“We must be the change we wish to see in this world.” — Mahatma Gandhi, Indian nationalist and spiritual leader who developed the practice of nonviolent disobedience that forced Great Britain to grant independence to India in 1947
I can think of all kinds of ways to change our kids, my associates, my wife Heather, and lots of other people in my life. But that’s not the place to start. The place to start is with changing me. The Nobel Prize winning physicist, Albert Einstein, observed that we can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it. The same principle applies to influencing and leading people around us. I can’t influence others to change what they’re doing with the same behavior that contributed to their current behavior.
The longer I’ve been with others who I’d like to improve or change, the more this applies to me. Something I’ve been doing, or failing to do, has contributed to their current behavior patterns. If I am going to shift their behavior to a new level, I will need to change my behavior. To change them, I need to change me. As the 18th century French writer, Francois Fenelon, put it, “We can often do more for others by correcting our own faults than by trying to correct theirs.”
This key leadership principle is useless if we think that we can control others. It’s especially easy to believe this if I am the boss, parent, owner, teacher, coach, project leader, director, or in some similar position of authority. I will always be stuck at the superficial level of “doing my leadership thing” as long as I try controlling others through position power. I am ready to move to the deeper levels of leadership being (and greater effectiveness) when I give up trying to control. I can then shift my focus to influencing and guiding others by what I do, as well as by what I say.
To create something we must be something. For example, becoming a parent is easy; being one is tough. We can’t teach our kids self-discipline unless we are self-disciplined. We can’t help build strong organizational teams unless we’re a strong team player. We can’t help develop a close community if we’re not a good neighbor. We can’t enjoy a happy marriage if we’re not a loving partner. We won’t have a supportive network of friends or colleagues until we’re a supportive friend or collaborative colleague.
In The Heart Aroused: Poetry and Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, David Whyte writes, “All things change when we do.” Writer Gautama Chopra elaborates, “By changing our beliefs, our perceptions, we cause our experience to change, and in this way we change the world around us. There is no true boundary or limit to the self; there is no separation from the world that encircles us. When we master the forces within, we influence the forces without.”
In The CLEMMER Group’s leadership development work we use a simple exercise to help participants connect the changes they’d like to see, to the changes they need to make in their own behavior. Draw a line down the middle of a page. Title the left column “Changes I’d Like Them to Make.” List the four or five biggest changes you’d like to see in others.
OK, that’s the easy part. Now title the right column “Ways I Can Exemplify These Changes.” Brainstorm ways you can influence “them” with your personal behavior. This is the hard part. It means I must face up to what I have or haven’t been doing to influence their behavior.
It’s much easier to be a victim — to blame all their behavior on them and refuse to accept any responsibility at all. But how honest and true is that — really? I may need more feedback from them to clearly see my role in their behavior. I likely need to reflect further and deeper on our relationship. Is my Influence Index weak? The big (and often painful) leadership question is; what do I need to change about me to help change them? Instead of just wishing for a change of circumstance, I may need a change of character.
Follow Me: Leading By Example
“We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, American writer and poet
Most of us put leading by example high on the list of key leadership characteristics. We use phrases like “walking the talk” or “connecting the video with the audio” to express this core leadership concept. That’s authenticity.
We recognize real leadership when we see it in others. What we often don’t recognize is our own behavior reflected back to us. For example, children act like their parents despite all attempts to get them to love learning. Teams act like their leaders, despite attempts to train them otherwise. Customers yawn about the indifference of our service despite all the catchy slogans and advertising. Family members feel unappreciated despite (unexpressed) feelings about how much they mean to us. Conflict creates tension and misunderstanding despite realizations that issues should be confronted more effectively.
Good intentions are useless if they stop there. Unless we act on them, they’re nothing more than warm, fuzzy thoughts in our own heads. When it comes to leadership, the messenger must be the message. That well-known biblical story of the Good Samaritan would have no meaning if all he did was look with sympathy at the badly wounded traveler lying by the road. He acted on his compassion and made a difference. One of the biggest differences between most people and authentic leaders is action. Real leaders make it happen.