7: Strategizing Your Development Plan
In many instances, failure occurs when a person knows what must be done, but does not do it. They fall back on established habits, or express doubt about whether the new course of action will succeed. They can be very inventive in imagining reasons not to make a change.
The author finds one question to be very useful: "What is stopping you?" It's far more useful than asking "when will you begin" because it avoids procrastination. If you need a reason to start, you won't - so assume that it will be done and consider obstacles.
Sometimes, people can name obstacles - but this is not generally a stopping point, because the discussion can then continue to focus on the ways in which obstacles can be overcome or circumvented.
But if you followed through her processes, you should already be aware of the benefits of making a change and recognize that those benefits are well worth the effort. You should also recognize that the longer you wait to start, the longer you will have to live with a problem.
And so, the last chapter of this book is focused on taking the critical step of turning plans into action.
People tend to be self-centered, and whenever they are in a situation that involves conflict with another person, their desired approach is to change the other person's behavior while continuing in their own. So the first step in effecting a change is recognizing that you must change yourself first.
She gives the example of individuals who claim that they are unable to invest time in the things that are important because they have so many meetings. The reason their calendar is booked is not because others have scheduled meetings for them, but because they have said "yes" to these requests. Rather than prioritizing their workload and making sure they attend to the most important tasks, they have permitted others to dictate their schedule.
In such a situation, it would be unreasonable to expect everyone else to change their behavior and stop requesting meetings. Instead, the person must consider which of those meetings they ought to accept, either declining or requesting a reschedule when they are not pertinent to the most important goals of the day.
She speaks briefly to the topic of arrogance: few people think they are perfect, but many are reluctant to admit that they are imperfect. They believe that it would be calling attention to weaknesses that others have not noticed. But in truth, they have noticed - they may not be saying anything, but they are not oblivious.
There is also the matter of comfortable routines - which because comfortable because they had been successful in the past. If you are having problems, it is a sign that these routines are not successful now, and you should feel uncomfortable perpetuating them. This discomfort needs to be greater than the awkwardness of trying something new.
It's ultimately important to remember that the current way of thinking and acting is the cause of the problems you are experiencing. And until you face the difficulty of making a change, your problems will not be solved.
There are a few general statements that suggest the value of having a support network:
No one makes it on their own steam, particularly in business. While the "genius" is portrayed as a lone figure, that is a false stereotype. The geniuses that go it alone don't make it anywhere, because it takes a network of supporters to get their ideas off of the drawing board and into production.
Coaches and mentors can be helpful, but you will largely rely upon the support of peers and the cooperation of people in other departments. This network needs to be in place at all times. If you only ask for support and help when you really need it, it is generally too late for it to do you any good.
Your network also functions as a support group. The author speaks of a vice president who asked her hairdresser if she knew any other executives that might be interested in working on their leadership skills, which resulted in a group of people from different firms and industries who were unable to provide functional assistance, but moral support.
(EN: Another benefit in having an independent, external group is that insiders will often seek to manipulate you to serve their interests. You are not useful to outsiders, and changing your behavior will not benefit them, so their perspective is more objective and their advice is more genuine.)
She also stresses the need for mutual benefit in these connections: seek people who are as interested in listening to your stories rather than just telling their own - and be willing to do the same for them. You will learn things from them that you may find useful later and they may call you attention to problems or opportunities you failed to recognize in your own situation.
Celebrate Your Evidence
Some problems are large and take a long time to solve, and this can be discouraging. So it's important to find "quick wins" - smaller issues that can be dealt with more easily. A quick win may not accomplish much, but it helps build confidence to witness your own ability to succeed.
For the larger problems, you should seek milestones and progress indicators. The major change you wish to achieve may take months, but chances are you can see evidence of progress sooner. It's difficult to feel successful if you don't get positive feedback - but it's difficult to get positive feedback if you don't seek it out.
Seeing progress on a constant basis, even a little bit, maintains your morale and your focus on the goal.
Tactics and Strategy
Sometimes working with a person is a tactical maneuver: there is something specific to achieve in a given situation, and you guide them toward it. This is necessary, but can sometimes be inconsequential or even counterproductive to achieving your long-term strategic goals. You end up undermining yourself in this manner.
And so, you must have strategic goals in mind for any change you wish to make - in another person or in yourself. And when any situation arises and you think of a tactical maneuver, consider it in light of your strategic goals: does the goal I am seeking to accomplish right now support or conflict with the long-term goals.
If the answer is "support" then move boldly forward. If the answer is "conflict" than think carefully before taking action and consider whether it can be adjusted to avoid doing harm. If the answer is "neither" than think on it a while longer to determine if there is potential harm that you do not presently perceive.
Finally, the techniques suggested in this book can be practiced by the reader as an individual, but are far more powerful when practiced by an entire organization. If the "discomfort zone" approach is a cultural method, the benefits are exponential.
(EN: This is common advice, and it's a good idea - but it should never be a first step. Try it out for yourself to see if it has merit before attempting to spread it to others. If those who try an approach you have suggested come back to you with frustration, you need experience rather than just theory to guide them.)
Formal leadership development courses are useful. It may be possible to teach a course in "discomfort zone" conversations, or it could be a unit in another course, or it may be a technique that is used in a list of others in a lesson about coaching in general.
In particular, consider how the discomfort zone philosophy is different to the current corporate culture. As in all things, it may be a process of slow infiltration rather than immediate adoption. If it is incompatible, the approach to getting the ideas adopted may be slower and more insidious unless there is a crisis that makes it clear that an abrupt change is needed.
She suggests a number of resources commonly used to initiate and support cultural changes: a bank of resources on the intranet, email newsletters, periodic workshops, one-on-one coaching, monthly discussion groups, and the like.
It's going to be slow going, but as more people adopt the change, there will be greater support. The hardest part is getting the ideas introduced to enough people that they will be supportive. It also helps overcome opposition. Shooting down "one person's crazy idea" is simple - but when many people are supporting the same ideas, they cannot so lightly be brushed aside.
Getting the support of senior leadership is always helpful - but like anyone else, a senior leader is little impressed by theory. When they begin to take notice of your results, they will then be open and interested in hearing about the methods behind them.
Finally, be prepared for this to take a long time. If changing the behavior of one individual is a long-term effort, changing the behavior of dozens or hundreds is even longer. It's going to take a lot of persistence and courage and the effects will not be immediate.