by CIO Staff

Use Personal Change to Become a Better Leader

Nov 16, 20055 mins

Mark Goulston, an executive coach I know who works with CEOs, has developed a line of inquiry that is a powerful way to focus on issues related to change. Mark’s question is this: “Are you ready for change, or are you ready to change?”

Most people in power will attest to the first; they thrive on pushing change for their organization. It’s been said that many CEOs suffer from attention deficit disorder because they articulate initiatives and then move on. In moving on hastily, they also may demonstrate that they are not ready to change. Being ready to change means two things: one, you are ready to change your own behavior; two, you are ready to help the organization make positive change.

Make Change Personal

When it comes to change, we need people at the top as well as throughout the organization who are ready, willing and able to change and help the organization. When you are willing to say that change begins with me, it is the equivalent to standing at the precipice and jumping off. It’s darn scary, for certain. But you aren’t jumping alone. You are equipped with your own ideas, values and beliefs as well as something else – a strong sense of courage. We see this by looking back at history. When Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he was venturing into hostile territory without a certain way back. Columbus venturing to Cathay was a good example of exploring the limits of the known world. And more recently, Carlos Ghosn jumped into Nissan, a hidebound Japanese company to effect change. That, too, was risky, especially since at that time he spoke no Japanese.

To be for change really requires that you change, too. Ghosn learned Japanese. Columbus discovered a new world. And Caesar used his adventure to become ruler of Rome. Few of us are incapable of change and if we are in leadership positions, we must learn to leverage our own change for the good of the organization. Mark Goulston’s latest book, Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self Defeating Behavior on the Job offers some powerful insights into the personal change process. They may be small things that can make a big difference in any change process.

Make certain people understand you. Every person in a position of authority is guilty of assuming that people automatically understand. Goulston references a medical condition, Wernicke’s aphasia: Patients who suffer from it “don’t realize when others are not understanding them,” they just talk and talk. Managers have no such medical excuse. They either do not take the time to make certain that they are understood or they don’t care that people don’t understand them. They act on the premise that it’s their brilliance that matters most. Goulston advises managers in this situation to ensure understanding by asking an open ended question such as, “I am not certain I’ve been clear. What do you understand about what I’ve said?” Such a question is a check for meaning and opens the door for conversation and eventual understand.

Embrace the challenge of learning new things. Goulston writes that the older we become the more fearful we become of learning. Whether it’s mastering a new PDA or acquiring new skills to give us a competitive edge, we push back, often because we are afraid we cannot learn. Goulston believes that we should look at learning more positively, as a challenge that we can tackle and from which we can benefit. By adopting an open minded outlook we actually open ourselves to learning and improve the odds of success.

Get buy in. Ever met a senior manager who was so in love with his own new idea that he did not listen to reason? Of course you have. Senior leaders are always pushing, always in a hurry and when it comes to their own ideas, they are in even more of a rush. Instead, executives should turn the paradigm on its head: look at the new initiative (or process) from the perspective of the people they are trying to persuade. According to Goulston, managers should do three things to gain buy in: one, make the change for a good reason; two, make the change feel right and, three, make change “doable.” Prior to doing anything, however, the manager needs to think about what needs to be done and why people on the team are right to make change happen.

Change for Results

Too much change, or at least change for change’s sake, is not healthy. That is one reason why those of us in organizations resist it so much. We view it as impersonal and as just another flavor of the month. And often that is because the change initiative lacks impetus from the top. All too often the CEO is onto another issue. But when the CEO and his team stay focused, push hard and stay on top of thing,s reasons for resistance melt more quickly.

Change is not easy. If it were, we’d all be carousels, endlessly altering our points of view as the merry go round rotates. But we’re not. We like things to remain the same for us, but perhaps not for others. That’s why it’s so powerful when a leader personally makes change. That sends an example throughout the organization. When they see the leader acting, they have no excuse for not moving forward. Changing behavior is never easy, but it can be done and, when done right, sends a powerful message throughout the organization.