Joelle K. Jay

Beliefs of a Leader

By Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D.Joelle K Jay

Your beliefs are a powerful driving force that can work for you or against you. Some beliefs empower you, while others limit you. By becoming aware of your beliefs, you can keep the ones that serve you, weed out the ones that don’t, and choose the ones that will support who you want to be.

Here’s an example: A common belief of busy leaders is, “I have to work hard to get ahead.” Immediately the limitations of this belief are apparent. Working from this belief implies that you must sacrifice parts of your life (home life, health, and hobbies come to mind) to “get ahead.”

Now consider this belief instead: “I have to be my best to get ahead.” This belief is more empowering, because it opens up the possibilities. It still leaves open the possibility of working hard if that is what’s required, but it also allows for the fact that getting ahead sometimes means taking time for the rest and renewal that keeps you at your best.

Developing empowering beliefs is a three-step process:

Become aware of your beliefs: You can go after them directly by asking yourself, “What do I believe?” For example, what do you believe about your own success and ability to achieve it? What do you believe about whether you can be relaxed and happy while accomplishing your goals?

You can also reverse the process by noticing your behavior and asking yourself, “What would I have to believe to behave this way?” For instance, if you are running around in a frenzy to finish a report, what does that indicate you must believe? If you are getting a good night’s sleep before a presentation instead of staying up all night cramming in three more run-throughs, what does that indicate you believe?

Write down your beliefs: Once you become aware of your beliefs, write them down. The simple act of seeing your beliefs in writing makes them real and gives you the opportunity to assess them. Take a look at them on paper with some objectivity. For each one, ask yourself, “Is this belief limiting or empowering?”

Turn limiting beliefs into empowering beliefs: Just change the words, looking for the exact opposite of your limiting belief to find one that’s more empowering. Notice how these examples are direct opposites of each other.

  • Limiting Belief: I believe I am an inexperienced public speaker and need to practice a lot to be successful.

  • Empowering Belief: I believe I am an experienced public speaker and need to trust myself and my abilities to be successful.

  • Limiting Belief: I believe I’m not as strong a leader as I could be, and I need more experience to go after my next promotion.

  • Empowering Belief: I believe I am as strong a leader as I can be, and I am getting the experience I need to go after my next promotion.

Practicing turning around your beliefs from limiting to empowering is simply a process of looking for the opposite words. You might not believe the empowering belief immediately, and over time you may want to tinker with the wording to form a belief you can really take to heart.

An example can illustrate how to turn a limiting belief into an empowering belief. Andy was the president of a structural engineering firm who was raised to believe that if you compliment people too much, they become lazy. He was afraid to commend his team, because he believed that to do so would take away all motivation. He wrote, “I believe that people can become complacent if they are overly praised.”

Looking at his belief honestly, Andy had to admit that it seemed fairly ungenerous. This belief limited his ability to praise the people who worked for him, and he could understand why they were becoming bitter and resentful.

To turn the situation around, Andy studied his limiting belief further and realized that as long as he believed this, he would never be the supportive leader his firm needed. He could see that unless he tried something new, he was going to lose support.

To turn his limiting belief into an empowering belief, he phrased it in the opposite way. He wrote, “I believe that people can become inspired if they are genuinely praised.”

Andy rehearsed his new belief by trying it out 100 times. Every time he hesitated to praise someone, he stated his empowering belief to himself and gave them a sincere compliment. Before long, the results – a more agreeable, cooperative staff – convinced him to retain the new belief.

The process of distilling your beliefs takes time. Allow yourself time to try on different beliefs and see what fits and what doesn’t. Notice when you feel limited and deflated, and when you feel expansive and energized. Keep working with the wording of your beliefs until you’ve created the ones that you can claim with conviction—the beliefs that will help you be the leader you really want to be.

Beliefs are fundamental to the way your life plays out. The difference between a limiting and an empowering belief is quite literally the difference between a limited and a powerful life. Choose your beliefs carefully. They make you who you are.

Joelle K. Jay, Ph.D., is president of the leadership development practice, Pillar Consulting.  As an executive coach, author and speaker, Joelle helps leaders achieve top performance and business results. Her clients include presidents, vice presidents, and C-level executives in Fortune 500 companies. Joelle is the author of “The Inner Edge: The 10 Practices of Personal Leadership.” To find out how Joelle can help you reach the next level both personally and professionally, email: or visit: