You Really Can’t Change People

June 3, 2007

I have been doing a lot of reading about management and leadership lately.  Friday I was handed this great book, First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers do Differently, by Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman.  Essentially, the book is based on in-depth interviews with over 80,000 managers and gets to the heart of what they do well and how they accomplish their goals of motivating and leading their staff.

What the authors discovered was that most of what great managers do flies in the face of conventional wisdom and is very much the opposite of traditional management theory.

I am finidng this book extremely relevant and insightful.  Perhaps the biggest reason I am enjoying this book is because it contends that the revolutionary insight common to great managers is:

“People don’t change that much.
Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out.
Try to draw out what was left in.
That is hard enough. “

The first sentence of that mantra really hits home for me.  I truly, with every ounce of my being, believe that people don’t and can’t radically change, and that it is almost impossible to try to change someone.  If I didn’t learn that in my professional career, I definitely learned that lesson in my dating life.

Think about this for a moment:  As a manager, how many people have you changed?  I am not talking about breaking someone of a bad habit, which I believe can happen.  I mean fundamentally changing the way someone thinks and acts.

I have worked in organizations where managers have invested a great deal of their time and energy, as well as other employees’ time and energy, dealing with one person whom they think they can “turn around.”  I have watched all the while thinking, “Is this really the best use of mine, and everyone else’s, time and energy?”

Is trying to fix one person sucking the life out of everyone? Are you finding your management decisions and style being driven by dealing with one person or navigating decisions in order to avoid the problems that one person can cause?

If this is the case, then you need to re-focus your energy and accept that people don’t change.  Our job is to change our game plan-not to work around the problem employee, but to engage them in a way that works with their strengths and talents.  Use, as this book refers to talent and skill, a person’s mental filter, to their and the team’s benefit.

Another quote that I think speaks volumes:

“Great managers are not troubled by the fact that there is a limit to how much they can rewire someone’s brain.  Instead they view it as a happy confirmation that people are different.  There is no point in wishing away this individuality.  It’s better to nuture it.  It’s better to help someone understand his filter and then channel it toward productive behavior.” 

I am trying very hard to adopt this attitude and approach into my management skill set.  Needless to say, I am finding it to be a wonderful challenge.

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4 Responses to “You Really Can’t Change People”

  1. Justin Sager said

    why did you think that people don’t change or can’t radically change? I think people change all the time. and people do change. so what did you mean by this?

  2. JUSTIN SAGER said

    HEY, IF YOU COULD LEAVE ME A MESSAGE FOR ME AT SAGERJUSTIN@YAHOO.COM
    I
    WOULD
    APPREICATE
    IT!
    DO REALLY THINK THAT PEOPLE CAN’T RADICALLY CHANGE OR DON’T CHANGE? I THINK
    PEOPLE
    CHANGE
    ALL
    THE
    TIME
    SO
    WHAT
    DID
    YOU
    MEAN
    BY
    THAT?

  3. JUSTIN SAGER said

    LOL. HEY,
    SORRY,
    I
    DIDN’T
    MEAN
    TO
    SAY
    “APPREICATE,” ON MY LAST MESSAGE BECAUSE I MEANT TO SAY “APPRECIATE.”

  4. John Stockton said

    Why do you think that you should be able to change people? What’s so great about you that you think you have any answers they don’t have.

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