Archive for the 'Leaders Change First' Category

The challenge of changing ourselves and influencing others

A quality shared by most resilient people is the ability to see the world as it is rather than as they wish it to be.

As a result, they understand that:

• Changing ourselves is hard, even when our health and lives may depend on it.

• Changing others is harder.

• Changing organizational culture and practices is even harder because it combines the difficulties of changing ourselves and others with the challenge of overcoming institutional inertia and active resistance.

In addition, most of us significantly underestimate what’s required to alter long-standing habits of mind and behavior in ourselves and others and to create organizational cultures of continuous improvement.

And, at the same time, we significantly overestimate the extent to which humans are rational and motivated to change because of evidence and logic.

That’s why reading a book, listening to an inspiring speaker, or attending a “research-based” workshop are almost always insufficient to produce long-term, meaningful change.

The essential elements of change

The most compelling explanations of what’s required to produce significant change are offered  by Alan Deutschman in Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life and by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

Deutschman explains that people make significant and lasting changes by “relating,” “repeating,” and “reframing.”

Relate underscores the importance of sustained relationships with individuals and groups to inspire hope and provide support.

Repeat involves learning, practicing, and mastering new skills until they become habits.

And reframe means finding others ways to think about a situation. Because established frames resist facts and reasoned arguments, deep-rooted beliefs and conceptual frameworks must be identified and altered to support desired changes.

A problem, Deutschman says, is that leaders too often rely on relatively ineffective change strategies—facts (human beings are not as rational as we think we are), fear (at best it’s a short-term motivator), and force (there are many ways it can be resisted) to promote change.

Instead, successful change efforts offer a sense of hopefulness that problems can be solved through a genuine sense of community that enables the acquisition of new habits.

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard Chip Heath and Dan Heath explain that our behavior is shaped by three forces—our intellect, our emotions, and the situations in which we find ourselves.

To explain their ideas the Heaths offer the metaphor of an elephant with a rider:

The rider is our intellect. Although modest in size compared to the elephant, it plans and directs.

The elephant is emotion. It provides the energy that creates and sustains movement.

The path is the situation or environment in which the rider and elephant find themselves. that either supports improved performance or hinders it. (For example, strong teamwork requires a “path” that includes regularly-scheduled meeting time, relevant data to make decisions and assess progress, and training in group skills.)

We promote change, the Heaths say, when we:

• create clarity of purpose and direction (influence the rider),

• engage people’s emotions (motivate the elephant), and

• create environments (shape the path) that enable rather than hinder the desired performance.

What, in your experience, are the essential elements of change in individuals and organizations?

I will be taking a sabbatical during the next few months to refresh and renew. Best wishes for an enjoyable summer (or winter if you happen to be Down Under).

There is no substitute for resilient leadership

Resilient people are often called upon to be leaders, a responsibility that both draws upon their resilience and cultivates it for future use.

Early in my career I did not understand the importance of leadership. Schools, I thought, would improve if teachers were simply given the tools to do their work and the freedom to use them.

But then I had an opportunity to closely observe a school whose teachers and parents were frustrated and dispirited. Students performed poorly, and everyone felt hopeless about the future.

Eventually a new principal came to the school. Over the next 3 years things got better. Staff and parent morale improved, as did teaching and student learning.

That principal eventually went on to another assignment, and the school’s new principal was more like the first one. Things spiraled downwards into a hopelessness that felt more profound because of the school’s rollercoaster journey.

Later on in my professional development work I spent a great deal of time talking with teachers about teaching and learning.

I enjoyed those conversations immensely except when teachers were angry and cynical.

Without exception, I observed that those teachers were poorly led by principals or system administrators or union leaders. Or all three.

My work came to focus on principals and teacher leaders because without their skillful leadership teacher professional learning and teamwork were unlikely to occur in ways that would benefit all students in all classrooms.

School leaders to a very large degree determine:

What is your experience—is it possible to continuously improve teaching and learning without skillful leadership?

How resilient people are different

In previous posts I’ve explored some of those differences, qualities such as intentionality, resourcefulness, and the motivating force of a few fundamental purposes and principles that inspire and guide them.

As I have thought more deeply about resilience I was reminded of the work by Jerry Sternin and others on “positive deviance.”

“Positive deviants are people whose behavior and practices produce solutions to problems that others in the group who have access to exactly the same resources have not been able to solve,” Sternin told me in a 2004 JSD interview. “We want to identify these people because they provide demonstrable evidence that solutions to the problem already exist within the community.”

Sternin and his wife, Monique, applied the concept of “positive deviance” to their life-saving work for Save the Children in the villages of Vietnam and to solving other seemingly intractable problems. (You can read more here.)

Positive deviants, I concluded in an earlier post, have one or more of the following habits which I think also apply to many resilient people:

1. Writing to gain clarity and to communicate;

2. “Counting” things to improve their performance (most things that count can be measured, even if only in rudimentary ways);

3. Reading widely in search of new ideas, perspectives, and inspiration;

4. Continuously seeking more effective and efficient ways to do things;

5. Engaging the support of others when challenged by stretching goals or demanding circumstances;

6. Persisting over many months and even years to achieve important goals because the values represented by those goals were so important;

7. Seeing things in unique ways that were in opposition to accepted wisdom or common practice; and

8. Assuming that important problems can be solved, and that working alone or in collaboration with others they would contribute to their solutions.

As you think about resilient people you have known, what behaviors or attributes would you add to this list?

