Can People Really Change?

One of our readers responded to one of our articles and commented on the need to catch our youth early in order to train them in positive behavioural dynamics. Then he asked the question whether it is really possible for older people to change their behaviour? We will address that question today.

Can people really change? Can people really change to transforming  behaviour? Many years of intimate experience in people leadership, parenthood and counselling provide overwhelming evidence that people do change, often dramatically. A friend of mine survived a serious threat of a heart attack. He abruptly changed his life style in order to stay alive and improve his quality of life. People give up smoking, in some cases they were smoking 60 or more cigarettes a day. It is not an easy thing to do. I willingly wash dishes at night at home. This was not an option where I grew up!.

In the work place we see people change all the time. Not so long ago the idea of having a woman or black boss was completely foreign. Now it is an everyday occurrence and many people are living with this reality. It is true to claim that many people resist change as if their lives depended on it. But we live in a changing environment, more so than ever before in recorded history. This includes adapting to tremendous technological, political and social changes. This is South Africa. We change all the time!

I think what our reader was really asking, is whether adults are prepared or even able to change long held attitudes. We will discuss several guiding principles that determine the ability to change attitude and negative behavioural habits.

Attitude towards change. The first principle is the significant role that attitude plays in changing behaviour. We do not apologise for continuously stressing the important role that attitude plays in human behaviour. Over the years we have profiled hundreds of top performers in Leadership Platform. We cannot think of a single one of these top performers that were not driven by a positive fighting attitude! I recall years ago having a conversation with Themba Nyathi, HR Executive at MTN. It was stimulating to listen to him explain how he grew up with a conviction that ‘I can change…’. This is still the basic drive that enables him to overcome barriers to excellence.

Believing others can change

Not only does a positive attitude determine the degree to which we believe we can change our own behaviour, but it is also a crucial element in believing that OTHERS can and do change. In other words, I cannot really motivate behavioural change in others if I do not have a deep-rooted conviction that I have changed and that I am still in the process of changing my behaviour towards excellence. People easily sense our own lack of conviction and sincerity in preaching change in their lives. To quote a Leadership Platform slogan: ’It is humanly impossible to perform above our believed values’. Our personal belief system determines our behaviour levels.

Psychology of changing behaviour. In some of the abovementioned examples people changed when confronted with death. Perhaps that is not the most meritorious reason for behavioural change. For people to willingly change behavioural patterns, they need to drill down to their most basic belief system. This means that they need to confront their emotional as well as mental barriers to excellence. We are speaking of a person’s inner values, both negative as well as positive beliefs. The process of change is not necessarily an easy journey and often may require the intervention of the ‘third factor’.

The third factor. This represents another party of influence that comes into play The first factor in this illustration is the person concerned. The second factor is the attitudinal resistance of that person. Bear in mind that often the person concerned may not really believe they can or even want to change behaviour. The third factor is somebody or something that intervenes to inspire behavioural change. This may be a leader, friend, and belief system. It may be a book, article, or an urgent situation. A good leader and mentor can play a crucial role in bringing about a climate for behavioural change. The role of a facilitator is often required to trigger attitudinal change. The major principle to recognise in behavioural change is that it is process driven, whether it happens quickly or over an extended period of time.

Process driven. Behavioural change only occurs when the person concerned goes through a process of drilling down to deep-rooted drivers of human behaviour. In essence this means that the person has to undergo a process of facing their negative as well as positive sense of belonging and ownership ([possession). In essence this process will assist the person to arrive at a deeper understanding of their own self-image – who he or she thinks and believes he is. It is from this basis of understanding that a person will often decide emotionally and mentally to adopt positive behavioural patterns and let go of the old. At Leadership Platform we apply a process called the Destiny Chain that is remarkably effective in bringing about attitudinal and situational change. It can be done!

Nature’s lesson. So often nature is the greatest teacher. We know that all things consists of matter that consists of vibrant molecules and atoms. Even our own physical bodies are undergoing immense changes all the time and literally shedding millions of cells every day as it seeks to renew and heal itself. Movement is change. Plants ‘die’ and then come alive again in spring.

Factors of greatest impact. Amongst many contributing factors leading to behavioural change three attributes stand out. The first is possession of a sincere value and belief system. This makes change so much easier. The other factors are the attributes of love and sharing. Good mothers are probably the best possible examples of how love and sharing brings about attitudinal change in children (and even in husbands!) A caring and sharing attitude by leaders can have a great impact in the lives of others. Just think of it; nothing impacts more positively on our minds and hearts than somebody sincerely sharing with us that which is most important to them. This includes sharing of knowledge, compassion, respect, trust and high expectations of our performance I worked for years with an employer and subsequent partner, Francois van Niekerk, who has a gift of openly sharing his business concerns and joys with the rest of the staff. He has an impressive record of success that is in no small way the result of his sharing attitude towards others.

Can adults change? For certain they can if the abovementioned factors are in place. It is a minority that refuse to change no matter what support they receive.

Louis Groenewald – The Old Man

Do you recognise some areas in yourself as a leader or areas in your team that need improvement?

Contact Adriaan Groenewald for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside you as a leader and your organisation.

Adriaan Groenewald is a leadership expert and commentator

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