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4 Keys to Sustaining Behavior Change

Since coaching is often about changes in behavior that will improve individual effectiveness, I talk with my clients about how they can sustain those changes after the coaching engagement ends.  Mantras can be a useful tool so I created one for this discussion:
  • Purpose– Remember why you decided to make these changes. Focus on the benefits for yourself and others.
  • Patience– Expect that you will fall back into old behaviors under stress.  Give yourself a break and ask others to do the same.
  • Practice– It takes about a year of consistent practice, feedback and accountability to sustain a behavior change.
  • Plan– Who will be your feedback and accountability partners? How will you deal with setbacks?
These four P’s are the keys to keeping up your good work.

Expert to Leader

“He is a genius with 1000 helpers,” the CEO said, quoting the business classic Good to Great to describe one of her direct reports.  “He has to move from being a technical expert to a leader and focus on developing his people.”  This is a very common scenario in my coaching practice.

When a technical expert who has been rewarded for his knowledge and results is promoted to a leadership role, he can feel woefully unprepared.  That can lead to fear of failure and a tendency to fall back on what has served him well – being an expert who solves problems.  Except that even a genius can’t solve every problem and a leader’s job is to coach and empower others.

How do you do that? A recent Gartner survey concluded that the most effective style for developing high performers is a Connector.  Instead of being too hands-on or too hands-off, the Connector asks the right questions, provides tailored feedback and connects team members to others who can help them.

A technical expert is usually good at connecting dots.  If he can evolve into a leader who connects his people to the right developmental resources, he will no longer be a genius with 1000 helpers.

Humble Leadership

If you list the top five attributes of an effective leader does humility make the list?  Research confirms that humble leaders are more effective.  Admitting you don’t have all the answers creates opportunities for learning and builds trust, establishes credibility and provides an example of how to deal with uncertainty.

Humble leaders:

  • Check their egos at the door
  • Share their mistakes
  • Forgive failure
  • Empower and inspire others
  • Make decisions for the greater good
  • Invite feedback
  • Attract top performers and engender loyalty

Rick Warren explains that “true humility isn’t about thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”  Picture Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai.  What humble leader might you emulate?

Honoring the Past

Have you heard (or made) any of these comments when a new leader is brought in to change things?

  • I’m excited!
  • I’ll wait and see how it goes…
  • That isn’t the way we do things here.

The people who are excited typically like change and can adapt easily.  Getting the “waiters” and the “naysayers” on board can be more challenging.  Some experts advise against trying to convert the naysayers but they may have institutional knowledge or customer relationships that are too valuable to lose.

The naysayers are often people who helped build the company or the department.  While they may acknowledge that things aren’t perfect, they are proud of their contributions.  Honoring the past and inviting their input can help them embrace change and move forward.

Adjusting Your Style to Your Audience

On the Harvard Business Review website there are more than 10,000 articles, books, webinars and videos that mention communication skills.  Would you agree that effective communication is essential to success in business?

For my clients who struggle with adjusting their style to their audience in formal presentations or everyday interactions, I recommend the following methodology:

  1. Identify your goal
  • So you can be intentional about your approach
  1. Know your audience
  • What are their expectations and personality types?
  1. Get feedback in advance
  • For formal presentations and discussions that might be difficult
  • Build consensus with key stakeholders who will support your position
  1. Follow up
  • Ensure your message was heard
  • Learn how you can improve

The more you practice, the more effectively you will be able to communicate in any situation.  As they say in the theatre business, “Break a leg!”

How Am I Doing?

During his three terms as the mayor of New York Ed Koch asked everyone he met, “How’m I doin’?”  He didn’t want to wait for an election to find out.  How did you do last year?  Did you ask?

The more senior your role, the less likely you are to have a formal discussion about how you’re doing.  Many companies have moved away from formal evaluations completely.  Whether you get formal feedback or not, you may be reluctant to ask your boss for informal feedback because:

  • You don’t want to be micromanaged
  • No news is good news
  • It’s the boss’s job to initiate these conversations
  • You might have to make some changes

If it is important to you to know what you’re doing well and how you could improve, and you work for someone who isn’t good at giving feedback, you owe it to your boss and yourself to find an approach that works well for both of you.

Real time feedback is best but not everyone is comfortable with that.  Ask your boss what she or he prefers.  You might get the best feedback during conversations over coffee.  If more structure appeals to you, you could suggest regularly scheduled discussions focused on one or two key areas.

If you don’t ask, then how will you know how you’re doing?