3 steps to changing other people

In leadership coaching, we are often asked to help leaders influence other people: their superiors, their direct reports, other stakeholders etc. Now we know that we need a coaching goal that is in the influence of the client in order to proceed. Other people’s behavior usually does not fall in that category :-). So what can we do to help leaders think about their leadership challenges? Here are a few tips:

Don’t shy away from asking them about what other people should be doing differently

It sounds counter-intuitive to ask the leader about what they want to see other people do differently, since this is nothing they can influence directly. However, most of the time the leader knows what she does not want in the behavior of others e.g.: “John never delivers on time. I am so fed up with having to remind him every day… “. Asking about: “What would you like John to do differently” can already help create a positive image about what is wanted. Once that is fleshed out, you can go on to ask about times when John did deliver on time.

Ask about differences in the leader’s behavior when the desired behavior showed up

You can use the description of what John was doing to ask about the client’s actions: “So when John delivered on time, what did you do differently” or “What did John notice about you during that time that might have told him that he needs to be on time?”. That way the leader can reflect on his own influence on the situation and is a very natural segue into what the leader might experiment with (that is in her influence).

Collaborate on detailed descriptions of a next experiment

Once the leader has described how he tends to act when his staff displays the kind of behavior that is more conducive to a performing and friendly environment, you can collaborate to design a concrete experiment: “When is the next time that you need John to be on time with his delivery?”. “What might he notice about you that tells him he needs to be on time?” “What might you say, do, communicate in any other way…” It is useful to get really concrete descriptions, almost like a rehearsal of the future.

Actually, we all want other people to change (most of the time) — this technique is also useful for self-coaching. My favorite example is when I discovered that I had an influence on having peaceful mornings. My husband is not a morning person and I wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed. You can imagine what that can lead to… When I was coached by a student in a practice session on that topic, I discovered that things are much better after a cup of coffee for my husband. And even in realizing that I was kicking myself in the behind — I did not want to realize it, but I did. He now gets a cup of coffee first thing, every morning, and most of the time with steamed milk on top. Can I change my husband? No. Can I change the situation so we have a peaceful morning? Yes.

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