Wissam Adib
Coaching for Change

Blog

On Change

Instant transformation

You might think that each person has a single personality, one image of who they project to others. The reality is that we all have many roles, and each role requires us to play a different persona.  

A CEO can be decisive and assertive, but as a mother she is protective, and as a friend spontaneous and fun-loving.

The same is true in your team. Telling someone they're the new CFO doesn't tell them enough to allow them to do their job well. "CFO" communicates job title, but it doesn't say anything about the role.

Do you want them to act as venture capitalists, supporting risky but potentially lucrative internal projects? Or does the current strategy call for tighter control on spending? Maybe you suspect fraud, and need your CFO to play the role of detective. Each of these roles requires the CFO to project a different personality.

Next time someone on your team isn't doing what you expect, have a conversation with them on the role you want them to play. And watch them transform in front of your eyes.

 

Wissam Adib
A divided mind

You've announced your change plan, and the lines have been drawn. On one side, your biggest supporters, your loyal fans and believers in "the vision". On the other side, the resistors, those who oppose the change and support the status quo.

Before you rush to label people and deal with them accordingly, take a peak under the facade. Even the most die hard supporters have their doubts and fears, and the most vocal opponents can see reasons why change might be good.

To the supporters, if you speak to them only of great things, their worries will gradually grow, worries that you are overlooking important problems and risks. And if you deny and talk over the concerns of those resisting change, they will fight harder to make their voices heard and balance the debate.

The paradox of change is that we all carry both sides of the argument in our mind at all times, even if we only express one. And as you weave your story of a brighter future, talk to both sides of our mind, and help us bring the two together.

Your reward: our complete and unwavering support.

Wissam Adib
One big happy family

Leaders are idealized. They're put on a pedestal and looked up to. They are better, smarter, funnier and more charismatic. They can do no wrong.

It's a bug in the mind's code. That mental space that parents created is filled by someone else in a position of authority, and all the associated feelings go with it. It's like moving into a furnished, previously lived in house. The scratches and knicks in the furniture and walls hint at years of memories, hiding just below the surface.

This positive transference has a strong link with employee productivity. When I idealize you, I want to impress you to gain your favor. In return, I expect you will protect me and care for me.

When things are uncertain such as during times of change, when I feel insecure, I need that sense of caring and protection even more. In fact, I need it before I'm ready to hear the company's new transformation plan.

Otherwise, I just might throw a tantrum.

 

Wissam Adib
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