Leadership Introspection: The Only Person You Can Actually Change Is Yourself

Leader meditating on a mountain top in the sun

Leading change means dealing with resistance. Whether in organizations or in our personal lives. Many change initiatives fail because people are not willing or not able to follow the new direction. A huge amount of energy goes into trying to manage the resistance and trying to convince, motivate, encourage, stimulate, or force people to follow the change. And often only with mediocre results! How can we do better? What are we missing?

There is a crucial ground rule in change management that defines our success as a leader of change. And it is very easily neglected!

LeadershipWatch Leadership QuoteTake some time to let this sink in…

‘People do not resist change, they resist being changed.’ Why? Because you and me, we all, we like to be able to lead our own lives. We like to have the ‘steering wheel’ in our own hands. We like to feel that we accomplish things by our own doing. We like to be recognized for it, it makes us feel good and successful. It gives us confidence, and motivates us to explore new changes. Being able to hold our own steering wheel gives us identity and allows us to develop ourselves, allows us to grow.

This statement may seem logical, but applying it will have a profound impact on your daily actions.

If you want people to change without taking over their steering wheel, you will need to help them to steer differently themselves, individually and collectively.

Don’t steer for them, but create a context in which they will take up the responsibility to change themselves. And this almost always means that you need to change yourself. By changing your focus, your communication, your instructions and guidance, your facilitation and coaching. By changing the way you set the context and the boundaries, and the way you respond to resistance.

You cannot force people to change, but you can change yourself and by doing that you can stimulate others to change too.

So if you are confronted with resistance or unexpected unpleasant behavior of others:

  • Don’t look for the problem in their behavior – Look for the solution in your own behavior and the way you will respond
  • Never blame others, it will change nor solve anything
  • Take criticism seriously, but not personally – You can learn from criticism without having to beat yourself up about it
  • Be open and transparent to others about what you value – If you do not know yet, make it clear to yourself first
  • Be inclusive in your thinking and acting – Always aim for win-win, even if you do not feel a positive click with the other … yet
  • Allow people, including yourself, to make mistakes – As long as we learn from it
  • … and last but not least … if you truly believe this change will benefit us all? … NEVER GIVE UP!

What are your thoughts about this? I’d love to read your comments below!

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Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Aad Boot leaning against a door post Aad is a global business advisor, change leader/program manager, executive team facilitator, leadership coach, and frequently asked keynote speaker. He is founder and managing partner at HRS Business Transformation Services where he works with senior executives and their organizations globally in three key domains: ‘leading complex change’, ‘cross-cultural leadership’, and ‘post-merger integration’. Find out more about Aad, our services, and his keynotes. If you would like to invite Aad to your organization contact us.

4 Comments on “Leadership Introspection: The Only Person You Can Actually Change Is Yourself

  1. Pingback: Three Star Leadership | Wally Bock | From the Independent Business Blogs: 2/10/16

  2. Great article Aad – I completely agree. Realising that the only person we can change is ourselves can be a difficult step to take. But if we can take it my experience has been that it can have a dramatic effect on our experience of life and the way people respond to us: Anxiety associated with controlling those we lead is reduced and people tend to respond in a more positive way if they don’t feel that they’re being pushed.


  3. Pingback: Leading Change: We Need More Transparency - Startupnet

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