Cognitive Behavioral Leadership (CBL): Create a Checklist for Modifying Your BeliefsPosted on October 20, 2019

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Leaders’ brains begin embracing certain beliefs about leadership at an early age. Some of the leader’s strongly-held beliefs are the result of experiences, including how they see other leaders behave. Some leadership instincts are genetically determined as part of the leader’s temperament. However they are acquired, the leader’s beliefs are the reasons why leaders feel and behave the way they do. But all humans, including leaders, are often unaware of the beliefs that guide their lives. And they are particularly reluctant to question what they believe. Brains just believe. They don’t like to be grilled.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

There is no other way to successfully reprogram your brain. Changing your underlying leadership beliefs is hard, but you must find a way to replace your destructive beliefs with more effective, constructive beliefs if you want to lead others more successfully. You must persist in following a complicated and uncomfortable process to achieve this. The following list of strategies will assist you in creating your own checklist for reprogramming your brain.

How can you do it?

  1. Recognize the impact your beliefs have on your leadership behaviors. If, for example, you pout, refuse to speak and shun others when you are annoyed, you do so because you likely believe you are entitled to punish and bully others with your anger because you are special.
  2. Acknowledge the need to change. You may already realize that your emotional immaturity is not a helpful leadership trait, but it takes a minimum level of emotional intelligence to admit the need to improve that many leaders do not possess. If you don’t believe and admit that you need to improve, then you won’t.
  3. Begin keeping a leadership journal. It is unreasonable to expect that you will change your deeply ingrained beliefs overnight. There will be small victories and large failures on your reprogramming journey. Carefully making regular journal entries about what helped and what didn’t will be essential to your achieving your goal.
  4. View conflict and emotional distress as opportunities to discover your underlying beliefs. The way you manage your temper when things don’t go your way will reveal both the progress you’ve made and how much further you have to go.
  5. Work backward from your feelings and behaviors to your beliefs. That you felt angry and then pouted and refused to speak to those colleagues who irritated you is obvious. What you must figure out is what beliefs inclined you to choose to become angry and behave so foolishly.
  6. Embrace the discomfort of unflinching self-analysis. If you were not so defensive and insensitive, you would not have behaved this way. This means that squarely facing your own mistaken beliefs and their related behavioral shortcomings will be hard for you. Leader up, and do it anyway.
  7. Identify your current beliefs. It is essential that you specify and clarify those beliefs that contribute to your pattern of petulance and pouting. If you don’t fully expose those misleading beliefs, you will not be able to root them out and, despite your good intentions, you will fall back into your old rut of being a petty tyrant when things don’t go your way.
  8. Accept your current beliefs–even if they are embarrassing. Your first obligation as a leader is to own your beliefs, behaviors, and feelings and stop defending them or blaming others for them. This belief that others are to blame for how you feel is one of the most pernicious leadership delusions. You and you alone are to blame for what you believe, and how you feel and behave. It’s more comfortable to blame others, but real leaders refuse to do that.
  9. Write your flawed beliefs down. This is where it starts to get real. After you have gone on the record with yourself and others, you are now accountable. Weak leaders say all kinds of reassuring things in private with no real intent to go on the record or actually follow through. With your destructive beliefs staring you in the face, you will be forced to hold yourself accountable and make some changes–or leave your leadership position–since your failure to change will destroy what little credibility you have left.
  10. Make the case for and against what you believe. Once you see your immature leadership beliefs in writing, it will be impossible to make a compelling case for holding onto them. And the case against them will be just as obvious. This is the easiest step in the leader’s brain reprogramming project.
  11. Invite others to help you identify and challenge your beliefs. You have grown so accustomed to becoming angry and venting your spleen in the workplace that you may have a hard time seeing what you are doing wrong or why you are doing it. Your colleagues will see right through your defensive blindness. They can help you face the reality that is still eluding you.
  12. Work backward from more mature feelings and leadership behaviors to healthier underlying beliefs. When you face your destructive beliefs honestly, more constructive options will be obvious for each of them. What must the leader who chooses to not become angry and talk behind others’ backs in similar situations believe? What must a more mature leader who is unfailingly gracious, even to her enemies, believe?
  13. Write down more evidenced-based, alternative beliefs. Now you will start to see a way out of the impairing leadership rut you have created for yourself. The light will begin to dawn. If you choose to believe what healthier leaders believe in the situations that lead to your repeated leadership failures, you will begin to behave (and eventually feel) the way they do. And it will become clear to you that those changes would change your leadership ability (and your life) for the better.
  14. Admit you were wrong. The best leaders admit their mistakes quickly and publicly. There are several reasons you will want to embrace this effective leadership strategy. First, you were wrong. Second, you will enhance your credibility as a leader by admitting it. Third, your public admission will make it harder for you to make the same mistake again. Fourth, you will model the kind of accountability you want to see in others. Finally, making mistakes is how you learn. Everyone makes mistakes every day. Great leaders admit theirs more readily and learn from them more quickly.
  15. Make a public commitment to change. Just saying you are sorry is not enough. You must make a sincere commitment to change and then follow through on your promises. Be sure to include the consequences you will suffer if you fail. “If I continue this emotional bullying behavior, I will not continue in my leadership role.”
  16. Study and learn with fellow leaders who are pursuing greater emotional intelligence. The best leaders are always trying to get better. Join a group of leaders in your organization that is determined to push its members through the discomfort of their leadership failures to acquire more effective control of their feelings and behaviors.
  17. Begin to change and persist despite how you feel. If you are going to succeed in your quest to become a more emotionally-intelligent leader, you will have to pursue this goal while feeling very uncomfortable. If, like most leaders on the wrong side of the leadership bell curve, you wait to change until you feel like it, you never will. The best such leaders can hope for is to be dragged along by their more motivated fellow leaders.
  18. Wait for your feelings to change. If you persist in following an arduous brain-reprogramming project like the one outlined in this practical checklist, you will eventually start to feel better. Be patient. Feeling better is just the icing on the cake.

How have you designed and implemented a personal belief-replacement process?

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