Firm Beliefs Loosely Held

Wyoming Mountains, January of 2005

Wyoming Mountains, January of 2005, by: Michael Mongon

As a leader in a corporate environment, you have or will come across the phrase "Firm Beliefs, Loosely Held." I have seen it emerge as a core principle or value in many organizations. While this mantra has many truths behind it, it also encapsulates something that should be a delicate balance. This balance is between unwavering conviction and the adaptability required to be a positive influence in an unpredictable world. Beliefs and principles should be set with the expectation that following them will bring growth. No growth is sustainable without some changes along the way. Identifying when to change is what is crucial for effective leadership.

Firm Beliefs

As a leader of any type in any organization, it will be important to set and/or uphold the firm beliefs of a company. That company may already have things set that are sometimes called, core values, or company values. They are usually statements like, “disagree but commit” and “Data Beats opinion.” They usually are simple and meant to be the principles that the organization wants every individual to have.

As an individual, you too should have firm beliefs. They should be things as simple and purposeful as “Don’t Lie,” “Don’t steal,” and “Don’t cook broccoli in the shared kitchen at work.” Those individual principles are what help guide you and should help you grow into that better person you have envisioned.

As a leader of people, following your firm beliefs means you will see others who trust you mimic those beliefs. This is why you need to know and be true to what principles you have. They will be repeated.

A leader's reactions to events are the core set of principles they will be training in those around them. The same will be said for what principles a leader ignores. These convictions drive passion, resilience, and a commitment to excellence, setting the stage for success in a common goal.

Principles in Movies

If you ever get a chance to watch it, there is a movie I greatly enjoy, In Bruge. They discuss principles and convictions through a series of dark-humored exploits and accidents. If you like dark humor and subtle mafioso undertones, I would recommend it. It stars Colin Farrell, as a big city hitman who made a mistake and then goes into hiding in Bruges with a fellow Irishman played by Brendan Gleeson. While they are hiding in the “rubbish” city they discuss that even a hitman must have principles that they follow through with.

In Bruges, discusses the morality of principles and the comedic consequences of being rigid to them. I don’t want to leave you with too many spoilers, but as a movie with a gangster hitman you know you are going to get those deeper questions, like, ‘Are you willing to die for what you believe in.’ Trust me, it’s not going to be what you expect. Let’s just say that I would agree with the idea, that there are very few firm beliefs that anyone should die over.

Loosely Held and Embracing Adaptability

While firm beliefs provide stability, the ability to hold them loosely is equally essential. Holding on to a belief loosely allows you to question it, and possibly even more so in the engineering space, everything has the opportunity to be questioned. Technology is always offering new options. Without looking at those options leave those that risk looking at becoming obsolete.

Holding something loosely does not mean what is held is of no value. This is why it should come with the knowledge that you are embracing the idea or willingness to change. It’s embracing the constant and continual learning. Knowledge is power, and the ultimate power is embracing adaptability.

The Balance

The balance is something that comes from experience, practice, and sometimes trial and error. You can gain a lot of knowledge through study, but knowing a lot does not always tell you when to use that knowledge. In practice, we can look at the constant influx of new technologies and languages coming out. Knowledge of them will tell you that some languages are faster or more efficient than others. In practice though, you know you cannot rewrite your platform every year to accommodate for the re-write. The cost of time and labor is just too great to do this yearly. This means it takes looking for those tipping points.


I believe the mantra "Firm Beliefs, Loosely Held" cultivates a strong foundation of unwavering principles while remaining adaptable in the face of change. Leaders who are adaptable and able to look out for the tipping point to when they need to focus on that adaptability side. If they are conscious of this flip they can help guide those who aren't. Adaptability is what guides them to when the rules need to be bent and broken.

This approach fosters resilience, encourages innovation, and shares a culture that thrives on learning and growth. As leaders embrace this paradigm, they not only steer their organizations toward success but also inspire a new generation of agile, forward-thinking individuals ready to face the challenges of tomorrow.