A very wise leader once said, “It’s easier to change people than to change people.” So clever. And so true.
Nothing is more critical to your successful organization than developing your leaders. Leaders have an enormous impact because they have access to a certain level of decision-rights about hiring and firing, budgets, and make such an impression on the people reporting to them. Leaders who are unaware of themselves and how they are responding to their role at large have an incalculable impact on the people in the organization and being able to develop other leaders.
However, a distinction that is often missed when it comes to developing those key leaders on your team is the difference between developing and fixing. Developing is wonderful and necessary; fixing will cost you money and time that you will not recuperate.
Developing others implies that there is motivation coming from the individual to be developed. It also assumes that there is currently nothing inherently “wrong” with the individual. In other words, they are not a problem to be fixed. We all have areas in which we need to grow and expand our skills and build upon our naturally gifted talents. Thus, we all have areas to be developed and cultivated.
Once we begin to see a person as a problem to be fixed, we really do have a problem. The reality is, though, that the problem lives with how we are seeing the individual and not with the person themselves.
This issue of “fixing” another person typically arises once we become frustrated with a lack of performance with the person. Perhaps they don’t follow through on tasks, or they haven’t been keeping up with expectations regarding overall effectiveness in their role.
Let’s assume that you have directly, and without reservation, given this person direct feedback and made it clear what needs to change and by when. (This is a big assumption because in my experience as a leader and a leadership coach, this is usually the part everyone skips. This is also what causes seeing this person as a problem to begin in the first place. But for the sake of this article, let’s assume that feedback has been given and the developmental approach created by both parties.)
Despite feedback being given and a specific pathway outlined to develop the requisite and preferred skills, the person simply doesn’t change behavior in a reasonably agreed upon timeline. Now, we have a different matter altogether.
Developing ourselves (or the lack thereof) is either an issue with commitment or an issue with knowledge. Remember early on in the article when I said that development implies that there is a key motivation coming from the individual to be developed? The point of development is to provide the necessary knowledge that a person needs to execute at the best level possible to a person who desires being able to execute at the best level possible. When behaviors do not change after all of the development provided has occurred, we leave the world of needing more knowledge and enter a world of a simple lack of commitment to change and do things differently.
This is usually at the point where I watch leaders who desperately want this person to change to use development as a path to “fix” their uncommitted leader. Without the willingness and commitment to change, there is no development plan or process in the world that will force a person to change.
Consider this: Has anyone ever been able to force you to change? Right. No, they haven’t. You’ve changed out of your own desire and commitment.
And this is the moment of truth, when we can abandon all hope and realize that “it is easier to change people than to change people.”