Recently, a great friend texted me a quote she’d come across. It simply said, Your beliefs don’t make you a better person … your behavior does! On the surface it made a lot of sense. A lot of quotes make sense on the surface. However, it immediately stimulated my thinking … in two different directions.

The first direction had to do with the “behavior” part of the quote.

There are a lot of leadership quotes that rightfully celebrate the importance of behaviors. Walk the talk … or the loosely paraphrased version of … walk the walk. Years ago, another quote caught my attention … your actions are speaking so loud I can’t hear what you’re saying!

Organizations have poured billions of dollars into creating behavioral change. Some would argue the return on investment might be questionable. Investments strictly focused on behavioral change can certainly reap short-term results. Yet, when strategies are solely focused on behavior they rarely meet their full potential.

Please don’t misunderstand where I stand on behaviors. I think they are very important. But …

Behaviors do not make you a better person.

Change in your behavior may allow others to like you better, but in and of themselves, behaviors do not make you a better person. Your behaviors may win the approval of others … yet, at the same time can be quite deceiving. If behaviors, alone, make you a better person … then the motives behind your behaviors wouldn’t really matter. And what’s behind your behaviors do matter.

Behaviors matter too. They always will. Yet, they will always be a better lagging indicator rather than a leading indicator … of who you are.

I’m not sure I would have seen this a decade ago. In fact, I would have looked at my friend’s text message and thought the quote … your beliefs don’t make you a better person, your behavior does … made perfect sense.

My thinking also pulled me in a second direction … back to the “belief” part of the quote. I do believe the first part of the quote is correct. But, it got me thinking about beliefs vs. core values. It forced me to make a distinction I hadn’t fully recognized before.

Core values are not the same as beliefs.

Beliefs are more like our opinions. Now, it’s important we believe in our core values … but core values are not our beliefs. They’re our values. And its values that make us better.

We seem to know a lot more about behaviors and beliefs. It should be no surprise, since we tend to spend a lot more time talking about them. And my experience has been that we would much prefer to focus on behavior and beliefs than do the hard work required of digging to our core.

This is fully understandable. Beliefs and behaviors are like the sheetrock of a wall and the paint that covers it. Our values are like the 2×4’s that hold them in place. It’s easier to paint the sheetrock, hung on decaying 2×4’s, than it is to rebuild what’s behind it. It will, in fact, look better … for some period of time. Yet, it’s the 2×4’s that hold the potential to make a better wall.

And core values hold the potential to make you a better person.

This is not a chicken-or-the-egg kind of proposition. Thinking behaviors is what makes you a better person is more like putting-the-cart-before-the-horse. Both core values and behaviors are important … but knowing which should impact which is critical. The correct directional trajectory of the impact is crucial. It is your values that should impact your behaviors.

I am painfully aware how much easier it is to paint the wall than to replace it. Again, I’m by no means diminishing the importance or impact of our behaviors. Once the 2x4s are constructed, the sheetrock and paint are really important. Defining our core values without a resulting change in behavior creates a significant investment with no return. Behaviors fueled by intentionally focused core values create a much better scenario … and likely a better person.

Come to think of it … behaviors actually do have something to do with beliefs. They’re what eventually make our core values believable … to others. Our core values, in-turn, make our behaviors sustainable. Over time, they have the potential to not only make us better people, but help others become better people too!

Today’s post is the featured article from the September 2014 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.