the light, follow the light and stay as far away from believing a lie as possible… particularly in business. We have made a commitment to follow the greatest businessman, philosopher, scientist, inventor, networker, and psychiatrist of all time… Jesus Christ!”
    Martin W. Oliver PhD

  3. Hannah Thomas  January 31, 2012

    I love this, Jackie! Beliefs hold us to a framework and limit us to what is inside them. Thank you so much for posting this thought provoking piece!

    Please check out http://www.heartrising.com for some similar thoughts.

  4. Sherry Bakhtian  January 31, 2012

    Absolutely! Some are much harder to let go of because they are so deeply rooted in us.

  5. Brian Gonsalves  January 31, 2012

    Beliefs aren’t meant to hold anyone back, they were meant to free one. Beliefs are constructs, a set of rules or parameters that define our character not limit our expression or expansion. We know that gravity exists but it has not limited our desire to soar.
    I agree that leadership begins with examining self, we must know our individual limits, emotionally, spiritually and physically before we embark on any given task. The extent of what we are capable of is often manifest in times of great stress and challenge and it is in these times where belief determines our response or lack there of.
    Western civilization is a reflection of past religious beliefs and practices and future societies will be the result of what we now believe and embrace. Would there be a system of accepted belief that shapes the future as well as our past. Because to think that abandoning our past beliefs means that we have abandoned all belief is to err.
    “The significant problems we face will not be solved at the same level of thinking” I believe that Einstein was talking about perspective. I agree, solving critical and significant issues of our day will require varying perspectives and open minded leadership.
    Change is not at all difficult because of our core beliefs as much as it is because of our habits, what we consistently do. What we believe should change when there are a new set of facts, we must be open to that and in fact embrace it. If we are held back at all because of beliefs it is because we refuse to recognize and assimilate new informational facts.

  6. Jackie Barretta  January 31, 2012

    Brian, beliefs form the foundation of the way we think, which impacts what we do and how we perceive. They can be freeing or they can be limiting. I hold that our habits are largely a result of our beliefs. It’s my goal to inspire people to look under the surface at why they think the way they do, as some thoughts simply don’t serve us.

  7. Brian Gonsalves  January 31, 2012

    Hello Jackie.
    I suggest that our beliefs act as our limits, the point to which we can go no farther. This is not to say our beliefs limit us, rather it affirms the boundaries that we set for ourselves.

    Our beliefs are foundational for sure and does influence our thinking, but no more so than our environment, our peers, family, books we read and heroes we embrace.

    I cannot commit an act of robbery without first violating my beliefs, so in that sense I am limited in my actions or freed from committing an act of aggression against another. It is perspective of course; is my inability to carry out such a crime limiting or freeing?
    I personally know of many believers who consistently violate their belief systems on a daily basis, their belief system has not managed to limit their excesses. (I myself can be counted in this group, though I try)

    Habits are a leaned behavior, environment has a lot to do with that and we sometimes can only change habits by first changing our environment. Show me your friends I can predict your future quite accurately. And so I hold that our habits are a result of our beliefs.

    Having said all of that, I do find it highly commendable that you aspire to challenge people to question themselves and examine their long held beliefs, because we all need to do that from time to time. We need to be challenged, to purge unhealthy thoughts from our systems and to embrace new truths. It is only then will we be able to be our best, give our best and contribute significantly to our perspective societies. Banish all thoughts that tend to limit us and create new more fulfilling habits that inspire.

    It is a daunting task that you undertake, I wish you all the very best success Jackie.

  8. Lavaun Heaster  January 31, 2012

    Coming from a background in diversity, equity and inclusion work this is some of what we spend a lot of time pondering, examining and discussing. Religion is one factor of what forms the lenses we see the world through and if we really want to challenge our beliefs that play a part in our business/economic decisions we need to expand beyond just religion. I struggled with much of this having grown up in this country outside of the dominant culture and I feel that there is still an origin with specific lenses that influences the opinions shared.Thanks Jackie for sharing.

  9. Debbie Ruston  January 31, 2012

    I agree Jackie….We have all been conditioned by society. Many are not living the life they want to be living, and don’t realize it is a result of the beliefs they have bought into.

    The first step is to get authentic with yourself, and start questioning your beliefs in relation to the results you are experiencing. If the results are not aligned with what you say you want, question where your belief came from…and how that belief is serving you in relation to the life you want to create. Once you identify the disconnect between the belief and the goal, it is an opportunity to establish a new belief system that will support your goals.

