Want to Change? Start Here!

Want to Change? Start Here!

All of us, at one point or another, have sought to make changes or improvements or modifications in our lives.  Whether we’re talking about newfound effectiveness as a leader, or a healthier lifestyle, or a stronger relationship with a spouse, partner, child or friend… we have all come to points where we have determined that the status quo is no longer OK, and have decided to purposefully bring about some meaningful changes in our professional or personal lives.

In such situations, where should we begin?  That is, how should we orient ourselves to optimize our ability to succeed in the desired shift?  For years, I have introduced all my programs and begun all my coaching relationships in the same way – with a focus on self-awareness.  I have found that no matter what we may be undertaking, this is a solid place from which to begin.

The graphic below – what I call the Big Eye – is meant to represent self-awareness.  It’s meant to represent you looking at you, for this is where each of us must start.


My 6 “foundations for success” work only when we are self-aware. These are basic claims that, if adopted, can serve as a healthy, supportive context for how we think, how we speak and how we physically act to move ahead most productively.

“Foundations for Success”

  1. You cannot change another human being.

You can only change yourself.  But you can’t change what you don’t see.  Think about it.  You can’t change what you don’t notice. Now, you may notice something and choose not to change – great.  Now, at least you’ve got your eyes open!  But if you don’t notice, you don’t even get to choose.  Becoming a more powerful, more competent observer of ourselves is the key.

  • What are you doing – now – that’s contributing to “how things are around here?”
  • What are you thinking?
  • What are you telling yourself?
  • How do you tend to interpret certain types of events and situations? Are these interpretations serving you?  That is, are they taking you where you say you want to go?
  • What conversations are you having, and how are you having them?
  • What conversations are you avoiding?
  • What kind of mood are you typically walking around in? How might this be impacting the types of relationships you have, the interpretations you produce, and the way you participate in certain conversations?
  • How do you carry yourself physically?
  • What are your nutrition, exercise and sleep habits? How might these be impacting – right now – your mood spaces, internal narratives and external conversations?

What do you notice?  Because without awareness, you don’t even get to choose.

You cannot change another human being. You can only change yourself. But you can’t change what you don’t see. Click To Tweet
  1. We are not hermits.

You do what you do – already – with and through people.  Work, family, civic organizations, professional associations, recreation leagues, church… all of it, with and through people.  You are already “dancing”, metaphorically speaking, with your colleagues, your team, your spouse or partner and family members, friends, colleagues.

Therefore, your success (the quantitative and qualitative results you produce) is not only based on a set of functional or technical competencies. Your success is also based on the nature and quality of your relationships.

Everyone is in the relationship business, to some extent.  A mid-level manager, who had been in his new management job for about six months, remarked at a meeting:  “You know, this job would be so much easier… without these people!”  One of the other managers immediately replied “Without these people, you’ve got no job!  That is your job – accomplishing quantitative and qualitative results, with and through those people!”  Especially for leaders and managers, but increasingly even for individual contributors within a great many organizations, how we “dance” with people matters.  And it matters a lot.

Your success is not only based on a set of functional or technical competencies. Your success is also based on the nature and quality of your relationships. Click To Tweet
  1. If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got.

New results require that we take new actions, obviously.  So, the domain of adult learning, continuous learning, is now important to us.  What seems to support our learning?  What seems to hinder it?  And let’s also be clear:  Many of the most important actions that you need to learn how to take, as a leader or manager, are not primarily dependent on how physically strong your legs may be, or how good your hand-eye coordination is!  Instead, these fundamentally important leadership and management actions have a great deal to do with designing and convening certain conversations.  We also know that learning “about” is not the same as learning “to do” or learning “to be.”  One of my teachers, Amanda Blake, said

Awareness creates choice.  Practice creates capacity.”

I agree wholeheartedly.  We simply must practice.  However, there is a complementary observation that can also support us here:  Practice makes perfect, so be careful what you practice!

