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For Leadership, Learning & Talent Executives

Part 4: Reinvention – How to Ensure Your Programs Change Leadership Behavior

So over the past few weeks, I’ve shared concrete steps that any program or provider can take to ensure lasting changes in leadership behavior and a measurable impact on the business. And after all, isn’t that what leadership programs are for? And today we’ll finally discuss the step that most programs prematurely jump to, and that is helping leaders build new capabilities and change their behavior. And this premature jump is a big problem because it shortcuts three preconditions that are absolutely critical for behavior change.

Precondition number one is that your leaders first and foremost, have to prioritize their own development. And a great way to do that is to have leaders bring to your programs, real-world problems that they, their managers, and the business cares about, but that are just beyond the reach of their current leadership capabilities to solve. Doing so also has another benefit because it reframes your programs from an optional learning exercise into a vital business tool.

Precondition number two is that your leaders have to understand how they actually behave, not how they think they behave in real-life. And if we’re not able to give leaders a clinically clear and accurate picture of how they actually behave in real-life, it’s going to be impossible for them and for us to figure out what most needs to change. But there’s just one small problem, the conventional methods that are used to create these insights for leaders, personality assessments, 360s, direct observation, self-report, just to name a few. Either don’t tell you much about how leaders actually behave under real-life pressure, or they’re very impractical to implement. And this is where I think the personal case study method first developed by Harvard’s Chris Argyris as a research tool, and that we converted into a developmental tool for leaders can be extremely helpful.

And the third precondition for behavior change is realization. Your leaders have to realize where their gaps and opportunities are along with the costs of those gaps and the upsides of those opportunities. And as leadership development professionals, we’ve got to take personal responsibility for creating these realizations early during our programs, because the research demonstrates that most leaders are not sufficiently self-aware to benefit from being developed. But once you have these three conditions in place, you’re finally ready to dive into the next step of helping leaders change their behavior, which we call reinvention.

Reinvention is a systematic way of helping leaders unlearn old patterns and learn new ways of thinking and behaving that are much more effective in the real-world, consistent with their nobler aspirations, and aligned with the business’ expectations. And the step is absolutely critical because if I were to synthesize 50-plus years of research from the fields of psychology, adult development, and transformative learning, it all boils down to the following maximum, old habits die hard. And why is that? Because your leadership programs are probably asking your leaders to overcome and disrupt subconscious programming that’s been with most of them for decades.

For example, if you’ve got leaders who are either controlling or conflict and avoid it, or my favorite, a passive-aggressive combination of the two. Those kind of things, aren’t just going to go away because your leaders realize it. Your leaders have to be given workable alternatives to their normal behavior that one, they’ll accept, two, that will actually produce better results than their normal behavior, and three, that they’ll actually be able to implement under real-life pressure in the real-world. So now I’m going to share with you three proven strategies that will help your leaders do exactly that, reinvent how they think and behave.

The first strategy that I personally like to start with are realistic simulations that aren’t as complex as your leaders’ real-world challenges, and then to provide feedback, coaching, and guidance during these simulations so that your leaders have a direct personal experience of what effective leadership feels like. And doing all this ensures that your leaders will experience the psychological success that they need to believe that these new ways of thinking and behaving are actually doable.

And then after we have that foundation in place, I like to quickly ramp up the complexity with real plays. And this is where you would actually recreate the situations your leaders are going to face after the program, in the training environment. And it’s during these real plays that you’re going to want to interject a particular form of coaching. You just don’t want to sit back, observe people during these things, take a few notes, give people feedback, and everybody claps, and they sit down. What you want to do instead is the moment leaders revert back to old behaviors, you want to stop the real play and point it out to disrupt entrenched patterns. But then we have to provide quick guidance on what to do instead, and then restart the real plays until they produce more effective behavior. And then you’ll want to rinse and repeat all of this, the real plays and the catch and divert coaching on multiple scenarios, their own and other people’s during the program because repeated practice is what it takes to build real competence and confidence.

All of this is really important during the reinvention stage, the realistic simulations, the catch and divert coaching, the real plays, rinse and repeating all of this against multiple scenarios, because it’ll give you direct evidence that your leaders are actually capable of applying new behaviors back at work because these new-found behaviors have been pressure-tested against the rigors of real-life during your programs, and this way you’ll never ever have to worry again about learning transfer. Okay. That’s it for today on reinvention. I hope you found it valuable. And I’ll be back with the final step next week.

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