The ABC of Change
I was interviewed about helping leaders make positive changes through executive coaching. One of the questions really captured my attention, “What do you believe causes change?”
Through 12 years of coaching intelligent and mature executives, and over my own lifetime of effort, I know that behavior change is difficult. As a facilitator, coach, and trainer I’ve observed a pattern among those who deliberately and successfully alter their behavior; a pattern I refer to as ABC – Awareness, Belief, Collaboration.
Awareness: positive change starts with personal recognition and acceptance that something can – and should – be better. In the absence of awareness, we have no choice. If we elect to do something differently, then we must have options from which to choose. Gordon’s manager, for example, complained vociferously that Gordon was enabling his team members. He claimed Gordon was allowing them to behave in subpar ways as he excused and covered their “bad” behavior. He demanded that Gordon change. Gordon was at a loss about what to change; he was lost because he couldn’t recognize what he was doing.
I sat through a couple of meetings with Gordon and recorded portions of conversations (a controversial tactic, to be sure). Upon review, we listened intently for enabling dialogues (at the end of which we deleted the recordings). With distance came objectivity and clarity, this helped Gordon grasp the nature of his behavior, and its impact on his team. Gordon was mad and embarrassed; but he was also aware – conscious of what had to change.
Belief: with increased awareness comes frustration. Every time one of my blind spots is made visible, I feel a little sickened. Seeing what to change is step one, becoming determined to make the change is step two. Belief is a critical step to determination. Belief comprises of vision and faith. Vision is not some mystical power assigned to geniuses and madmen. Vision is a defining human characteristic. Vision is the ability to project the mind into an imagined future and form a detailed description of that future. Faith, then, is a conviction in that imagined future and a devotion to fulfilling it.
In Gordon’s case, he envisioned himself as a manager who “takes no prisoners.” I felt that was a little radical and overcorrecting, but Gordon believed he needed a stern and far reaching vision. Because Gordon was a fierce sports competitor, he had faith that he could transfer his sports audacity to his management role. We discussed and defined what “take no prisoners” looks and feels like an actual day-to-day management behavior, and set clear goals.
Collaboration: I am goal directed and self initiating, and while awareness and belief initiate and direct positive change, I haven’t pulled off significant behavior change on my own. Working in partnership provides encouragement, ideas, and energy when needed. There are several collaborators to enroll – coaches and mentors, team members, friends and family, peers, and supervisors.
Gordon formed a “development Council” for his positive change effort. After identifying the specific behaviors in coaching, he calibrated with his manager specific behavioral objectives. Once all three were clear about how to measure success, Gordon shared with his team why he was changing, and what he will do differently. Gordon’s manager supported him more constructively, and, to his surprise, his team stepped up to carry more work load. Turns out they wanted more for their own professional journey 0f growth, development, and fulfillment.
I don’t believe that the preceding 500 words will suffice in your own professional development efforts. While Gordon’s goal was assisted with awareness, belief, and collaboration, it was a bumpy ride. Achieving his goals took fortitude, support, humility, and reflection. As will yours.
Don’t be lulled into the mythology of the lone ranger; as a lone ranger you are far more likely to squander your potential than to conquer your demons. Reach out and find your own “development council.” Then set your jaw and open your mind to the process of deliberate positive change.