  1. We are always at choice.

That is, we human beings always have choices available to us, and we are continually choosing, as we go through the days of our lives.  And let’s notice: many of us are not very powerful observers of the choices we have!  For over 25 years, a big part of my work has been supporting leaders, managers and teams in acquiring new choices, new distinctions, new ways of seeing, new tools in the toolbox, new arrows in the quiver.

I’m a parent of 3 adult children, and I know many of you are parents as well.  Here’s a question for all of us to consider:  As parents, have we not – at some point or another – said this to our kids: “Pay attention to your choices, because your life is going to go the direction it goes, because of the choices that you make.”  And many of us are not very powerful observers of the choices that we have.  Consider this:  Every time in your life that things were screwed up… you were there!  We are each the common denominator in our own situations.  We are the ones who keep showing up, over and over.  It’s you, it’s me – and the choices we’ve made.

  1. How you see things matters, a lot.

And, how you see things is a choice.  Here’s an example:  Is it possible that my wife and I can see something really differently… but that difference has nothing to do with our retinas, nothing to do with the biology of our eyes?  Yes, of course.

We use the expression “didn’t see it the same way” but we’re not talking about biological or retinal differences.  It’s a metaphor.  But something important is going on here, because virtually all of us have experienced situations in which the way someone “saw” a problem or a situation… was itself a big part of the problem!

The ways that we see things can paralyze us, of course, or they can expand our horizons of possibility.  In addition to my primary objective – supporting you in becoming a more powerful, more competent observer of yourself – I also have a secondary objective.  I am also seeking, whenever I can, to support you in becoming a more powerful observer of the way you observe!  That is, to get better at looking at how you look at things.  So, in the end, the way you look at things can itself become a new variable that you get to explore… should you decide you want to produce a new result.  This is the key – to become more at choice about whether the ways we are currently seeing things are serving us or not – given the results we say we want.  Always, always coming back to results… quantitative and qualitative results.  As Albert Einstein famously said:

Not everything that counts, can be counted.  And not everything that can be counted, really counts!”

  1. Change is permanent.

So, get used to it.  How you orient yourself and your organization toward change directly impacts performance, corporate culture and the bottom line.  And when we talk about ongoing, relentless change we simply must enter the territory of ongoing, relentless learning.

Here are two interesting questions to consider:

  • Given the age that you are now, the levels you’ve achieved professionally, socially, personally… do you give yourself permission to be a beginner at anything?

Because you declare beginner hood into being when you think or say three little words: “I don’t know.”  When you declare “I don’t know” you’re not describing a state of affairs nearly as much as you’re creating something.  What you’re creating is a context, an opening for learning.  Not physical, but utterly real.  We know this, because how many of us have ever tried to teach somebody something… and the learner thought they already knew it?  How much learning takes place?  Zero.

  • How do you treat people in your organization who say “I don’t know?” This is a culture question, is it not?  Is it OK in a public space, in a public conversation, for a person to respond to an inquiry with “I don’t know”?  While there are many shades of “it depends” here, I still maintain this claim:  If it’s never OK for a person to say “I don’t know”, if you constantly embarrass people or slap their hands when they say “I don’t know”… and one of your desired results is a sustainable culture of innovation and creativity… you’re going to have a hard time achieving that result.  I’ll finish here with two of my favorite philosophers, Socrates and Will Rogers.  Socrates said something to this effect:

“Smart people, wise people, learn from everything and everyone around them. Average people learn from their own experiences.  And stupid people already have all the answers!”  And Will Rogers said: “Everybody is ignorant, just in different subjects!”

I invite you:  Keep the Big Eye turned on and refer to these Foundations for Success at work, at home and everywhere in between. My experience is that they can serve all of us as we undertake any new initiatives, any new challenges and any new directions in our lives.  And remember… Never Stop Learning!

Smart people, wise people, learn from everything and everyone around them. Average people learn from their own experiences. Click To Tweet
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