Changing People's Behavior

  • Published
  • By Stacy Loague
  • 97th Maintenance Operations Division Chief
"All leadership comes down to is changing people's behavior."

When I read that statement, I thought it sounded pretty dumb. All these years I've been taught "leaders are born; not made" or how leadership is a "set of developed skills." When I Googled the word leadership, I got 13 million hits. No wonder the concepts of leadership are so varied and so much is written about it. There are so many different thoughts about leadership; it's difficult to know what to follow. That explains the thousands upon thousands of leadership seminars offered every year, the reason leadership is taught at every level of Professional Military Education (PME), and in colleges across the country, volumes of Leadership books are written by just about everyone. So, how can leadership change someone's behavior?

Could leadership just be all about changing someone's behavior? If so, how do you change someone's behavior? It's a known fact; people are resistant to change. The very first thing you hear when announcing a change, is, "What, another change?" or "I can't believe the people in charge can't make up their minds!" and even "We just now figured out how to make this work!" Since life is an invariable merry-go-round of stops, staying on the merry-go-round is a futile attempt at never accepting change. Regardless of your resistance to change, it will take place. So, how do leaders get people to embrace change, rather than reject the idea of change?

Getting people to accept change is all about changing their attitude. If you want someone to embrace the change, you must give them a reason to embrace it. People initially tend to follow people and not simply "ideas." Getting a person to follow an idea is tough. First you must sell it, then implement the idea, and lastly validate the idea's success. Different concepts of leadership can assist anyone in successfully implementing a change. Although your position as a manager, supervisor, leader, etc. gives you the authority to accomplish certain tasks and objectives in the organization, this assigned leadership power does not make you a leader; it simply puts you in charge. People want a reason to follow someone. Give them that reason and they will follow. It's not just about being the boss. To the contrary; it's about having the person want to achieve high goals, rather than simply just bossing people around. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it." Could changing someone's attitude become the first step to implementing change?

Changing attitudes is hard. Every person comes from a different environment. Even a set of twins, separated at birth has different values. Teaching could be the successful path to implementing change without resistance. Even if you're born with leadership traits, you may not be able to use those traits to adequately communicate the change. Learning skills is a path to that communication. The truth of the matter is education helps people communicate. John F. Kennedy communicated, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other." For a long period, inherited traits were sidelined as learned and situational factors were considered to be far more realistic as reasons for people acquiring leadership positions.

All leadership comes down to is changing people's behavior. Change the attitude and you will change the behavior. As explained, using different concepts of leadership to implement your change will make a big difference in your success or failure. Sell your idea, implement your idea, and validate your idea. Use education to supplement your leadership tool bag when implementing change. There will be change and you can stay on the merry-go-round or get off the merry-go-round; all it takes is a change in your attitude.