When Leaders EAT First

Accountability Management Organizational leadership


Key Point: The following statement by Ron Carucci published in a recent Harvard Business Review is so true: “For executives to succeed in leading organizational transformations, they must begin with their personal transformation. And that starts with identifying and ‘re-scripting’ those operative narratives that might provoke unproductive behavior.” 

I have seen this so many times. Leaders want their organizations to change behavior. As an example, they are looking for their culture to be highly collaborative, more innovative, transformative, better listeners, etc. Yet, they personally rarely change the way they act or lead. They often do not consciously think that what they desire in others needs to happen within them first. This is particularly true of top execs that somehow think their behavior is above reproach and actually unconsciously find themselves in a parallel universe where they espouse a desired state that is not connected to their own reality. (The contradiction is quite apparent to those around them, however). Carucci has some helpful insights and recommendations. 

  1. Know Who and What Triggers You:

“One behavior that keeps us locked in an unproductive cycle is ‘transference,’ which happens when we transfer our feelings onto someone else. In moments of transference, a leader’s behavior is shaped and motivated more by their past experience than what is happening in the present.” For example, a leader that genuinely wants better listening and then explodes when someone disagrees, or rarely asks questions during meetings, may honestly not fully appreciate the dissonance caused. Responding to triggers habitually gets in the way of the desired change. And as the HBR article notes: “Breaking the cycle of triggers that transfer past experiences onto current situations begins in deep self-reflection. Be ruthlessly honest about who and what those trigger points are.”

  1. Write Out the Narrative:

Carucci shares another helpful insight: “Simply identifying situations or people most likely to trigger you isn’t sufficient to realize change. Many leaders flippantly declare trigger points like, ‘Boy, he really pushes my buttons every time I’m with him’ or ‘I’m fine presenting to anyone in the company, but when it comes to her, I lose a week of sleep.’” But they stop short of uncovering the narrative beneath those triggers that leads to unwanted behavior… Lasting personal transformation demands facing the tapes playing in our heads that lead us to exasperating confessions that sound like, “Why on earth do I keep doing that?” Declaring that you do things you shouldn’t isn’t self-awareness; it’s simply acknowledging that you’ve been told a certain behavior is troubling to others and that you wish you didn’t do it. Genuine self-awareness demands that you dig deeper to uncover the real answer to why you keep doing it and then actually work to stop doing it.

We leaders are more effective when we start a transformational journey accepting that the organization will have to transform us as much as we will have to transform it. This means knowing how we will react during change, being aware of our triggers, and conscious of the power of the actions we take to accelerate rather than derail the very organizational change we desire.

Character Moves:

  1. You and I need to force the trigger narratives or tapes playing in our heads to the surface. Carucci suggests that we actually write out in black and white the story in response to the question: “Why do I keep doing that?” By acknowledging the narrative, we have a chance to rescript it. 
  1. If we want our team (or company) to behave differently, we have to lead differently. We need to reframe or rescript by soliciting feedback from others, tracking the impact our behavior has, and how closely actions match our intentions. When we want to transform, leaders need to “eat” the change first. In this case, it’s appropriate. 

Triggers in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: To “lead by example” isn’t a new concept, but it still sort of stands out as “heroic” because its rarity puts it on a pedestal. It really seems to be all about adapting and changing behaviors with your team. At this point, you’d think it would be a little embarrassing if all the gears are turning, but the biggest, most impactful one is the only part not moving.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis