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Nothing Changes Until You Do

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Jan 16, 2020 by Kate MacAleavey

“Nothing Changes Until You Do” is one of my favorite quotes and book titles from my colleague Mike Robbins. I keep this book on my bedside table for a reason; every time I am angry or irritated with people around me I am reminded that I am accountable for myself and that if I want my circumstances to change, it starts with me. That means anything from changing my perspective, to my thoughts, to my behavior, to my actions. It’s from this place I feel most empowered. And it’s from this acknowledgment that my environment starts to change.

I have had C-suite executives from Fortune 200 companies look me dead in the eye and say, “Kate, this is the 7th culture transformation I have been through. They have all failed. What are you going to do differently?” I reply with, “I’m not. It’s what you are going to do differently.” This leads to a bit of a blank stare and open mouth from leaders. I then say, “I can’t do the work for you because then you haven’t learned anything and are dependent on my abilities. I am here as your gym trainer. I will work as hard as you do and at the pace you want to go at. I will guide you, but it’s up to you to put in the effort.” Then comes the silence as they mull this odd idea over. Luckily, most executives are incredibly ambitious and hungry learners. They hear my challenge and skeptically step up to the plate.

There is nothing quite as humbling and powerful to self-reflect and ask yourself: how am I contributing to this environment? How am I showing up? Is my behavior getting the best out of people? If not, why? These are the questions I continuously have leaders ask themselves.I challenge anyone, not just leaders, to ask these questions. Get curious versus judgmental and see what shows up, I bet you will surprise yourself.

Why do I love working with executives? Because the cascading effect of their transformation is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I always say,

When a leader moves an inch, the company moves a mile

The highest points of leverage in any hierarchical organization are the executives. When you, as a leader, start to change what you are doing, it gives everyone else permission to change. When you ask yourself, “What can I do differently?” Other people will start to ask that very same question. Behavior change at any point in life is difficult, that’s why when it happens, the results are powerful.  And if you chose to be brave enough to share your vulnerable learnings, you will build a level of trust with your employees you couldn’t have dreamed up. As it turns out, you are a human like everyone else in your company. While you as the leader are aware of this, others are not. All they see is the sophisticated, polished version of you. You are like a photo on Instagram, the vision of effortless perfection.

Learning and changing is bold and brave; it requires high levels of vulnerability and humility. And it’s a process that should be honored and supported.

Cultural and digital transformations are daunting initiatives. The complexities and scale of this work is not to be dismissed. These initiatives are overwhelming to contemplate. Luckily, the best next move, the best starting point to go on in this journey of transformation, is to start where you are, with what you have. Keep coming back to you.

Interestingly, executives, leaders, and employees gain the most confidence not by seeing change but being the thing that changes. The confidence and power that you gain by proving to yourself that you can still change and improve is unlike anything else no matter where you are in your career. Then you know, without a doubt, change is possible. And the next step is up to you.

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