Why is it that so many leadership teams go on their annual retreat, come back energised by stimulating discussion and mutual appreciation, aligned in their collective intent to change behaviour…but don’t?

Many leaders will reflect on why some individuals and teams are able to move beyond good intent to great execution and some aren’t. What is the magic dust that separates the talkers from the doers, the theorists from the implementers and the commentators from the players?


When we watch sport on TV we hear the same clichés every week from pundits; “he’s a great box to box player”, “he’s an honest player”, “she’s a great goal scorer”. And then every now and again we hear things like “He believes it’s part of his role to defend” or “she believes she should set an example to young fans and behave with integrity”. The clichés are observations of outcomes; the latter comments are statements of belief that create the outcomes. The latter comments have more depth.

And here’s the magic dust.

When we simply ask for different outcomes, we usually don’t sustain anything new for long. When we work on the beliefs that drive the behaviours (that drive the outcomes), we have a chance of creating sustainable change in behaviour. We have to go deeper. You can’t ask the midfielder on a soccer pitch to simply run more, you have to convince him its part of his job and critical to the team. He has to belief this is his role.

If we want innovation but currently have people playing safe and doing what they’ve always done, we can’t simply ask for innovation and expect different outcomes. We need to understand the beliefs that result in the behaviours that produce the ‘safety’. Beliefs like ’we shouldn’t make mistakes’ or ‘failure is unacceptable’ lead to behaviours such as refusal to accept responsibility and lack of experimentation. To change these behaviours, we have to believe that ‘some failure and some errors are acceptable’ and lead by example by calling out our own mistakes. If we believe mistakes are the inevitable pre-curser to innovation, we will get exploratory thinking, experimentation, and acceptance of responsibility.

Next time you want different outcomes, think what behaviours you need to see change and what beliefs support those behaviours and start there!