A Profound Lesson About Change

I wanted to share one of the great lessons of all times, when it comes to getting ourselves or others to change the way we act. It is a two part lesson, so here we go.

changeLesson One: It is difficult if not impossible to change behavior without changing beliefs. Please think about this. If a person does not believe she needs to change, what is the likelihood that she will go through the angst of learning new skills or acting in different ways? Or think about an individual who does not believe that he is capable of accomplishing something. Will he spend much time trying to learn and improve? Probably not in both cases.

I have seen this numerous times in organizations. Great change initiatives are implemented, yet desired changes in how people are to now act are not realized. One frequent reason for this is the underlying belief that “this change too shall pass.” When people believe the current change is just another in a long string of ideas that will soon fade away, they will not respond, regardless of the number of political pep talks and new skill training sessions.

As a leader, you must find ways to get people to examine and ultimately rethink the beliefs they have, in order to get them to fully embrace change and do the hard work of changing the way the behave and perform. Years ago, I would not go out of my way to recycle pop cans. They simply went in the trash, unless there was a convenient recycling bin nearby. What difference did a pop can or two make? Then one day I drove past this gigantic mound of earth, and saw that it was the local landfill. Let’s just say my belief changed pretty quickly about the need to recycle. Consequently, I immediately started sorting out cans, glasses, paper and such from regular trash. I am not close to perfect, but I do recycle a lot more. And interestingly enough, it did not require a skill building program.

Lesson Two: Experience is one of the best ways to change beliefs. Hearing about the landfill was one thing. Actually seeing (experiencing) it was quite another. On September 10, 2001, a number of people would not think twice about getting on an airplane. After the tragic experiences of the following day, many were suddenly very hesitant to plain terrified of air travel. And the years of statistics showing how safe flying was, no longer seemed to matter. Experiencing 9/11 dramatically changed many peoples beliefs about airline safety, and perhaps the overall security of the country as well.

So leaders, remember that behavior change starts with a change in beliefs – or mindset, or attitude. It does not start with skill training. People have to want to change, before they will change, and this want comes from acceptance that, in some fashion, they believe there will be a positive payoff for the discomfort they will likely endure from the change. Therefore, you must provide the kind of experiences that will enable people to re-look their beliefs.

My final comment is this. As a leader, please please please be mindful that your behaviors are creating experiences for other people every day, and shaping their beliefs about you and the organization. And never forget that your actions may be providing experiences which reshape and create undesired beliefs. For example, regardless of how much you emphasize the importance of trust and confidentiality, it will be very hard for people to ever believe you are trustworthy, if you frequently talk publicly about other people behind their backs. Make sure the experiences you are providing to shape beliefs are in fact leading to the different mindsets you are trying to create.

All the best.



  1. Jodi Landers says

    Great article that I’m sharing with my team!!
    I can’t help but think of a time when people worked hard to adapt to change because they had good work ethic.

  2. Times are one of those things that change as well. That is what keeps our lives even more challenging – and interesting. Take care.

  3. Patil Hunma says

    Thanks Steve. Well said. Change underlies effective learning and effective leadership. And as you rightly point out, self-leadership is a pre-requisite for leading others!

    • Patil, always good to hear from you. Thank you for the reminder about the importance of self-leadership. The people with whom you work will receive some lasting lessons about that from you . Take care.

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