Leadership means fighting for the highest possible good in the lives of those you lead.
If this is the primary concern of leadership in relation to individual employees, then an important question to ask is, “How do people really change?” Since no one is perfect, it makes sense that every employee and leader will need to go through a continual process of growth and change.
The most significant means of generating positive change in those you lead is to effectively calibrate the right levels of support and challenge to foster healthy growth. It means having difficult conversations when necessary while also providing the right resources and support for your people to become the best, healthiest, most productive version of themselves.
Some of you reading this post, however, may doubt the capacity of adults to change at all, especially after their bad habits or perceived roles have been ingrained deep within them over the course of a career. For those who lean toward that opinion, consider the following scenarios and think about the likelihood of change occurring in each situation:
John walks into his manager’s office with a tinge of frustration. He had been called out by a co-worker for “poor use of words” to another colleague. The Manager begins to berate John with yelling and threats. This was not the first episode with John and the manager had had enough. This was the final warning. The manager gives John his final warning and tells him that management will be watching him like a hawk, and if he does anything else to cause a disruption, there will be severe consequences.
What do you think the results will be? Do you think John is likely to change, or begin getting along with his colleagues better? Do you think he’ll change his perspective on his own behavior or his perception of his colleagues?
John walks into his manager’ office with a tinge of frustration. He had been called out by a co-worker for “poor use of words” to another colleague. The Manager begins to talk with John, “John, do you know that I am for you?” John returns the Manager’s look with one of wariness. The Manager continues, “What is going on? What is causing you to hurt those around you John?” As the conversation unfolds, the Manager’s questions and genuine concern form a figurative mirror in which John can see a reflection of himself and his actions. The mirror allows him to see – maybe for the first time – what it’s actually like to be on the other side of him. It enables him to step into his colleagues’ shoes and then begin to dig into the issues that are causing him to act and respond the way he does.
Now, what will the results be? Do you think John is more or less likely to change his perspective and behavior than in the first scenario? Do you think he might be more receptive to this approach from the Manager?
Why Being “For Others” Works
The truth is, we have seen Scenario 1 play out many times in real life during our work with clients. People like “John” have gotten used to causing pain and then suffering the berating that comes from those who lead them. It is a pattern that has played out numerous times before, and nothing really changes in the first scenario. John just takes the heat, but then uses it as coal to fuel the fire of anger inside him, resulting in resentment, continued poor conduct, and possibly even worse behavior as the “me vs. them” mentality exacerbates the divide. When this happens, John feels orphaned by his team, believing no one is in his corner. Once he starts thinking “no one is for me, I’ll just do things my way,” the pattern continues spiraling and his victim mindset drives him to harm others in his path.
The alternate scenario, on the other hand, has more of a tendency to work for two reasons:
1. Show You Are For Others
John’s manager showed that he/she was FOR John. Being “for” someone simply means that you will work harder than simply yelling to try and help the other person. It means that you care enough about their well-being that you’ll set aside your own convenience and agenda to provide the support or challenge they need to grow. Sometimes there is simply nothing you can do and the person needs to be let go and move on to a better fit elsewhere. Sometimes it means a lot of extra investment. Regardless of the necessary action, when John knows that you are for him, you actually help break a part of the ingrained pattern that has been holding him back and hurting his influence. He doesn’t know the “I’m for you” script because he has never heard this approach before. He’s never had to respond to an attitude that doesn’t make it him vs. you, but instead recasts the two of you as partners in figuring things out for his highest possible good and benefit. That in itself has the chance to truly impact him for the better.
2. Hold Up a Mirror – What is it like to be on the other side of you?
The biggest opportunity for change comes from actually holding up the metaphorical mirror through the questions and approach you use. When a person sees themselves in a mirror THEY have the choice to change. In general, most people don’t want to be known as “jerks” or lazy or whatever issues others seem to have with them. Unfortunately, if people tell them they are acting that way, they usually become defensive and rarely listen. But when they see it in themselves through someone who is fighting for their highest possible good, they are more apt to recognize the problem and take the initiative to change. It’s the difference between telling someone a truth, versus guiding them in their own journey to find it. One path to truth is easily rejected or reconfigured, while the other path – the personal journey in which you find it yourself – proves nearly impossible to ignore.
That’s why deep, lasting change in a person typically happens from the inside, rarely the outside. This means that leaders need a great deal of patience, a “for others” attitude, and a commitment to learning how to bring both high support and high challenge with precision.
If you keep these two scenarios in mind and work to apply the mirror and “for others” mindset, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your capacity to cultivate change in those you lead expands.
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can facilitate real change in those you lead, we’re happy to schedule a meeting to discuss. Just click the contact button and let us know!