What Are Your Beliefs? What Is Your Doctrine?

What are your business beliefs? How do you believe you should conduct your business? What are the fundamental principles that guide your actions in business? What is your desired outcome? How do your beliefs support your effort to achieve your desired outcome?

Those five questions are heady questions to ask. If you think about it, you should be able to identify what you believe. If you sit with a piece of paper and pen, it should not be long before an outline of beliefs appears on the page. Perhaps you can identify clear examples of times when you demonstrated in action the execution of those beliefs. If you can identify demonstration, then the beliefs are something more; they are principles that guide your behavior.

What about the last two questions? Do you know your desired outcome? Can you identify how your beliefs support your effort to arrive at that outcome?

You may find it difficult to draw a straight line from your beliefs to your outcome. Many people do.

Planning a Perfect Future

Many self-help gurus teach their clients to think about the outcome first. The second habit author Stephen R. Covey teaches in "7 Habits of Highly Effective People," is start with the end in mind. Sales coaches often employ the concept of visualizing the outcome, developing your dream images, defining victory first, and then working out how you get there. This is not a new concept; Sun Tzu teaches us, “the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.”

Starting your planning process from the point where you want to be is not a new concept. If you accept that there is really no original thought, the idea of starting with the end in mind even predates Sun Tzu’s time (500 years BC).

It makes perfect sense—if you want to get somewhere, you must define where somewhere is. If you want to arrive in Chicago on a specific date and time, you have declared an outcome. While there are times when setting off on a journey without a destination in mind can be interesting, entertaining, and perhaps even instructional, at some point you may decide that you want to arrive at a particular destination. In developing your personal growth, you can amble along with few goals, but in business, failure to set goals is fatal. I make the same case for your career. Without a defined outcome, your career will be less than satisfactory.

Chicken or Egg?

freedom egg.jpg How many different jobs have you worked in your career? Depending on your age, the number could be small or staggeringly large. I’m not talking about changes in the tasks that you do, but the number of times you have changed desks, departments, or companies.

I have a friend who has worked in warehousing his entire life, almost 40 years. We first met when I was a young man the mid-1980s. I saw him about a year ago at a trade show, and we talked for over an hour about what we’ve accomplished. Jack was a warehouse manager when we first met over 25 years ago, and today he is still a warehouse manager. As he described his career, Jack has worked the same job in different places for 25 years. Yes, he changed companies, and changed locations within companies, but always doing the same basic job—warehouse manager. I asked him if he was satisfied with his career. It was not a surprise when Joe said he was satisfied. He did not want to take on larger roles; he only wanted to master managing his warehouses. Listening to what he had accomplished, it was clear that he had indeed achieved mastery.

I asked Jack about when he made the decision to avoid promotion. He told me that the decision came early, after he first became a warehouse manager, before we first met. His boss abruptly left for a new job, and the bigger bosses asked Jack to do his boss’s job. He accepted the opportunity with some hesitancy, not sure that he really wanted the promotion. Under some pressure, Jack accepted the promotion, and started to do his boss’s job while still managing his warehouse and promoting a replacement. While he was capable of the expanded workload, Jack found that he did not like new job. He could do the work, but he did not like the work. After a few months, he approached his new boss, a VP of operations, and asked if he could step down. He hoped that he could go back to his old warehouse job. That did not happen. The VP hired Jack’s replacement and fired Jack.

Jack told me that he was at first surprised by what happened, but decided his firing was a blessing. He got a chance to see what it was like “up the ladder,” and to understand that different leaders have different principles. Jack started looking for his next job the afternoon of the firing, and it took a week for him to find a new job. He interviewed for four different companies before he found the right place. He got several offers right off the bat, but turned them down because the prospective employers failed to correctly answer his new question:  will you punish an employee if they refuse a promotion?

That question became the start of Jack’s doctrine of employment. Jack did not call it that, he just called it a lesson learned. That lesson defined one of Jack’s core beliefs:  don’t pressure someone into a promotion, and don’t succumb to pressure to accept a promotion. Jack politely refused promotions. Some of his bosses accepted his refusals, others would pressure him. As soon as he felt the pressure, he started looking for a new manager job. Jack’s principle meant he changed jobs often in the early and middle parts of his career. The pace of change slowed as he demonstrated that he was very good as a warehouse manager, and it became clear that he had no desire to move up the ladder.


That did not mean that Jack did not keep growing; he did keep growing by becoming a better manager, and teaching his subordinates to become better managers. As we sat and talked, Jack introduced me to his current boss, who at one time been one of Jack’s subordinates.

Doctrine is Principle

Doctrine is the collection of fundamental principles that guide an organization’s actions in support of its objectives. Leaders develop doctrine, cultivate it, nurture it, follow it, and respect it.

Sun Tzu said, “The consummate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline; thus it is in his power to control success.”

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