A leader I am working with recently pulled me aside and said, “I want to thank you for changing who I am.” While hearing a statement like that is one of the most satisfying things I can experience in my line of work, it’s completely untrue. I didn’t change anything about how the leader acted. All I changed was the person’s perspective. They did the rest.
Our actions are driven by our thoughts. Anytime you can help someone shift their thinking, you can help them choose different actions. Too often, leaders or managers focus exclusively on the actions we would like someone to change. But too rarely do we consider the thoughts that are driving those actions.
Leaders do many things for others that help them see things in a different light. However, I believe there are three things that cause the most desired impact.
1. Create new possibilities
People behave a certain way because, ultimately, they believe they should. It’s rare that any of us show up for work thinking, “I’m going to do the wrong thing all day today.” For the most part, we are doing what we believe to be right, and so are those around us. When we see a better way, we are presented with an option that wasn’t on our original list of choices. Sometimes this component is the biggest driver of someone wanting to change.
Leaders can model behaviors to demonstrate that there are other choices out there. They can also create new possibilities using stories. When we hear about someone else achieving something we want or admire, we immediately believe that we could too.
2. Get rid of the baggage
Our list of possible behaviors and outcomes for ourselves are shaped by our history. In many cases, we simply do things this way because we always have. Habits are powerful forces in our lives and over time we lose the ability to recognize them. They cause us to make statements like, “That’s just the way I am. I can’t change that.” In reality, everything outside of genetics is up for change. That doesn’t make it easy. We’ve spent years convincing ourselves that we can’t change those things.
Leaders can, with the right set of conversations and interactions, help people see that they can make clear choices about what they want to be different in their lives. They can chart a course for a new reality that isn’t dictated by yesterday.
3. Support the change
Journeys are hard to make alone. Great leaders commit to helping and supporting employees during the change journey. You can’t just cast the boat off for them and wish them a successful voyage. Row with them for a while, listen, and share some of your own experiences in making tough changes. They are going to hit some big waves on the trip. Someone who has been in rough waters before can help them decide not to turn back when things get challenging.
Leaders do have the power to help others change, even though every individual makes their own choice. New possibilities and leader support can change their perspective enough that they make new choices. While we can’t truly change others, we can absolutely be the catalyst to help others change themselves. That’s what great leaders do.