Like most people, I struggled quite a bit earlier in my career with the notion of trying to “get people to do something different.” I couldn’t always understand why someone wouldn’t storm city hall after reading one of my newspaper articles, show up at a class I was teaching, or join a church where I was serving. The thought that others did not see the world the same way I did felt preposterous.
As I matured and learned through failures as well as successes, I began to incorporate the simple but often-overlooked skill of actively listening to people’s hopes, needs, concerns and fears. And I finally realized I could never “get” anyone to change their behavior. I could only set the table for change to take place. I was learning to lead instead of just apply pressure.
I’m continuing a 12-part series that began with extolling the value of a strategic, integrative “life plan” that synergizes the buckets of Health, Family and Vocation. Last time I wrote about servant managers who see people’s strengths before they notice their weaknesses. Today, I want to reflect on the essence of leadership and its close companion, change.
Leadership flows from the center of this strategic integration, and is synonymous with being a catalyst for—and a facilitator of—change Only the person who is fully intentional about each key aspect of personal and professional life is ultimately able to consistently thrive in the winds of change. This is because change seldom catches such a leader off guard; he or she expects change in general, anticipates specific changes, and welcomes it as an opportunity for growth and greater success because they hold on loosely to the distraction of personal gain.
Furthermore, change is not viewed as an “event” by the most effective leaders. Rather, change is an organic reality, a symbol of what it means for a person, organization or strategy to be alive. To say “a change has happened” would be redundant; change is always happening, just as breathing is constantly taking place for anything alive. Change does not “happen” to people from a great leader’s perspective, for such a perception could imply a sense of victimhood or entitlement, which are both anathema to servant leadership.
The recent book Switch discusses how effective leaders help people embrace behavioral change by appealing to both the “rider” and the “elephant.” The rider is the rational side of our brains, while the elephant is the emotional juggernaut that controls so much of our behavior. The best leaders recognize (often through active listening) that the elephant is always moving, and the rider is always trying to steer (and keep from getting thrown off).
Jesus certainly understood this in his leadership, and elicited behavioral change through a combination of teaching (appealing to the rider) and healing (appealing to the elephant). His teaching alone was certainly more than powerful enough to convince people, but because so many were hard-hearted or stubborn he chose to offer the additional step of miracles. He showed as well as told. Jesus knew this was necessary, because he understood the hearts of all people and “set the table” accordingly.
Trying to “get someone to change?” Don’t ignore the elephants. They offer a heavy wallop!
I’d like to spend the rest of this series talking about some key areas embraced by great change leaders. One of these includes discipline, and I’ll write about this next time.