  10. Ronald V.  January 31, 2012

    Any belief(system) that draws your attention and energy away from your own godlike powers, is designed to limit you(r self-perception) in favor of that “believe-system-creator”

  11. Bernice Kelman  January 31, 2012

    I recommend that we strive to believe nothing. In other words, question all beliefs. I try to treat all beliefs as useful working hypotheses that may or may not have anything to do with reality. People used to believe the Earth was flat, but that didn’t make it true. So I will use a belief if it seems helpful until another hypothesis comes along that works better for me. Beliefs by their very nature are limiting. If I believe something is impossible, then for me it is.

  12. Bernice Kelman  January 31, 2012

    Beliefs are learned. We are not born with them. We absorb them from our parents, peers and culture. Anything learned can be unlearned and relearned in a more helpful way. And there is a difference between believing and knowing. Beliefs, because they are learned, come from outside us. Knowing comes directly from our own inner wisdom, which is the link between our consciousness and the wisdom of our own Higher Self.

  13. Rashmi Sahni  January 31, 2012

    I agree with you that some beliefs need to be challenged within but I don’t agree that any religion set false beliefs. Its the human perception as how they conceive those words. God or no God regardless the purpose of following any belief system is to be rooted deeply with your own concise and natural moral state. We are the most conditioned species on earth because of our minds. Mind… whenever used constructively produced remarkable results and same mind indulged in social conditioning produced endless miseries to mankind. Reference of “I Am” in any religion has been misconstrued by human mind only. If we go little deeper the essence of “I Am” is one and only one abstract reality however the practices to realize that reality can be different. All practices are path to this reality and all rituals are mere symbolic. And what I think that practice can be anything…your work, eating habits, social behaviour music, arts…you name it as long as the underlying core values are ethical and morally sustainable.

    So if you see we are own creator, its us who decides our destiny based on how close we are with our natural state. We may not be at par to socially conditioned standards of success, power and other material and very likely to be declared a looser but very successful, powerful and insightful to see beyond social fluff and to be able to act upon our natural conviction.

  14. Hans-Ueli Schlumpf  January 31, 2012

    Of course, we slip into different roles for different activities and duties, at work we have our function and responsibilities, at home we are a parent and spouse, in our family of origine we are daughter or son, when we engage in charity we are a volunteer, etc. …

    It’s a reality we can’t deny: all the contexts we live in, are based on beliefs in the first place, every society is based on beliefs and values; and wherever we go, we take our own beliefs with us … we can’t leave them out.

    But when we feel like certain beliefs should change, because the old ones don’t bring the success and happiness we desire, and because it becomes more and more obvious that the future calls for new values in various areas of our lives, we can’t work around reflecting about our beliefs and establish ones that are more promising … this process is called TRANSFORMATION!

  15. Abdulaziz  February 16, 2012

    I disagree Jackie . Humans are naturally immoral but the religion sets what we call it values. I believe that most of all religions in the world if not all try to give true values and models.

  16. Robin Sheader  February 23, 2012

    What a great discussion, thanks for starting it Jackie.
    Not only can beliefs restrict us and our behavior but they can restrict an organizations performance too. Traditionally we can be taught to “believe” that there are organizational boxes into which we are put and from which we may never peek. Such a belief can significanly limit the level of engagement or involvement in an organization. In other words we believe in the silo mentality.

    The degree to which each person is truly engaged in the business varies widely. It has been my experience that whatever the geography or culture, whether union shop or high performance team structure, manufacturing, retail or commerce, employees do not understand how their business is doing! They may have excellent knowledge of his or her functional area or machine but may not know how he or she can influence the finances of the business.

    This is almost never because of a lack of ability or desire in the employee (they quite often peek over the top of their box but pop right back in when they think someone is looking) but rather a lack of ability (or will) of management to open that box and invite the employee to step out for a while.

    If we as managers have been created to believe in these organizational boxes, then we cannot or will not provide the opportunity for true intellectual engagement at the business level for all employees and we limit the contribution of that employee and we risk the business.

  17. Paul Boris  February 24, 2012

    Thanks for starting in interesting discussion, however…

    While I think your fundamental premise is accurate, that people’s religious beliefs impact their approach to business and society, the suppositions you use to support the argument are simply not inaccurate. While I am certainly not an expert on this topic, I will attempt to explain.

    “God has all the power and we are at His mercy” – Actually, we are the recipients of His mercy. God doesn’t create tornadoes to kill adulterers, because if that were the point, they would all simply disappear immediately. God is the creator, and allows us to act of our own will. If we believe that our actions have consequences that will bear fruit when no one else is around, we might think twice before dumbing hazardous waste in the creek, as opposed to the simplistic view you describe where we would try and hide our mistakes like children. God actually allows us to dump the waste and get away with it if we are crafty enough, right ? And evil people (Hitler, etc) do, for a time, get away with whatever they want. Your description would indicate that anyone who believes in God would continually be looking over their shoulder, and that is just not the case.

