Leadership: continuous personal change.

One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change.  Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.  ~Robert E. Quinn

I don’t think anyone in leadership would argue against the fact that we are living in an era of continuous change. And many of us pride ourselves on our ability to maneuver our organizations through nonstop alterations. However, this week in particular, I was struck by how much we resist change when it becomes personal.

Much of leadership, if not nearly all of leadership, is expressed or manifested in how we behave. Yes, that’s right, a word that seems to make many leaders uncomfortable. This week a leader said to me, “You mean you don’t want us to just change what we think but we need to change our behavior?”  Changing what we think is certainly a critical component, but if we stop there, what have we accomplished? 

Learning and Change

I recall a definition of learning, I think it was from Warren Bennis, he said that learning takes place when we acquire new knowledge and then alter our behavior based upon that new knowledge. In other words, acquiring knowledge, only, isn’t really learning.

Marshall Goldsmith, guru of executive coaching, said “After living with their dysfunctional behavior for so many years (a sunk cost if ever there was one), people become invested in defending their dysfunctions rather than changing them.” Peter Senge, author of the classic The Fifth Discipline, stated “People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!” That’s his exclamation point, not mine.

We may welcome change, as long as it’s change around us, not within us. 

Given what I do for a living, I suppose it’s not all that surprising that periodically people will call or meet with me and rant on and on about another person – a colleague, a supervisor, etc.  They spout off all of the things that bother them, that make them angry, that they disagree with, etc.  Then they pause, and ask me what they should say to that person to get them to change their behavior. 

When things aren’t working for us, or aren’t working as we believe they should, it’s interesting that our first instinct is to search for ways to change the other person. I’m certainly not advocating for a workplace where there is no accountability. I am suggesting that we think of ourselves in a state of continuous personal change. And that could mean that the best alternative to changing a situation or improving a working relationship is for us to seek ways that we can change our behavior. 

Continuous Personal Change

Robert Quinn, author of many books, wrote Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within. The basic premise of the book is to identify and describe the surprising relationship between organizational change and personal change. Quinn says, “If organizations must make deep change more frequently, so must the people who work in organizations.”

Leadership: continuous personal change.

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