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Where do your beliefs come from?

An organization concluded its ideal client is a 45-year-old female HR professional. That discovery wasn't surprising. But this was: The ideal client claimed her primary source for news and information was Facebook.

Facebook may be terrific for some things, but is it the best source of information that shapes what you believe? For example, when someone sent me this video they'd seen on Facebook, I was amazed. Too amazed. It only took me a minute to discover it was a fraud. The email thread showed dozens of people had shared it -- believing it to be real -- without bothering to check it out.

I've spent way too much time fact-checking the videos and memes friends pluck off the internet to "inform" me of accusations about an organization's misdoings, an executive's transgressions or a grave political conspiracy. So many smart people allow their beliefs to be shaped by false prophets.

In a world being torn apart by conflicting values, it's more important than ever to be scrupulous about the sources of the beliefs that form those values, especially if you are in a leadership role or HR function, where your beliefs and values will affect policy, procedures, and important decisions.

Pew Research Center reports a growing divide in beliefs about COVID-19 -- and the beliefs fall along party lines. Where do these beliefs come from? Are Republicans and Democrats getting the same information and interpreting it differently, or are they getting different information, propaganda, facts or alternative facts, depending on their sources?

We don't work in democratic organizations, but just as our democracy depends on an informed electorate, our organizations demand informed leadership. Citizens have the right to vote, yet most citizens are low-information voters. Employees don't get to vote on major policy decisions, so they must trust leaders to make decisions based on beliefs and values that have been adequately explored.

Having an opinion isn't good enough today. You cannot afford to be a low-information leader. Your opinion -- as a leader and a citizen -- needs to be based on examined beliefs and developed values. 

Believing a Facebook video of a ball girl performing a miraculous catch is one thing. But beliefs that shape your organization, your political values, and how you vote are another. There was a time you believed in Santa Claus. But when you learned the facts, you let go of the childish belief.

By examining your beliefs, you may discover that you've been leading, acting or voting on outdated illusions.

Examine your beliefs

Consider your stance on a political issue that's become a workplace issue. Maybe you think that wearing masks is an unfair imposition of personal rights and liberty afforded to you and your employees by the Constitution. Conversely, maybe you think that all employees who can work from home should, so that they help protect high-risk individuals who deserve to live their lives in freedom, too.

Now, examine the belief that led you to your stance. Ask yourself how you arrived at that belief. What is the source of the belief? Milton Rokeach outlined five types of beliefs. Which one best describes how you came to your stance?

A-Type belief

This belief is core to your life perspective because others are in consensus. For example, you believe the sun rises and sets each day because you witness it, and so does everyone else. If you discover a core belief is not true, it can rattle your world. For example, after growing up believing that Bev and Fred are your biological parents, you discover you are adopted.

B-Type belief 

This belief is resistant to change despite lacking social support or consensus. My husband believes he's a bad dancer, even though there is zero consensuses of this fact (I will attest to that). He simply believes this about himself, no matter how I argue to the contrary.

C-Type belief

This belief is about which authorities you trust and don't trust. At some point, you decided to trust your parents, a teacher, a religious leader, scientists, a politician, Fox News, Facebook, QAnon or the New York Times as authorities you depend on for your information.

D-Type belief

This belief is derived from the authorities you choose to trust. You may believe that the COVID-19 pandemic is overblown or a myth because you trust certain media or a particular politician; or that the pandemic is seriously real based on doctor and coroner reports, news outlets or Johns Hopkins University research. You believe something trending on Reddit without knowing whether it's true because you assume that if enough people are talking about it on Reddit, there must be truth to it. 

E-Type belief

This belief is inconsequential. You believe chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. Learning that the amazing ball girl video is a fraud is disappointing, but it doesn't alter your life in any significant way.

As a leader and as a citizen of your community, country and the world, it's imperative to examine your C-Type and D-Type beliefs before coming to conclusions. Three suggestions:

  1. Understand the bias of your authorities. Are your news sources trustworthy? Check out sites that reveal media bias such as Ad Fontes Media or AllSides 
  2. Don't rely on one news source or the opinions of like-minded associates. I'm a bit obsessive, but I check out eight different news sites each day to see similarities and differences in coverage. If you need to make an important organizational decision about health care, COVID-19 protocol or economic viability, be conscientious about your facts and data before coming to a conclusion that affects your people personally and professionally.
  3. Be scrupulous about validating what you share with others. Don't be a tool for misinforming someone else's beliefs. You can usually validate or explore the other side of a story with a simple search.

Not all beliefs are values, but all values are beliefs. Examining your beliefs is vital for being a values-based human being, an effective leader and a responsible citizen.

 

Susan Fowler is on a mission to help you learn the skill of motivation. In her latest book, "Master Your Motivation: Three Scientific Truths for Achieving Your Goals," she presents an evolutionary idea: motivation is a skill. Providing real-world examples and empirical evidence, Fowler teaches you how to achieve your goals and flourish as you succeed. She is also the author of bylined articles, peer-reviewed research, and eight books, including the best-selling "Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager" with Ken Blanchard and "Why Motivating People Doesn't Work ... And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing." Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs. For more information, visit SusanFowler.com.

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