    “God’s love is conditional” – Incorrect. God’s love is unconditional, see the Prodigal Son.

    “God created an ideal world, but immoral people cause the problems, and they must be punished to create a decent society” – Actually, it is not my place to decide who is good or evil, nor is it my place to decide and deliver punishment. These are social constructs for the purpose of some level of order, but Jesus washed the feet of His followers, and God allowed His Son to be unjustly crucified in the ultimate act of humility.

    I cannot tell if you have an agenda against religion, were not paying attention in class (as the comments above are generally universal Christian beliefs) or have somehow misinterpreted the teachings.

    Bottom line – the Christian beliefs I have been taught are completely consistent with developing a good and thriving business climate, up to and including a strong and profitable one. Remember, Jesus did not condemn the wealthy man to hell, He just reminded him that if you want to “follow” ME, then you need to give it all up. This is one undeniable truth – we ALL give it ALL up at some point, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

    I am not trying to attack your opinion, but respectfully trying to correct what I read as an inaccurate representation.

  18. Jackie Barretta  February 24, 2012

    Paul, I do believe that the essence of the Christian religion is a wonderful guide to life and business. However, I think the teaching of the religion is often accompanied by dogma that doesn’t serve us. I’d love to see us, as a society, embrace the true teachings, and I believe that would solve our most pressing issues.

    I say that we’re taught that God’s love is conditional because we’re taught we’ll go to hell if we don’t do what he wants. I actually believe that God’s love is unconditional, but this is not what is generally taught. Yes, the words “unconditional love” are said, but they’re accompanied with the threat of going to hell. Please tell me how to reconcile what people are told about going to hell with unconditional love.

    It’s great that you don’t judge people, and it’s my goal to always do the same. My experience is that churches are highly judgmental. For example, my sister attends a huge Baptist church in the southern U.S. They teach that only the congregation of that church is going to heaven, as everyone else is wrong, mis-guided and condemned. This may be the extreme but lots of people are taught shades of this belief. I grew up Catholic (early childhood) and was taught that it was the only true religion. So again, my experience is that religion is highly judgmental, and not just of other religions.

    As far as being taught that God has all the power, I now believe that Jesus was a role model, and we all have the capability to be like him and have his abilities. I believe it was his purpose to show us that. However, I was taught that he has super-human powers that I can never achieve. I was taught to revere him and be subservient to him. This teaching doesn’t foster us being our strongest and most powerful.

    So this is why I say what I do. There are certainly wonderful aspects of the religion as it’s taught that add value to our societies, but there’s also some man-made baggage that I believe we should clean up.

    I welcome further discussion on this, as I think it’s crucial to transformative leadership that gets us out of the messes we’re in.

  19. Paul Boris  February 24, 2012

    Jackie – I don’t think I can dispute anything you’ve cited, as there are many folks who bend and twist many things (not just religion) into some form that the founders might never recognize.

    I was also raised Roman Catholic and struggled with concepts like purgatory, where I was told infants who were never baptized went for some undetermined period of time. I do remember my dad’s joke, though – a man dies and St Peter meets him at the gate. The man is welcomed into heaven and as he and St Peter are walking down the hall, the man is asked to keep his voice down. They walk past a room where it sounds like a raucous party is going on. Once they pass, the man asks ‘what’s going on in there’, and St Peter responds, ‘oh, that’s where the {insert name of religion here} stay. They think they’re the only ones here’. ..and my dad was a devout Catholic.

    Several years ago I converted to Orthodox Christian, and while we have our own share of issues, I have the benefit of some exceptional mentors. Some notable differences are a sense of humility. In other words, while the funeral of Whitney Houston was a “going home” and “the angles were taking her to heaven”, a funeral service in the Orthodox church is about all of us praying for mercy and forgiveness that we believe God provides, but with the realization that none of us really know for certain. We can only surmise from history and the writings of the Saints.

    Maybe the best way to sum it up is a quote from one of the great saints of the Orthodox church, St John Chrysostom, “The road to hell is paved with the skulls an bones of priests, and erring bishops are its lamp posts.” Meaning, the infant who dies before being baptized will be judged according to their ability to understand right and wrong, which is a stricter standard when applied to an adult, and even stricter when applied to those who preach. As we become more aware, the expectations of our behavior actually evolve and increase.

    As for “super powers”, I believe miracles exist as I had seen inexplicable things happen. That being said, our focus is not to pray for miracles, but strength, wisdom and understanding. THere are many people who do things I don’t think I ever could, whether we call them miracles or home runs…

    Maybe my point is that the “current incarnation” of religion for a lot of folks is an impediment to business and economic success, but that is a result of the failings of man, not religion.

