The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Desiring or controlling

A question I’m regularly confronted with in my coaching is the desire of a leader to see others behave as they expected them to behave. It is a question that mainly appears when the leader experiences what they will then describe as a difficult situation. It happens for example when they are made responsible for other people’s behavior or when they experience another person’s behavior as unsuitable. The objective the leader then brings up is his desire to change that person’s behavior.

A quick way to step into such a coaching situation is by inquiring about the things that are within someone’s control. It leads to the easy conclusion that one can’t control someone else’s behavior. Usually, this is an insight that makes leaders helpless.

It thus makes sense to dig into the situation itself to become curious about the things that are within a leader’s control. A starting point is assumptions as well as expectations. And even more so, the way they act together. The expectation a leader often has is that within an organization people will have a similar understanding of values. They’ll also assume that behaviors that result from these values will be coherent with the leader’s ideas of them. In a way, it aligns with the assumption that conformity can be expected and needs to be brought about.

Without questioning such an assumption and expectation, the leader will always find himself helpless when it doesn’t happen. They know that they can’t control other people’s behavior. But they also find themselves confronted with the dilemma that they feel the need to make it happen. Thus they search for a point of leverage. It is why they then find themselves reverting to ideas of discipline and rule enforcement to deal with something that has already happened.

By letting go of the assumption that conformity needs to be achieved and of the expectation that people share the same values and ideas about behaviors, things change.

What changes is that people make themselves aware of what it is they want to see and experience as behaviors. Once such awareness is present, a leader will find it much easier to react to a situation by explaining the behavior he is looking for. But now, it isn’t a situation of punishment, it is a situation in which expectations can be discussed and conformity asked for whenever necessary.

It’s a clarity that also invites proactive behavior to shape the environment one is in. That is, also to name and describe behavior that is expected and for which conformity is a must.





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