Acting in spite of our fears

[I]n truth, fear is a useful thing. Once upon a time, fear was a signal to run from a lion or some other danger, and that was pretty useful. These days, we don’t usually have much physical danger (the lions have more to fear from us), but the same fear signals still happen, even when it’s trying to pursue our dreams or becoming vulnerable to other people. These days, the fears aren’t physical — they’re more about not being good enough.  —Leo Babauta

It’s not that resilient people are fearless.

Rather, they act in the face of the kinds of fears identified by Leo Babauta in a recent survey:

Fear of failure

Fear of being inadequate

Fear of rejection

Fear of not being prepared

Fear of being a fraud

Fear of ridicule

“You might notice,” Babauta concludes, “that they are all really the same fear. The fear of not being good enough.”

He suggests a new mental framework for viewing fear and a mindful approach to facing it.

“Just because fear is present, doesn’t mean we have to run,” Babuata writes. “In fact, we can practice acting mindfully even with fear in our bodies. The practice is to notice that there’s fear, and notice our habitual reaction. Stay with the fear, and notice how it feels as a physical sensation. Notice that it’s not so bad, that we can actually be OK in the middle of that physical sensation.”

What methods do you use to act in spite of your fear?

Starting off on the right foot

Most of us have been encouraged throughout our lives to stand up for ourselves, for others, and for the things we believe in.

But most of us have failed at one time or another to do so because of fear or other compelling reasons.

Consulting-expert Peter Block describes such people as “walking bent over,” adding, “If you walk bent over at the beginning of a consulting relationship, you will find it very difficult to stand up straight again.”

The importance of starting off on the right foot by standing up for what they believe and by defining the boundaries of relationships is a life lesson that resilient people have learned, often the hard way.

In addition to consultants beginning a relationship with clients, Block’s admonition applies, for example, to:

• Parents with their children,

• Teachers with their students, and

• Supervisors with those they supervise.

And so on.

Resilience requires standing up straight at the beginning. It also requires that when we find ourselves compromised we do whatever is necessary to stand up straight again. “Better late than never” is advice that applies here.

That usually means confronting problems head on without judgment and blame, having difficult conversations, and seeking win-win solutions.

So, while resilient people have learned the importance of establishing “ground rules” at the beginning of important relationships, they have also learned that it is never too late to start again.

What has your experience taught you about the challenges of starting off on the right foot and, if necessary, of starting again?

Can emotional intelligence be developed?

The ability to “read” other people, vividly imagining their unique psychological experience, is the compass by which we navigate our social world. —Hunter Gehlbach (March 2017 Kappan)

More often than not, resilient people possess the kind of people skills that we now associate with emotional intelligence, skills that are too often in short supply in many organizations, particularly at the highest levels.

Over the decades I’ve observed that people who are successful in a particular job sometimes run into difficulty when they are “promoted” into positions that require more sophisticated interpersonal skills, such as leading teams, supervising other adults, or resolving conflict in satisfying ways.

While they have the technical skills to do their jobs, they often lack the “soft skills” to be successful in their work.

These skills include the ability to listen deeply, have empathy, identify and manage their emotions and respond appropriately to the emotions of others, display authentic positive emotions, and so on.

The problem is compounded because their low emotional intelligence means that these otherwise competent people are likely to lack the introspection required to identify the problem and the skills to do something about it.

And the situation is further compounded because many people mistakenly believe that emotional intelligence is something you are born with, not something that can be intentionally developed over time. (A useful resource on this subject is Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence.)

What do you think:

Do resilience and emotional intelligence go hand in hand? Can someone be resilient without those skills?

Is diminished emotional intelligence a barrier to effectiveness for otherwise competent people? 

Does a lack of introspection and a belief that emotional intelligence can’t be developed mean that those people are unlikely to change?

The emotional dimensions of change

“The President-elect, it turned out, had a gift for the behavioral arts. He intuitively grasped “loss aversion” (our tendency to give more weight to the threat of losses than to potential gains), and perpetually maximized “nostalgia bias” (our tendency to remember the past as being better than it was). He made frequent subconscious appeals to “cultural tightness” (whereby groups that have experienced threats to their safety tend to desire strong rules and the punishment of deviance), and, perhaps most striking, his approach tapped into what psychologists call “cognitive fluency” (the more easily we can mentally process an idea, such as “Make America great again” or “Lock her up!,” the more we’re prone to retain it). Even his Twitter game was sticky: “Crooked Hillary!” “build the wall.” (…[R]epetition works.)” —Sarah Stillman

Human beings don’t like change, and we are not particularly rational about it.

That means that fear and anger and even hope can trump evidence and logic (pun intended).

Which means we are more easily manipulated by demagogues than we would like to believe.

It also means that if we seek to influence others it is important to understand that reason alone seldom produces lasting change.

If “reason” isn’t sufficient, what works?

1. Research and other forms of evidence provide a rationale for change and are essential to some people before they will consider the change.

2. Well-selected anecdotes (preferably based on personal experience) and testimonials from individuals respected by group members can be very persuasive. So, too, are images and video (think back on photographs and video clips that have changed public perception related to important problems).

3. Remember that the emotional response change evokes in others is not necessarily about us (although it may feel that way) nor about the ideas or practices we promote.

Being forearmed with an awareness of the emotional dimensions of change can increase our resilience during this present moment of heightened national anxiety and fear.

It can also enable us to remain deeply engaged over the many years and decades required to bring about meaningful and lasting change in any important field of endeavor.


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