Marshall Goldsmith Why Perception is the Catalyst for Change (1)

Why Perception is the Catalyst for Change

28 Jun 2019

Helping leaders change their behavior for the better can be challenging. What is even more difficult is changing others’ perceptions of a leader’s behavior. We found out why this is the case and how you, as an executive coach, can help to turn the tide and impact both positive change and perception.

Reputations, positive and negative, form in an incremental, unhurried manner. Leaders start the process once they behave in a certain way. As a result of that behavior, the people around them are primed to notice a repeat performance. Once people see a pattern of resemblance among the leader’s actions, they start to form their perception.

So then why is it so difficult to change those perceptions once they have been formed? This is because people, ourselves included, tend to see what they expect to see, not necessarily what is there. They tend to ignore any information that contradicts their currently held beliefs. It’s simply how our brains work – to piece together and understand patterns that we experience and toss out details that don’t seem to fit. Fortunately, reforming the perceptions of a leader’s behavior is possible and achievable, though it will take more than one corrective gesture.

How to Guarantee Lasting Change

The change process starts with a sequence of similar, continuous actions. In other words, leaders have to be consistent with their new behavior. This is doable but does require some discipline and personal insight, which you, as their coach, can help build. This part seems pretty typical in a coaching process: pick behaviors that the leader is committed to improve and work together towards change.

But to guarantee that change sticks requires consistent follow up with the people around the leader (who we call stakeholders). When a leader involves their stakeholders regularly to check in with how they’re changing, the stakeholders are positioned to repeatedly acknowledge the difference. As a result, their perception adjusts in the intended way. This leads us to the second question: why is this simple addition to the process so effective?

Why Follow-up Matters

Without the participation of the leader’s stakeholders, the leader has changed behind closed doors. Once the leader steps into transparency with those around them, they are held to a level of accountability that truly motivates and accelerates change because, in essence, others are responsible for their progress. It is not enough for the leader to unilaterally declare that they are more effective at, for example, empowering people. It is the stakeholders who will declare that change, thus making it more fact rather than self-declaration.

Further, as the leader takes these steps of courage, humility, and discipline, the team perception of the leader not only shifts away from the negative behaviors and towards positive behaviors, but it begins to form a reputation about that leader that has a trickle-down effect in terms of culture and organizational health. This is how we’ve seen leaders completely turn around – it’s by involving followup with the stakeholders around them.

You may have included some form of follow-up in your coaching process. Are you following up enough, and with the key members who count, to shift perception?

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Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching is the world's largest executive coach network. Our Executive Team is at the forefront of measurably growing leadership effectiveness around the world.

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