DiA Discoveries – Making those personal changes stick

DiA Discoveries – Making those personal changes stick!

So, you’ve identified some changes you want to make to your leadership practice. Perhaps you’ve been through a process of introspection and reflection; maybe you’ve sought and received some constructive feedback; or possibly you’ve participated in a leadership development program (such as Discovery in Action). You’ve done the hard yards working out what you need to work on and you are enthusiastic and committed to making some changes, for example:

  • More regularly engaging with difficult stakeholders
  • Delegating work more often
  • Having the ‘difficult conversation’ earlier
  • Providing positive feedback to staff on a regular basis


However you know it won’t be easy to try some new things that are not in your comfort zone. You know it won’t be easy to break some ingrained habits or behaviours. So…

How do I make sure I make the change?

How can I ensure that I can make the changes stick in the hurley burley of daily work?

How do I follow through on my intentions?

I’ve been confronting this a lot recently in working with clients, as coachees or participants in leadership development activities. So, here are a handful of strategies that you can pursue (if you really are fair dinkum) that will help ‘force’ you to make the change.

1. Be crystal clear in your own mind as to what is driving you to make this change.

Why are you making this change? What is the single compelling driver as to why you are bothering? In your own mind you need to genuinely believe that the benefits outweigh the costs (time, energy, anxiety etc). Amidst the bustle and pressures of daily work life, you’ll need to be able to remind yourself why this is really important – to provide a weight-loss analogy why will you choose the quinoa salad over the cream bun?   What will truly drive you to make the right choice?

So you need to deeply know the key benefit you are seeking. There is, however, a counter-intuitive way to think about ‘benefits’. You would likely think about benefits in positive terms e.g. if I delegate more work my staff will grow and develop and I’ll have more time to focus on strategic work. Sounds reasonable. However, through the research of behavioural economists, people are more likely to be motivated to take action through benefits being loss framed i.e. we are more motivated by the fear of loss than the desire for gain. Therefore you’ll need to understand your desired benefit in terms of the loss you might experience e.g. if I don’t delegate more work to my staff I’m going to be working late nights for the rest of the year and I’ll barely see my family. Whether you like it or not it is more helpful to be really aware of the potential pain you might experience by not making the change.

2. Have a plan and set some targets

Having a general idea of what you want to change, such as engaging with difficult stakeholders, may be overwhelming, ill-defined or intimidating, particularly if it is not a natural inclination. It sounds basic, but it is incredibly important – have a plan with some activity targets! e.g. identify and meet with 3 stakeholders in the next 2 months; pro-actively provide positive feedback to at least 5 staff in the next week. This helps break it down to bite-sized and achievable chunks and enables you to feel a real sense of progress and achievement as you achieve your targets.

3. Publicly commit to the change

There’s a wonderful book Influence Patterns by Robert Cialdini where he discusses how people crave to be seen to act consistently with a stated commitment. So, you may well have implemented the first two strategies, however it might still be too easy to ‘let yourself off the hook’. How many ‘New Years’ resolutions’ are broken by the end of the first week of January?  If you really want to make the change you can create positive pressure on yourself by telling someone else that you are going to do it! Once you have told someone, or better still a number of people, then there’s a fair bet you’ll do all you can to follow through and make it happen. It’s a rule of human behaviour. So, tell a critical friend, a peer, your boss, your staff, a spouse– anyone who’ll hold you to account. You can create your own pressure for action.

To take it a step further you may also ask those people for ongoing feedback with how you are going with the changes you are making – that will even tighten the screws further and really keep you honest.

4. Make goals visible

To yourself and perhaps to others! Pin up pictures, set a daily a reminder to your task list, use a checklist or table (like the Daily Questions template) to check weekly – to remind yourself of your intentions. Experts suggest it helps to ‘attach’ or link new habits or actions to other things that are part of your day if you can – or have a visual reminder to help your intention be top of mind whilst it is still new to your practice.

It is likely that any one of these strategies on their own will be insufficient – they will work most powerfully in combination to help you implement those changes you want to make.

Good luck and go for it!

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