Successful Behavioral Change Linked to Values

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Nothing will make people change their behavior—no matter how detrimental—until they can see how it is in conflict with their own value system. That alone motivates us toward successful change.

As a leadership coach working with mid-level managers, directors and C-suite executives, much of my work is helping clients change their behavior in order to become more effective leaders. And changing one’s behavior is hard work.

That’s because our behavior is a part of our identity and we defend it by saying it has worked for us to this point. Why change?

Besides, we don’t have to think about our behavior; we simply react. Therein lies the problem. Instead of reacting, we need to take time to respond.

Reacting is action without thought. Responding is action after thought. Unless you’re on the basketball court with the shot clock running down, you probably have a few moments to contemplate your response before acting. Take this time to contemplate your usual behavior, and then perhaps alter your natural and instinctual way of reacting to respond more appropriately.

But this resistance to change is also deeply rooted in our individual value system.

In his book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith wrote: “We obey this natural law: People will do something—including changing their behavior—only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”

Our values ultimately guide all our actions and they largely determine the decisions we make. Therefore, as a coach, it’s important for me to identify those behaviors that are out of alignment with the leader’s values in order to secure buy-in.

Goldsmith found that the higher one goes in an organization, the more his or her issues are likely to be behavioral.

In fact, he lists more than 20 such behaviors that even the greatest leaders need to stop doing in order to be more effective. These include things like: 5) Starting with NO, BUT, HOWEVER; 9) Withholding information; 16) Not listening; 17) Failing to express gratitude.

These detrimental behaviors often remain hidden because, while they may be obvious to others, they can be a blind spot for the leader. And we have become very adept at seeing only our best selves.

We judge ourselves based on our intentions and we judge others on how they make us feel, according to social psychologist John Wallen. This disconnect from seeing how our behavior impacts others can keep us from being aware of our blind spots.

The blind spot is an area a coach can help uncover and provide a roadmap for how to change. Results from a 360 analysis and other assessment tools enable the leader to gain perspective and challenge his or her previous assumptions. After seeing and accepting the data, he or she must then commit to the behavioral change.

Without this commitment, no measurable improvement is likely to occur. That’s because no one can make us change our behavior unless we want to. And that’s why the direct link must be made to the individual’s own values.

This link to our own sense of who we are and what we represent motivates us to change like nothing else. When a coach points out how the detrimental behavior is in direct conflict with the leader’s own values, it can help fire up the desire and commitment to make the change.

Integrity is a word thrown around a lot in job interviews and on corporate value statements, but to really live with integrity means to act according to the values, beliefs and principals you claim to hold dear.

You cannot behave in a way that is counter to those values, beliefs and principles without the risk of jeopardizing your integrity. Your behavior is therefore a direct reflection of just how much integrity you truly have.

When our behavior undermines our leadership effectiveness, it’s time to see and accept the compromised connection to our values, and commit to change. Only then can we succeed in making real change in our behavior that will lead to a successful outcome.

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