How to Create Long-Lasting Business & Leadership Behavioural Changes; Lessons from the Lenten Season
Every Spring, friends, colleagues, and clients share what they are giving up for Lent. While Lent is a special time of reflection, faith, prayer, and fasting for Christians all over the world, some non-Christians also join in the Lenten practice of giving up something. That “something” being something that is personally challenging to give up. So giving up doing your least favourite chore does not count. Popular items to abstain from include chocolate, alcohol, social media, and meat. The more introspective may seek to stop nonconstructive behaviours like gossiping, swearing, and indulging in self-doubt. Whatever one gives up, they abstain from it for 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
In the grand scheme of things, 40 days really isn’t that long. But my fellow carb-lovers who have tried giving up bread or pasta for even 1 week will know that it isn't as easy as it sounds. Because change is hard. Especially change related to things we love, find comfort in or do out of habit.
Three Types of Lent Observers
In observing people over the course of previous Lenten seasons, I often see three types of people emerge:
The Non-Reflective Quitters. People in this group are the least committed to the task. They often pick something to give up at the very last minute, without much thought. Their chilled-out, noncommittal attitude usually helps them breeze through Day 1. They pat themselves on the back and keep going through life, and the challenge, without any reflection. However, because they underestimate the size of the task, when temptation hits (e.g. an inconsiderate person on the Tube steps on their foot and does not say sorry), all they want to do is swear! And reality immediately kicks in - there is no way they are going to make it through 40 days. But if they can just get through to the first weekend, at least they can say they gave it a good shot. The Non-Reflective Quitter believes getting to the end of week 1 is enough proof of success and if they really wanted to give up swearing (or any other vice) they could do it. But for now, it feels so good to swear again.
The Over-Achieving Complainers: People in this group are determined over-achievers. Success, in itself, is their motivation. They will complete the 40 days because failure is not an option. And willpower is their weapon. However, if they are going to go through the blood, sweat, and tears of giving up alcohol for 40 days, everybody must know about it. And everybody must feel the pain they are going through (e.g. Is it fair that they have to pay an equal share of the bill at the end of a night out with friends when they weren't even drinking?). But the real relief and reward will come on Easter Sunday when they get to make up for 40 days without alcohol - “I'll have the chocolate vodka martini with my rib-eye steak. Oh… and what's your wifi password? I need to check my Facebook account.”
The Purposeful "Lenters": People in this group are motivated to take action from a place of purpose. Instead of focusing on what they will be without, they are driven by the opportunity that the 40 days provides. For them, it is a time to stop eating/drinking/doing things that don’t serve them and to replace it with things that do. A time to invest in the things that matter most to them, such as reconnecting with their faith, vision, passions, family, and fun activities. And a time to clear space for what they truly want in life. How can you identify these people? You may not be able to. They don’t advertise the fact that they are giving up their favourite food or most ingrained habit unless you ask. Although they may seem a little happier, more peaceful, and more focused. And come Easter Sunday, maybe they choose to reintroduce the “something” they gave up. Maybe they don’t. Either way, they know that they have gained something that will continue with them throughout Easter and beyond.
How Leaders and Businesses Approach Significant Changes
We see similar types of people emerge when going through significant leadership and business changes.
The Non-Reflective Quitters give up before they’ve even really started. They won't admit it out loud, but they aren't connected with the purpose behind the change nor are they committed to making the change. The little motivation they have is associated with a box-ticking exercise and the euphoria that comes from it. Therefore, once the first box is ticked, quitting is not too far away and they start creating excuses to avoid facing up to their failure.
The Over-Achieving Complainers go down the brute-force route. Their motivation is tied to being successful and being seen as successful. However, they aren’t connected with the reason behind what they are doing. While they will gain some traction and success (they are over-achievers, after all), that success is often not sustainable or long-lasting. And they never feel fully satisfied or fulfilled in their success (hence the constant complaining). Eventually, they will quit. Often by setting their sights on their next challenge to succeed at.
And finally, The Purposeful "Lenters". Or should I say the Purposeful Leaders? This group is most likely to succeed. And to do so feeling satisfied and fulfilled in their success. The purpose behind their change is connected to who they are and their vision for who they want to be. And it is this purpose that takes them to success. They regularly reflect on their progress to identify what's working and what's not. And they make small, significant tweaks throughout their journey to get them to where they want to be.
Successfully Creating Long-Lasting Business & Leadership Behavioural Changes
How can you set yourself up for success as a Purposeful Leader? Here are 4 tips for achieving success, satisfaction, and fulfilment in the midst of significant business and leadership changes:
Understand your “why” behind the change. Change can be hard. Especially one that is time-consuming and has a significant impact on your personal and professional life. If you aren't genuinely connected to why you are making the change, making the change successfully can be near-impossible. Whether you've decided to leave a company you have been with for 20-years to join another at a very senior position or you're giving up meat, ask yourself why making the change is meaningful and important to you. If you can't answer the question, then maybe it's not something you should be doing. And if you can passionately answer the question, then use that meaning as your motivating force on both good and more difficult days.
Recognise what mental and emotional barriers may prevent you from reaching success. Resistance to change is a very common human experience. With change often comes uncertainty, lack of clarity, and lack of confidence. And that can be scary. It also takes us away from the cosiness and comfort of the familiar. Accepting that you have a natural resistance to change is powerful because it allows you to face up to the resistance and create a plan to tackle it. Maybe your resistance comes from your fear of failure or your fear of success. And possibly that's rooted in concerns about being judged by others. By knowing the root of your resistance, you can work with your coach to address it, reframe your perspective and clear the way for change.
Fill the space with something constructive and focus on that. Now that you've cleared your mental and emotional barriers, don't just leave the space empty, fill it with constructive thoughts, emotions and actions to get you to your goal. If you decide to stop eating meat, leaving a space on your plate where you would normally put that juicy rack of ribs will just leave you dreaming about it. Similarly, if you decide to stop doubting yourself, when you are in a stressful meeting and are being questioned about the validity of your work, it's easy for that self-doubt to creep back in. Instead, fill that hole with something constructive. In the case of your empty plate, if you love mushrooms, avocado, and tomatoes, take this as an opportunity to enjoy the foods you usually neglect, with a mushroom and salsa side. And instead of festering in self-doubt, maybe fill that space with your curiosity and problem-solving skills.
Take it one day and one action at a time. Restructuring your business to take on a more agile culture. Introducing more inclusion and diversity into your workforce. Becoming a more confident and inclusive leader. Changing careers in your 30s or 40s. Significant business and leadership changes can be hard. Especially when you think about the amount of work required over 6, 12, or 18 months. However, what if you focus on just replacing one thing that's not serving you with one thing that is (see point 3 above). And do that for just one day. Not as scary, is it? Big changes are made up of lots of small, meaningful, consistent changes. Focus on your vision for tomorrow, but take action today.
Want to talk more about how you can successfully make significant, long-lasting and sustainable business and leadership changes? Let’s chat! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or book time in my calendar.