Helping Successful People ChangeWe all have our weak points, but for people who are highly successful, arriving at the self-awareness prerequisite to making an effort to improve can be particularly difficult. In the process of researching the question of how to overcome resistance to changing problem behaviors, I came upon a good article by executive coach Marshall Goldsmith that addresses the situation of the highly successful.1
The first half of the article reviews why beliefs that are characeristic of successful people namely, "I choose to succeed," "I can succeed," "I will succeed," and "I have succeeded" tend to undercut awareness of subpar behaviors. As Goldsmith puts it, "Successful people often confuse correlation with causality. They often do not realize that they are successful 'because of' some behaviors and 'in spite of' others."
The second half of the article presents Goldsmith's recommendations for helping a successful person embrace and address needed behavioral changes. Providing apt examples, Goldsmith outlines a five-step process:
- Have the person receive input on important, self-selected behaviors, as perceived by self-selected raters. Goldsmith reports that, in his experience, having the person select both the behaviors to assess and the people doing the assessing results in markedly greater buy-in when the time comes to buckle down and begin acting differently. "In most cases, understanding what behaviors are desired will not be their major challenge. Their major challenge will be demonstrating these behaviors." As for raters, if the person "respect[s] the source of information, they will be much more likely to learn and change."
- Have the person select one or two important areas for behavioral improvement. The key is to home in on behaviors that make a real difference.
- Have the person involve respected colleagues in the behavioral change process. "Ask each colleague to help ... by providing constructive, future-oriented suggestions that may help the leader achieve positive, measurable change."
- Teach the person's colleagues to be helpful coaches, not cynics, critics or judges. The main points to get across are that (1) the focus needs to be on the future (not rehashing past mistakes), and (2) dialogue should be supportive, including at times when the person experiences a setback in the effort to change.
- Develop a follow-up process that provides an opportunity for ongoing dialogue. Colleagues should continue to provide constructive suggestions and recognition of improvement. At the same time, the follow-up will be reinforcing the person's public commitment to change.
1 Goldsmith's article is a modified version of a chapter in Leading for Innovation and Organizing for Results, ed. by Frances Hesselbein, Marshall Goldsmith, and Iain Somerville (Jossey-Bass, 2001).