People hate to be told to “change.” Think back to a situation where you were told you needed to change. Most likely you felt defensive and resentful, and for good reason!
Most leadership development coaches believe that facilitating change is their core responsibility. But the notion of changing behavior implies that improvement requires looking externally to imitate someone or some ideal. After coaching many top performers, we’ve discovered that change is an illusion.
Our simple counsel – don’t change…grow!
The difference between “change” and “growth” is monumental. Change means to become or make different, substitute or replace. Growth means to advance, progress, and evolve. Which one sounds more natural?
Our extensive experience in leadership coaching reveals a major yet little appreciated truth. Strong leaders don’t follow the pack or imitate others; they originate. They understand their personality strengths, even if they can’t fully verbalize and articulate them. And, they seek out the right platform to exploit those strengths. The secret to career success is not through imitation but by becoming more of who you are when you’re performing at your best. Bottom line, this is what growth is all about.
Take a moment and recall your greatest career achievement. Possibly, good timing and a little luck were present. But once you remove any attenuating variables, what remains? We’re confident that if this achievement felt remarkably natural and intuitive, it’s because you were maturely employing your unique personality strengths. This is what created the positive dynamic that enabled your highest self to emerge.
Let’s look at an example to further establish the difference between the mindset of change versus growth. Assume you’re an operations executive who manages 500 people. You receive a call that the head of Human Resources wants to meet. You’re told that complaints are being filed because you’re viewed as too aggressive; the work environment is considered “hostile.” A performance improvement plan is initiated. You’re told you need to change, to improve communication, stop bullying, and being overly forceful or dramatic. If only to keep your job, you defensively agree to try. You hunker down in your office and in fact, watch your behavior. But you become quieter, more sullen. Your behavior has changed. You aren’t as aggressive as you once were, but now you’re less authentic and more guarded. The position has lost its enjoyment and in your frustration, you resolve to entertain recruiter calls (but unbeknownst to you, your lack of growth and maturity will now follow you to your next position).
Let’s look at the same dynamic from a growth mindset – one that our firm advocates. To begin, don’t buy into the premise that you need to change; and no, you’re not inherently flawed. There are no “weaknesses;” there’s only the immaturity of your strongest personality trait. When you focus on progressively maturing your strongest personality trait, your energy is now directed toward becoming more of who you are when you are peak performing. Growth is actually much easier because it’s more natural than trying to change.
The first growth step is to ask the following two questions: 1. What is the dominant personality trait I have exhibited since I was a young child? 2. How has my behavior associated with this trait both contributed to and diminished my success?
The answers to these two questions requires you to look back to uncover the real reason behind much of your behavior, both positive and negative. This primal, strong energy can derail you because it may not be as mature as it needs to be. But, this is also the energy that will define your value and take you to the top.
In our example, what if you discovered that your overly aggressive extroverted style is really the need to feel superior because as a child you were bullied and felt inferior. Or, what if you understood that early success in your peer group was achieved through dominance; and you never moved beyond this mentality. By objectively identifying the early life experiences that created and reinforced the immature behavior that is holding you back, you can begin to look at yourself more dispassionately. What follows is the realization that while your forceful communication style was validated in the past, this behavior, which is driven by your strongest trait, doesn’t serve you well any longer. You now understand that your strongest trait can be channeled in a more positive and productive way.
To grow means breaking down your ego defense barriers. It can be a difficult journey to admit your own immaturity and understand the root cause. But it’s not change that you seek; it’s recognizing and harnessing the power of maturing your strongest personality trait. The great news is that by becoming more of the person you already are, you never really need to change!
So, the next time you’re told you need to change, simply smile. Not for the advice, but for your ability to know the real difference between change and growth!
If you like this article, we encourage you to read our newly released book on Amazon, “Becoming a Strategic Leader.” In the book, we explore how to exploit your personality strengths to add strategic value. Or visit our website at www.toplinetalent.com for information on our leadership development and consultative selling skills training.
Dr. George Watts