Values, Beliefs and Decisions in Leadership

by Mark Klaassen

One of the things that determines our success in life is the quality of the decisions we make. Nowhere else is this more important in the workplace, than in our decisions as a Leader.
Do you want to make better decisions and be more effective leader?
Read on…

People make decisions based on their values and beliefs, and how these things interact with the circumstances of the current decision they are about to make.

Firstly, to define the elements involved:

  • Values are labels for what is important to us, and they have strong emotional component.  We are motivated to either move toward the fulfilment of a value, or away from a threat to that value.  When something is really important to us, we are willing to invest time, energy and resources to achieve it or avoid a threat to it.
    As a leader it is important to be aware that our values hierarchy (the priority order of our values) changes with our perception of the context.  In other words, different things may become more important with a change of our context, and/or change of emotional state in that context.  Values most often operate, and are responded to, from a deep place within, prior to conscious thought.
  • Beliefs are rules of operation we believe to be true and use to guide us, based on learnings from our past experience.  e.g. a person says: “based on my experiences of A, B and C in this context, I have found that following path X is more useful than following path Y.”
    Beliefs include repeated patterns of conscious thought, especially around choices of method of how fulfil our values.
    The most important things to realise about beliefs, especially in a leadership role, is that sometimes they are outdated. Just like software on your computer needs regular updates to deal with operations in the current environment, so sometimes our beliefs about what’s the best thing to do, or choice to make, are based on old past experiences, and not always the most appropriate or functional to get top results in new circumstances.
    Hence if we do not have insight and awareness to change our “rules of operation” when appropriate, we can end up making a decision that goes wrong, and asking ourselves “Why didn’t that work? It’s worked in the past several times.”
  • Decisions are choices we make, after evaluating options and resources in relation to outcomes we wish to achieve.
    So what makes for a good decision? And why is it not necessarily the leaders who have the most data, who make the best decisions? How come some people seem to have an innate capability for highly useful and effective decisions in the moment?


Secondly, great leaders have an innate capability for useful decisions because they move beyond simply the logical conscious mind, and rely heavily on the unconscious mind in guiding them.  So what does this mean?

  • Conscious mind: a part of the mind wherein we are consciously aware of our thinking and process at a logical and analytical level
  • Unconscious mind: the bigger and more powerful part of the mind which runs well embedded patterns based on our past experience, and strongly resourced mode one might call our “autopilot mode”.

Many things effect the way we make decisions and do or don’t do achieve our goals. Paradoxically, the ‘Conscious Leader’ in today’s world is also conscious of the autopilot power of their unconscious mind, and the importance of emotional intelligence and values-based decision making.

Allow me to show you the following diagram which illustrates key aspects that internally influence us in our goals and decisions.  Think of an iceberg, which typically has 10% above the water and 90% below the water …

You will see in the lower 90% of the iceberg, a representation of why the unconscious programming of our mind has become so conditioned by powerful contributors from our past experience and current patterned ways of being.


Thirdly, bringing all the above together, top decision-makers are aware that their decisions in leadership are guided by their “map or model of the world”, i.e. the internal guidance system everyone has about how they perceive the world to be, and the best ways to get by in each set of life and work circumstances.   They learn to develop, adjust and upgrade those things in the 90% area – the powerful unconscious mind.

So back to our decisions – as each set of circumstances arise, decisions are required, and people use their best available guidance at the time from their “map”, to make decisions that fulfil their contextual values (what is most important in the context according to them) and align with their beliefs (their experience driven rules of operation which determine the most likely path of success, based on their guiding “map”).

If decisions in leadership based on one’s own map are not well founded, leaders in this situation will keep repeating unuseful patterns of behaviour and struggle with effective leadership.  Alternately, the leader who learns the skills of how to develop their internal world, and also how to have more effective values-based conversations with their team members, then finds themselves to be more adaptable and be making wiser, more productive decisions.


Fourthly, we must ask the question: “based on which set of values, does a leader in an organisation or a team, make the best decisions?”

Here are some pointers:

  • the obvious to any conscious leader, is the importance of taking into account the 5 main values maps that will exist:
    • the values of the leader
    • the values of those being led
    • the values held by the organisation where they are
    • the values of those being affected by the decisions and subsequent actions (inside and outside the organisation e.g. clients and suppliers)
    • the values of other key players who have influence in or on the context


And finally, the mature leader (which, by the way, is not necessarily to do with age) is most effective because:

  1. they are aware of all the above about values, beliefs and decisions
  2. they understand the power of the unconscious mind and the existence and key content of their “map/model of the world” which guides them instinctively
  3.  they make mistakes and learn from them, and
  4. most importantly, they are wisely adaptable and so their guiding map evolves, creating for them to become more effective in the leadership of self and others.

The key thing in the personal and professional development of the leader as a person, is recognising that it is essential to learn how to upgrade your “map”, and know how to ongoingly grow and evolve yourself – self lead, self-teach, become more insightful and adaptable.

Mark Klaassen is Principal Trainer, Facilitator and Consultant for Communications Plus.  He works in Australia and New Zealand, based out of Melbourne and Auckland respectively, teaching and coaching leaders in corporate, banks, private organisations and community services. Mark is a specialist in the development of Emotional Intelligence in business leaders using models from NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming), Spiral Dynamics, mBraining – multiple brain leadership, and the Enneagram.

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