Have you ever desperately wanted to change someone else’s behaviour? Were you successful? How long did the change last?
As a leader, influencing others to alter their behaviour is part of the job. Not everyone comes to your organization ready to achieve the goals and objectives of the company right from day one. Many require guidance to be able to ‘get out of their own way’ and hit their deliverables.
However, influencing the type of change needed is incredibly nuanced. With the executives I coach, the most effective construct I’ve used over the years to help demystify this, is to ask them plainly, “Are you trying to change this person’s height?”
Here’s what I mean by that.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s just break human personality into two components: behavioural profiles and emotional intelligence. Your behavioural profile represents your hard-coded preferences. These profiles are often determined by some form of psychometrics assessment. Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others. It is grown through lived experience.
Which means, your behavioural profile is akin to your height while your level of EQ is akin to your weight.
If you’re reading this, unless you are an exceptionally keen and curious high school student with a passion for organizational psychology, you are most likely an adult. As an adult, you will never be taller than you are right now. Think about it. If you had your annual check-up and your doctor came to you and said, “I’d like to see you grow 3 more inches by your next check-up”, you’d look at her as if she’s crazy. If however, she said, “I’d like to see you drop 10-15 lbs by the next time we meet”, you may not love the message, but you would leave believing that it’s possible.
The same construct applies to influencing behavioural change in others. Their behavioural type, whether it’s a DI in DiSC, an INTJ in Meyers-Briggs, or a Red-Yellow in our system, becomes fixed at a certain point in their life, just like their height did. Once it ‘sets’ is doesn’t change.
Their weight however, is forever within their control. They can get bigger or smaller with changes in their diet, exercise routine and lifestyle. So too, their ability to self-regulate their emotions, is forever within their control. Just like controlling their weight though, it requires daily commitment. No one can attend a workshop on EQ and claim to be emotionally intelligent just like no one can attend a 2-hour fitness bootcamp and claim to be in shape.
Where most leaders stumble when it comes to influencing change in their people, is they try to get the person to change things that cannot be changed. They are ‘trying to change their height’. They tell a Red to be more patient, a Green to be less sensitive, a Blue to be more open-minded and a Yellow to be more focused. They speak in absolutes by pointing out the damage the person’s trait is causing as if realizing that damage is enough for this person to change. If someone were insanely tall, and they kept breaking the fire exit sign hanging from the ceiling because of it, it’s not as though they can go home, focus really hard, and come back the next day shorter.
They can however, be taught to duck.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to be self-aware of your traits, know whether those traits are assets or liabilities in certain situations, and adjust to make those traits less of a liability. The objective is NOT to change the traits because the traits can’t be changed.
Growing your people’s situational awareness gives them the ability to learn how and when to ‘duck’. The second the obstacle is out of the way however; they are free to stand tall again. In a behavioural context this means helping people know when to speak up or stand down. It means helping them learn when to work harder or take a break. It doesn’t mean altering their natural tendency to do any of these things.
Because here’s the real truth, even if you could change a trait in someone you shouldn’t want to. Impatience in one setting is drive in another. Being ‘too-sensitive’ in one setting is being empathetic in another. Being controlling in one setting is being disciplined in another.
You need to realize that even if you somehow were successful in getting someone to become shorter, who’d you go to when you needed something from the top shelf?