Wissam Adib
Coaching for Change

Blog

On Change

It's not just lonely at the top

Leaders often lament that it's lonely at the top. What great leaders don't mention though is that they aren't just lonely at the top, they were probably lonely on their way there.

Organizational psychologists have found that exceptional leaders are rarely team players. They don't have a need to work in a group. They consult others and listen enough to make a decision, and then move on. And they don't need for others to be in agreement.

Those who manage by consensus on the other hand, have a need to make sure that everyone is heard and that they are all happy with the final decision. To their credit, this trait makes the lives of those more senior than them easier, and as a result they get promoted faster. After all, they don't cause a commotion.

Once they get to the top however, they end up with leadership by consensus, which is no leadership at all.

 

Wissam Adib
Reading shadows

In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes a cave where prisoners have been tied since birth and made to face a wall. All their lives they see shadows cast on the wall by objects and people passing behind them. Their entire reality is those shadows, and they describe them and discuss them amongst each other, guessing what each shadow represents.

One day, one of the prisoners escapes his binds, is able to see the reality of what is casting the shadows, and realizes where they guessed right, and where they were mistaken.

Plato's point: we are all these people, thinking that what we see is real, when in fact we are looking at shadows. Sometimes resistance to change is actually fear, posturing is in reality insecurity, and denial a cry for help.

The truth is not so plain to see, but it's out there if you're willing to escape the binds of your mind.


Wissam Adib
I am your father

There's a concept in psychology called transference. Transference is when you treat someone not as themselves but as someone else from your past. It explains why you associate certain feelings, like familiarity or annoyance, with people you've just met.

Transference is important in psychology because it gives therapists insight into clients' past relationships and potential issues.

Transference is also important in business. It's why employees put their bosses on a pedestal and treat them with a greater amount of veneration than can be rationally explained. They do this because they see the boss not as a person responsible for achieving business results but as, you guessed it, their parent.

This also explains why millennials, who increasingly come from homes with absent or missing parents, don't quite think you're as much of a hotshot as you might think you are.

Wissam Adib
Show and tell

Study after study have shown that people will only be motivated to change when two conditions are met: they need to believe the change is good for them, and they have to choose to change themselves. Pressuring someone to change reduced motivation, resulting in greater failure rates.

For a long time psychologists successfully applied this rule when dealing with many types of addictions and problematic behavior (even with kids), helping clients develop their own motivations rather than shaming them to change. Then executive coaches picked up on this technique and tried it in the corporate world, and they had less success.

The catch? They got the other part wrong: that small detail of helping people understand why the change was good for them.

So next time your change program is met with resistance, rather than pushing harder, take a step back. Then, help those you're trying to change understand the value of what you're doing, and allow them to choose to go along on the journey. Show them, don't tell them.

And if you can't do that, maybe it's the change program itself that needs to change.

Wissam Adib
The "New Way"! It's better than the "Old Way"

Here's a typical change recipe: 

  • There's a "new way", and it's better than the "old way"
  • It's better because I say so, and I know better because I'm the new person in charge
  • We all need to start following the "new way" right now
  • You should ignore the years of conditioning that you were put through (the rewards and punishments that were dished out based on how well you conformed with the "old way") 
  • I will assign change agents (police), those rational and smart amongst you who understand the "new way" (lemmings). These change agents will influence the rest of you late adopters (independent thinkers). 
  • If you have feedback, put a note in the suggestion box. We'll read it, but it's too late to change the "new way" 

When we treat our people like soulless drones, is it any wonder why most change programs fail?

Wissam Adib
Rising to the challenge

When there's a fire, real or figurative, people step up to put it out. Immediately silos break down, teams work together, great ideas are generated and executed, and people think about what needs to be done rather than who's going to get the credit. 

Companies and governments are starting to study the conditions that exist during emergencies, and trying to replicate them in non-emergency situations to spur performance, with some success.

"there are no two words in the English language more harmful than 'good job.'"Terrance

Wissam Adib
Journey to the new world

Imagine what it must have been like to be one of the men on Christopher Columbus' journey to discover the New World. You're worried the world is flat and you will fall off the edge, you don't really know where you are (it was impossible to measure longitude back then), and for 70 days every day looked exactly like the one before. 

When your team is in the middle of a journey of change, it can be difficult to see the progress being made and easy to feel that everyday is more or less the same as what was there before. 

If you've ever undertaken a personal change effort, whether it's losing weight or learning to play a musical instrument, you'll know that day-to-day nothing looks different. But then someone you haven't seen in a while gives you a positive remark and you realize how far you've come.

Part of your role as a change leader then is to hold up a mirror, observing the progress being made and reflecting it back to the team so they can see it as well. 

Knowing that others can see the work being accomplished is a powerful motivator. 

Wissam Adib
Challenges motivate

When kids aren't engaged in class, one of the reasons can be that they find the material too easy. Teachers fix this by ramping up the challenge.

The limited resources of a startup and the constant fear of going out of business drive employees to innovate and work around the clock. Steve Jobs used this effect when designing the culture at Apple, famously describing it as the "world's biggest startup."

When faced with a challenge they believe in, people will step up. So in your next strategy meeting, make sure to share with your team the challenges that keep you up at night.

Wissam Adib
Can you see the water?

In his 2005 commencement speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace told this story: There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, "Morning, boys, how's the water?" And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, "What the hell is water?"

Your "water" is your company's culture. If you can't see it anymore, it might be time to take a swim in a different ocean.

After all, you can't change what you don't see. 

Wissam Adib
Talents are neutral

The team member who works tirelessly, is over-committed and has super hero work ethic is probably also judgmental, highly self-critical and not at peace with herself. 

The manager who's bold and courageous and is great at launching new projects, most likely doesn't think things through and has a tendency to leave people in his dust.

Talents are patterns of thought. Patterns in and of themselves are neutral. They get judged good or bad based on the situation in which they are presented.

Rather than thinking of your team members in terms of their effectiveness, figure out their patterns. Then choose the best pattern for the challenge you're facing now. 

Wissam Adib