  20. Jackie Barretta  February 24, 2012

    Paul, I agree with all you’ve said here. Our dialogue will help me be clearer in writing about the issues with religion. I think of the word “religion” as refering to the man-made interpretation of the underlying spiritual truths. When I say that some beliefs taught by religion don’t serve us, I’m referring to man-made aspects, whereas I believe all of the underlying spiritual truths do serve us. I’ll have to be more careful about how I use the word religion, as I see that to some people, it includes the underlying spirituality.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

  21. Jeanine  February 26, 2012


    I love these words “I think of the word “religion” as refering to the man-made interpretation of the underlying spiritual truths” in your last comment. I, also, believe that and see things in that way.

    Rashmi S. said much the same in an earlier comment “I agree with you that some beliefs need to be challenged within but I don’t agree that any religion set false beliefs. Its the human perception as how they conceive those words”.

    One of the limiting beliefs taught by many religions is very evident in the comment made by Abdulaziz “Humans are naturally immoral but the religion sets what we call it values”. I completely disagree with this. I believe that every individual is good at their core and that it is disconnection from their Higher Self that only ever leads to actions that society abhors. I have not held this belief throughout my life but have come to it through study and experience and find that now, holding this belief, enhances my life experience immeasurably. If we were made in Gods image then believing we are inherently immoral would mean that God was also inherently immoral. We are all One with as many perspectives as there are consciousnesses and each perspective adds value to the whole. The belief in the inherent goodness at the core serves one very well. I do not adhere to any religious codes in my value system but find that, the more connected I become to my Higher Self the more (what most would call) moral, I become. However, it is not moralistic or moralizing as I no longer see a need to judge others behaviors as ‘moral’ or ‘immoral’ but rather as being connected or not to their own Higher Self and in seeing them that way I also always see a path for them becoming more, what society terms moral, through helping them become more connected with their Higher Self.

    Here is an example. Our perspective all depends on where we are. I used to have the saying below hanging in my bathroom. I bought a new one when I moved 7 years ago but never put it up. I ran across it not long ago and was at first happy to find it but then I read it closely and decided that it has a flavor of not seeing people as good and I decided it was no longer a match to how I see others. I look for the good in everyone and it is always present. Sometimes it is deeply buried but it is there if you look for it. As my perception of others has changed so, too, has my experience. Expect others to be ‘sinners” and you will find they are. Expect them to be great and you will find they are not.

    DO GOOD Anyway

    People are often unreasonable and self-centered.
    Forgive them anyway.

    If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives.
    Be kind anyway.

    If you are honest, people may cheat you.
    Be honest anyway.

    If you find happiness, people may be jealous.
    Be happy anyway.

    The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
    Do good anyway.

    Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough.
    Give your best anyway.

    For you see, in the end, it is between you and God.
    It was never between you and them anyway.

    — Blessed Mother Teresa ♥ ♥ ❤

    So my personal experience is that even as I put aside all dictates that have a religious origin my treatment of others has become even more moral than it was when I had a belief in those teachings.

    I believe that the original teachings held truth but that man has warped them for his own needs. It is easy to see how those with power would see it as beneficial to teach others that men are immoral unless they abide by the teachings of the church. It creates societal pressures that encourage church going. A way to increase the size of congregations.

    The religions that men teach are about conditional love. I also believe God’s love is unconditional. There is no way, in my mind, to reconcile needing to pray for mercy and forgiveness with unconditional love. Unconditional love does not place conditions on love.

    I concur completely that there are beliefs that come from what is taught by religious leaders that have negative impacts on our ability to thrive.

    Where I disagree is in how to move forward. Rather than search for and then try to destroy beliefs that do not serve you. Look for beliefs that serve you and adopt them. This is a far faster method, in my experience, than the search and destroy mission. You can do this by reading about people that you find admirable and learning about their beliefs. One book I often recommend to my students is an old but timeless one called “The Magic of Thinking Big” by David Schantz.

    Any books about great individuals, whether they are businessmen, politicians, religious leaders, parents, athletes, etc. can help you identify beliefs that would serve you. Let your gut be your guide and choose the beliefs that it feels good to think about. Then use that example to help you believe their accomplishments are also possible for you. Look for other examples in the world. You will be surprised how quickly they will pop out at you once you begin looking for examples with an expectation of finding them. The new, practiced, beliefs will replace the old ones without the need to go on a search and destroy mission. I know some who are taking the search and destroy path and have not progressed after several years.

    I agree that the article points to many limiting beliefs that are religiously based but there are many that are not from religion that hinder most people.

    Choose your beliefs consciously and trust in your own innate goodness. You know it is there. In fact, the first time as a young child you heard a religious leader say you were a sinner it confused you because you knew in your gut that was wrong.

    You are more loved than you can imagine by your Creator, unconditionally, no exceptions.


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