Mark M-G on LinkedIn started an interesting discussion this past week with this question: “The large numbers of articles on leadership on LinkedIn and elsewhere will not produce major improvements in leadership skills. They focus almost exclusively on WHAT behaviors to change to become a better leader, not HOW to change those behaviors. And changing behaviors is very, very hard to do. What do you think should be done about this loss of focus on HOW to change?”
I started to respond to his question and quickly realized that it was getting long and that I was actually writing what would become my own next post. Here it is…
I have attempted to add “how-to-change-behaviours” in my posts, mostly through personal stories. I think the reason that posts on how to change behaviours are few and far is because they are so personal and specific to the individual and the situation.
In my practice I often suggest to my clients that every night they reflect in a journal on challenges they may be facing. For example, do they get too emotionally engaged in conversations during the day, do they take things too personally? I then ask them to come up with questions that might get them thinking about the behaviour. Questions that often come up are: “Did I become too emotionally engaged today? Was it warranted if I took someone’s comment too personally? In the next session I ask them to continue this process but to add: think about the moments when these events happened, and record how you were feeling – what was going on in your head, what was happening physiologically? How were you feeling, what were you thinking?” These can become their cues – or as Marshall Goldsmith has coined it – their triggers (2015).
The reason I say “suggest” at the beginning of the previous paragraph is because it’s not something I can do for the client; the client must want to do it him or herself. I have found that they do this exercise not because of a personal motivation to change — more than likely they recognize a need to change; that why they’ve engaged a coach in the first place —but because of their willingness to work at it. The majority of my clients will do this exercise, but there are those who simply won’t. They are just not willing to do the work.
You can read all the “how to” stories on LinkedIn you want, but the truth is that without the motivation to change, and without resources and help to draw on, they are meaningless. Every successful professional athlete has a coach. The most successful ones have a personal coach who works with them; maybe even two or three! Actors have acting coaches. It is increasingly common to hear and learn that the most successful business people—CEOs and owners—also have coaches. Why? Because “being able to doing it all by ourselves” is a myth. Maybe we can for a while but not for the length of time it takes to create meaningful change. That is why I have a personal trainer for my fitness and a personal coach for my own practice. I realized that for me to keep to a solid fitness regimen I needed a coach to help me stay on track.
So here’s my answer to Mark’s question: All those posts on what to change should not only come with possible solutions on how to change, but also a strong message to find someone—a coach—to help them through the process.