Belief Drives Behavior in Leadership

by | Apr 29, 2018 | Lean Thinking | 0 comments

As managers or Lean practitioners, we tend to be action-focused people. See a problem, fix a problem. And that bias for action is great as it drives continuous improvement and problem solving. So when someone starts talking about mindset – it may not be on the top of our list of things to read or hear or talk about. But the truth is that mindset matters in Lean Leadership because belief drives behavior.

Belief Drives Behavior

The thing is, leading with Lean is different than what most of us learned about management and leadership earlier in our careers. I shared 5 Leadership Shifts to move from traditional management to effective Lean Leadership in previous blog posts:

1. Lead with Respect for People
2. Redefine Winning
3. Put Results in Their Place
4. Select New Heroes
5. Solve Problems at the Right Steps

But those shifts don’t just happen automatically. We have to work at making and maintaining those shifts.
When I coach leaders, I maintain that belief drives behavior. I teach and coach a 4-step model that enables leaders to align their underlying beliefs with their leadership behaviors with the business impact they want to have. By ensuring these are in alignment, managers can lead consistently and authentically, creating better culture and results.

You don’t have to take my word that Mindset Matters, though.

Our Brain - Belief Drives BehaviorThought Leaders on Mindset

Ah – the Human Brain. What an amazing thing! And that’s what all this mindset work is about – how our brains work.

In her research and subsequent book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck set out to answer “What makes a really capable child give up in the face of failure, where other children may be motivated by the failure?” Her research determined that it comes to mindset and whether the child has what she calls a Fixed Mindset or a Growth Mindset. Essentially, the way the child thinks about failure, learning, and how his success or failure is perceived determines his willingness to tackle new challenges or to stick with the things he’s already mastered. And that applies to work teams, too.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell dedicates an entire book to demonstrating how the adaptive unconscious works to drive decision-making in the blink of an eye.

The authors of Crucial Confrontations share a model explaining how humans move from observation to action: See and Hear > Tell a Story (your thoughts) > Feel > Act. In this model, the stories we tell ourselves are our beliefs showing up more elaborately.

In her work training life coaches, Brooke Castillo teaches a self-coaching model in which circumstances trigger thoughts. Thoughts cause feelings. Feelings cause actions. Actions cause results. And results reinforce thoughts. She teaches that you can interrupt the pathways at any point, but often big or sustainable changes happen if you interrupt at the thought stage of the model.

And then there’s that old Chinese proverb:

Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.

How Mindset Matters in Lean Leadership

Just as the shift to tactical Lean workflows doesn’t happen automatically, the shift to Lean-based leadership doesn’t happen automatically. We have to work at it – and mindset is a part of that work.

You see, when we try to change our leadership behaviors – but those new behaviors are in conflict with our underlying beliefs- it doesn’t work. We either are inconsistent with the behavior change and can’t keep it going. Or it screams inauthentic and the team can read right through us.

A Case Study: Belief Drives Behavior

Throughout my management career, I’d always received feedback that I didn’t give enough recognition. I was quick to point out the problems, the obstacles, the gaps. But didn’t do enough to acknowledge the progress and improvement. I really wanted to change that and set out to try tactic after tactic. I made lists and visual controls. I tried gratitude practices. I tried carrying a little notebook and using phone app reminders. Nothing worked. I would either keep it up for a couple of weeks and then fall back into old habits. Or the team didn’t believe me – they thought I was “just saying it” but didn’t really mean it.

That’s when I turned to mindset to uncover the underlying beliefs that were driving my behavior. Here were a few that I discovered:

  • Team members don’t need to be recognized for “just doing their jobs”
  • The best way to improve is to close the gaps, to remove the obstacles, to fix the problems
  • If the manager or team could see the problem they would fix it, so they need my help in seeing the problem or gap
  • If I am too “soft” by limiting how many problems I point out, then complacency will happen – I need to keep up the pressure to improve to keep the team moving forward

So, if these were my beliefs – what I knew to be true – no wonder I focused so much on the gaps, the obstacles, the problems. That behavior was a natural extension of my beliefs. It didn’t matter what tactic or tool I tried to change my behavior if I didn’t also address these beliefs. So that’s what I did.

I started exploring alternative beliefs. Not woo-woo positive affirmation stuff. But curiosity. I watched TED talks, and listened to podcasts, and read books to gain alternative viewpoints. I ran experiments focused on strength-based leadership and positive recognition to see what happened – not just as a tactic to change behavior, but as a learning experience where I wasn’t connected to the outcome. I saw improved results which then caused my beliefs to shift. And that made my new behaviors consistent and authentic.

Start Your Mindset Work

So think about some of these questions within the context of managing in an organization practicing Lean:

  • What Lean implementation, sustainability, or culture challenge am I facing? What do the team and I see, hear, and feel that shows me this is a challenge?
  • What are my leadership behaviors that contribute to the challenge?
  • What are my underlying beliefs that drive me to behave that way?
  • What alternative beliefs can I be curious about exploring and experimenting with?


Meet Jamie

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I’m a recovering Command-and-Control Manager who’s now on a mission to make the world of work more human. With a soft spot in my heart for Ops Managers, this Lean blog gives you the straight talk combining Lean, Leadership, and the real challenges of operations management.





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