How To Motivate A Leader To Change Who Doesn’t Want To

I have a question for you:

How do you motivate a leader who has no interest in changing?

When someone asks that question, they are usually thinking of an individual in their organization who needs to improve in some way — and “everybody knows it”.

Even if the individual has received feedback and been made aware of the need to change, they are resistant.

So what do you do?

The first answer is: Nothing!

Change is hard enough when someone is motivated and dedicated to improving.

But without that motivation, it’s almost certain to fail.

Just think back to a time when you tried to get someone in your life to behave differently — a spouse/partner, child, friend — who had no interest in changing.

How successful were you? Probably not very.

So the first answer to a client who asks this question is: If the person involved doesn’t care about improving, don’t waste your time or resources on trying to make, persuade, or manipulate them into doing so.

As our friend Marshall Goldsmith says:

“Your time is very limited. The time you waste coaching people who do not care is stolen from people who want to change.”

But is “Nothing” really all you can do?

Our experience suggests there are some questions to consider and some options to try before you give up:

  • Has the leader been given direct, candid feedback about the behavior that needs changing?

Too often, we learn that “everybody knows” about it except the person themselves. Make sure that feedback has been or is given.

A 360-degree feedback process is the best way to make sure that the information is conveyed to the individual without being taken as an attack.

  • Can you find a way to take the spotlight off of the individual?

For example, try using a team or group coaching process. The resistant leader participates, but the burden is not on them alone.

  • Can you appeal to the leader’s business mindset?

Reframing the issue for the leader as a business problem rather than a personal issue can be effective.

For example, analogize the situation to a customer service model. Ask the leader, “If your customers were unhappy with something about your product or service, wouldn’t you change it? Then why not apply the same perspective to the needs of your “internal customers”, i.e. your stakeholders?”

Going Forward

We stand by what we said early in this piece: You can’t make someone change their behavior who doesn’t want to do so.

However, if you have a leader who is resistant to change, you can try exploring the questions above before you give up. You might find the person’s resistance is not as unyielding as it may seem!

Are You Resistant To Change?

 What if YOU are the leader who is resistant to change?

Do you ever wonder whether your colleagues think you need to change in some way?

Is it possible you are the person that “everybody knows” needs to change — except you?

We’ve devised a quick way to assess your own openness to change.

For the following statements, rate yourself 1 (low) to 5 (high). Be honest. This is for your eyes only.

Then add up your scores to get your results. You’ll also find some suggestions on what to do next once you know your score.

  • I accept change openly and willingly
  • I readily adapt and adjust to new or changing circumstances, information, and ideas
  • I’m willing to change the way I work by adopting new methods, processes, or behaviors
  • I anticipate the need for change
  • I actively promote change initiatives in my group or the organization as a whole
  • I take personal responsibility to see that necessary change is adopted and effectively implemented

Rating your openness to change:

If your total score is:

24-30Good job! You appear to be actively open to change, both personally and for your team or organization.

What to do next:

  • Check your thinking by asking a trusted colleague or friend to “score” you on the same statements. If their perceptions are significantly different than yours, consider taking one or more of the actions described below.
  • Keep this checklist handy, and retest yourself about once a quarter. Some circumstances offer more opportunity for change than others.  Make sure you monitor your response over time.

18-23: You are probably pretty good at managing change, but you can definitely improve.

  What to do next:

  • Choose your battles carefully. Even the most change-oriented people have limits on their ability to adapt. Look for opportunities to change your approach that will have real value to you and to others.
  • Link change to broader business goals. Make sure that you focus your energy on changing the things that will best enable you to achieve critical organizational goals.
  • Maintain momentum. Becoming more open to change is a process, and the more you change, the better you will be at it.

</=17   You are probably more resistant to change than you should be.  Make this a key development priority for yourself.

What to do next:

  • Become more self-aware about why you are not as open to change. Consider whether you are naturally risk-averse or have become comfortable with the status quo. Or both.
  • Share this development goal with some of your key stakeholders whom you trust and respect. Ask them to point out to you when they see you making appropriate change and also when you have missed an opportunity. Be open to this feedback. Don’t reject it as “not necessary” or “not true.”

Going Forward

No matter how open to change you think you are, testing your assumptions using this simple quiz can help you assess yourself more realistically.

Change is critical to every organization and every individual.

Don’t be the person that “everybody knows” (except you) should change in some way.

About The Author:

Sue Matson is a partner and Master Executive Coach at rd&partners who works with leaders and teams who believe that leadership development should be tied to business strategy and measured for results and ROI. Connect with Sue and rd&partners on LinkedIn.

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