Changing Leadership Behavior

Two-thirds of CEOs don’t receive any outside advice on their leadership skills, and yet almost all would be receptive to suggestions from a coach. These stats are from Stanford University’s Miles Group survey. The survey also found that CEO talent is getting scarce. For global companies, developing global talent is paramount to stay competitive.

As executives become more senior, they are less likely to receive effective performance and strategic feedback as part of a leadership development program. As a result, many top executives become more insular at a time when they must continually be open to new ideas.

Staying open to new ways of thinking can advance their performance and the global developmental needs of their corporation. They may also become increasingly isolated from constructive criticism from team members. Subordinates do not want to offend the boss. They may believe that constructive suggestions are unwelcome and unwise.

Advantages of Changing Leadership Behavior

Culture change begins when senior executives start to model the behavior they want the organization to emulate. If you are interested in changing the culture of your organization, your first step should be to look in the mirror to make sure you are setting the kind of behavioral example you want everyone else to follow.

Take Brian, for example. Brian is a great manager, with problem solving skills and potential to go far in his organization. He’s even been recognized by having his name added to the future leader’s list of his organization. In fact, his name has been on that list for quite some time.

There is no question that Brian has what it takes to be a great leader, but something is missing. Even with his great skills and solid potential, Brian has been passed over for promotions more than once, and there’s a reason for it. According to his manager, “Brian is a great leader, but he needs to be less confrontational and collaborate more.” Brian works well with his own team, but not with others around the organization, and he’s taken on a reputation for being negative.

Even though this behavior is obvious to his coworkers, it isn’t obvious to Brian. He may not even be aware of the fact that his behavior is holding him back from attaining the promotion he so desperately wants — and deserves.

He thinks he’s more than proved his potential. Being passed over for promotions has left him bitter and resentful. Brian isn’t failing as a leader. Even his manager agrees he is a great leader; he just needs to improve in this one department. He also needs to signal to their direct reports that their input matters and that he is setting up the example. He needs to walk the talk.

Resilience and Behavior Change

Change is simple, but it’s not easy. It’s hard. You have to do it. You have to put in the time and effort that it takes to change.

According to Marshall Goldsmith, the top rated executive coach in the world, behavior change requires three things.
  • Humility – to accept that you need help.
  • Courage – to ask for help from others.
  • Discipline – to execute the process and do what you said you were going to do.

Behavior change is the ultimate sign of resilience. Resilience is the ability to adaptation through commitment and persistence. If executives commit to behavior change, and persist despite all obstacles, humility, courage and discipline will follow.

Involving Stakeholders in Behavior Change

Most high performing leaders and managers today have a good intellectual understanding of the various management tools and skills required to lead an organization successfully. Therefore, the major leadership challenges for managers and executives today is not understanding the practice of leadership, rather, it is practicing their understanding of leadership on a daily basis.

For successful organizational leaders to become more effective, leadership change needs to be positive, sustained, recognized and acknowledged by their stakeholders (and others). Accelerating leadership growth and effectiveness is about changing behaviors and creating new processes and habits while interacting with others (stakeholders) on the job.

Executive coaching is the best way to help senior leaders to change behavior and improve their organizational performance. Acquiring new knowledge and putting it into practice as a leader in the workplace can sometimes entail significant behavioral change. Behavioral change is difficult to accomplish through only educational methods such as lectures, generic examples, quizzes, and exams.

When developing soft skills, it’s easy to understand the concept, but long-term change is hard. A long-term change in leadership takes time, follow-up and discipline. Learners need to practice, get feedback, and learn to be accountable. An executive coach can help leaders progress in these areas.

Coaching For Behavior Change

There are three core principles involved in coaching for behavior change. Executive coaches can help leaders improve by using these strategies.

  • Place the attention and focus on the people that are most affected by the behavior that the executive wants to change.
  • Ask for “feedforward” – as opposed to feedback. Marshall Goldsmith coined the term “feedforward,” which simply means “suggestions for the future.”
  • Change behavior and perception simultaneously. Most coaching processes that don’t involve stakeholders expect the people around a leader to just notice the change without any prompting.

Hardly a change of perception happens here. People need to be prompted by the leader so they know what they should be looking for.

Behavioral coaching is only one branch in the coaching field, yet it is the most widely used type of coaching. The majority of coaching engagements require some behavioral change.

Like other business initiatives, behavior change coaching should be aligned to business and strategic goals, managed with a structured process, and measured for results.

Engaging a leader’s stakeholders in the development process enables the leader, the manager, and the organization to assess progress and to ensure the value of the resources — especially time — invested in the coaching process.
You may be thinking, “Can executives really change their behavior?” The answer is yes. At major organizations, even a small positive change in behavior can have a huge impact.

When an executive tries to change leadership behavior and become a role model for personal development, that may be even more important than what the executive is trying to change.