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How To Motivate A Leader To Change Who Doesn't Want to?

Updated: May 28, 2021

Motivating Leaders To Change

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?


But is "Nothing" really all you can do?

Have you noticed how incredibly hard it is to change habitual behaviour, even though you know full well that it's in your best interest to do so?

When it comes to organizational change, failure continues to be more common than success. In a survey of nearly 3,000 executives about the success of their enterprise transformation efforts, Mckinsey discovered the failure rate to be higher than 60%, while Harvard Business Review conducted a study that suggested more than 70% of transformation efforts fail.

The pattern is clear, and diligent leaders often devote countless resources to planning out the perfect change management initiative. To raise the odds of success, however, my experience suggests the place that leaders need to begin their transformation efforts is not their organizations: It's themselves.

As our friend Marshall Goldsmith says:

"To help others, start with yourself".

There are 5 strategies you can use when working with a leader who refuses to change:

1. Understand their objection

As a leadership coach, I've learned a lot about motivation and how to help people change. In my coaching work, it's about uncovering the root causes of their behavioural roadblocks and assisting people in seeing these challenges differently (and stimulating new actions that are different from how they habitually operate.)

Long story short, this is important to understand the leader's objection and removed it. There is always a WHY behind the objection; find it, and address it.

Saying, "my leader won't change" isn't an excuse. You need to go one level deeper to understand what the issue is. WHY doesn't the leader want to change?

Maybe they don't feel safe trying something new; perhaps they are too focused on being liked by everyone; perhaps they are open to change but just don't know-how. Whatever it is, you have to understand the objection to know how to talk about it and address it.

2. Don't Attack People With Information We assume that, if the person only knew what we knew, they'd change. The problem is, often they already know what we know, plus more. In addition to the facts we have, they have personal information about their own successes and failures. They have usually created a personal narrative—what we call a "clever story," that explains why they've failed and explains it in a way that lets them off the hook for trying again.

When you are trying to influence people who need motivation, but not information, don't offer more information. Instead, work to create a safe environment where they can explore motivations they already have. People need to re-examine their narrative, especially any self-defeating or clever stories they are telling themselves to justify the status quo.

Below are a few examples: "What is it that makes you even consider changing?" "If things worked out exactly the way you want, what would be different? "What are the pluses and minuses of changing or not changing?" "If this change were easy, would you want to make it? What makes it hard?"

3. Honour the past: One thing to remember is we must respect and acknowledge where leaders have come from and what they have accomplished.

Instead, you need to come at it from, "I acknowledge and respect the successes you have had in your leadership career; let's build on those together so that you can be just as successful in the new world of work." 4. Propose solutions It's easy to point out that change needs to happen; anyone can do that. But not everyone can help propose solutions for how to make change happen.

Don't complain and say, "our corporate culture is terrible." Instead, say, "I don't think our culture does a good job of putting people first, how about we try putting in some 'people metrics like diversity and inclusion so that we can look at how well our people are doing as well as how well our company is doing financially.'" 5. Speak their language Why should a leader change? Will it help with team productivity? Will it boost morale or satisfaction? Will it allow the leader to attract and retain top talent? Will it drive innovation? Understand what the leader cares about and position the change in that context. You have to position change in the language the leader will understand and appreciate. I’ve seen even the most resistant people finally experience transformation because the pain and cost of how they were previously operating in the world had become too great and because the motivational structures and personal accountability were finally in place to facilitate growth.

A leader’s ability to affect change across the organization depends on their ability to affect change within themselves. Accepting this will fundamentally shift how one leads.

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