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  • Writer's pictureDr. Christine Senn, PhD

Leading Through Change – The Stages (oh, and don’t gossip)

Today’s chat is more from John Maxwell’s “Leading Through Change” podcast episodes that we spoke about last time. Last time, I encouraged you to go forth and find a new perspective on anything that isn’t serving you. That was a lead-in to today. Let’s hit the ground running with an unfortunate truth: “People will cling to an unsatisfactory way of life rather than change in order to get something better for fear of getting something worse.” (Eric Hoffer)

My examples will be work-related, but you see this every day. The person who is unhappily coupled but won’t leave their partner for fear of being alone. But being alone might be better, and they might meet someone who is better for them. The person who continues studying a subject in college because their parents want them to be a certain something when they grow up. But it may be this path sends them down a path of life choices that they completely regret years later (and they hurt people along the way). Or even less massive change. Here’s an interesting one: Perhaps you’re told that you gossip too much. Why would you not want to change that? I’ll circle back on that example after this business example.

Dr. Maxwell talks about 5 levels or stages of change.

First, new information is accepted. This stage deals with perspective, a new way of seeing things. Throughout this description, I will use the example of a Director talking to one of her Managers about how to improve the Manager’s department. At this first stage, the Manager is hearing the Director say that his department is not running effectively enough. He has to hear and accept that perspective as being possibly true.

Second, a new attitude is accepted. This stage deals with feelings, a new way of emotionally relating to the information. Here’s what’s absolutely critical to keep in mind: People always change faster intellectually than emotionally. So between the 1st stage and this stage, the Manager has intellectually accepted that his department is not performing optimally. To reach this new stage, the Manager is overcoming feelings of anger toward the Director or feelings of failure about himself, and he has accepted that changes do, indeed, need to occur in his department.

Third, the new behavior is practiced. This stage deals with choices, actions, and the formation of habits. In our example, the Manager is now analyzing why his department isn’t running well and will start to improve processes, coach his people better, perhaps find continuing education options, etc.

Fourth and finally in our levels of change is that the person’s convictions influence others. This is the highest level and deals with investment and ownership. Not everyone will reach this level, but if our Manager does then you’d expect him to commit to process improvement not just this one time but do it on an ongoing basis because he now sees the value. His convictions around process improvement would then start convincing his direct reports to see the value in this new behavior so that they would proactively point out improvement options to him.

Those are the levels of change described by John Maxwell. Shall we return to the behavior we don’t like – gossip? I bring this one up specifically because it’s a toxic behavior in your personal life and a culture-killer in your work life. It also makes people less promotable. Stage 1: The person has to accept the perspective that they are a gossip. This can be a challenge if they tell themselves they are simply sharing interesting information that other people would want to know. That perspective is false and serves only to protect their ego. Once they accept that they gossip, Stage 2 is for the person to embrace a new feeling. Do you know what leads a person to gossip? A desire to people-please (meaning, they see themselves as adding value to other people through information and entertainment) and a fear that they will be uninteresting if they give up this behavior because they’re not sure what else there is to talk about. The fear is really what prevents a person from being able to move to Stage 3, which would be to practice the behavior of not gossiping.

I understand that not everyone will like this example, but it can be a real problem in companies. If you want to create a culture of change, your culture needs to be free of drama, and you will need to coach or terminate people who hurt your culture. Period. This example hopefully provides a sense of the value gossip holds for them and why it will be so hard for them to give up. And with that knowledge, my hope is coaching works, termination is unnecessary, and you foster a kickass company culture!

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