Motivation for change

In a recent blog post I asked you what your most pressing leadership questions are right now.

There were a range of excellent responses and in the end I couldn’t choose, as they all were great questions! So instead I will do my best to cover all of them over the next few months.

Today’s blog post is in response to Adam Driscoll’s question. Adam is the author of leadership blog, Three Hundred Words. He will recieve a copy of my favourite leadership book of the month, Heart to Start by Derek Handley.

Hello Suzi, I’m really enjoying your blog. I think one of the things I continue to wrestle with as a coach-in-training is motivating for change. I’ve read Kotter’s work on Change and Patterson & company’s fantastic book Influencer, but I sense there continues to be an ongoing reality that for some people and organizations there is an immunity to change. Even when organizational or tragically an individual is facing potential death.

My question: What ‘tactics’ have you employed and where do you begin when it comes to nurturing a motivation for change in a person or team setting?

Great question Adam – here’s my humble take on it…

1. Ask yourself if this person (or team) is really on board?

You know the saying, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink?”

Motivating change in others begins with clarifying whether people understand, are completely engaged, are on board with the plan and to what extent.

You can’t make a person change, they have to want to change for themselves.

The Leader's Digest

As a coach and a leader, it’s our job to…

Raise awareness
Provide choices
Be honest
Help them to face reality.

We do this in a compassionate way whilst listening, asking encouraging questions and ultimately facilitating them to explore the why of the change goal.

2. Always start with why

Too often, leaders and managers (coaches too!) focus on what needs to change (the issues) and how (action steps), without spending sufficient time on their why.

But the fact is, getting really clear about the why is where it all begins with regards to achieving any goal.

Leadership author Simon Sinek has written some brilliant books on this topic, including Start with Why. He says “It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters why you do it”.

A person’s why is what fuels their motivation to change. And motivation is the powerful engine which drives it. See here for what I mean.

Why spurs motivation.

Motivation is a key to change.

Motivation is multidimensional.

Motivation is dynamic and fluctuating.

3. Identify their key motivator

Each of us have different motivations which propel us towards change.

These motivations can be intrinsic (desire, passion, satisfaction) or extrinsic (recognition, validation or appreciation, financial rewards or promotion).

As leaders it’s our job to acknowledge, explore and understand the person’s motivations (or lack thereof) towards a particular change goal.

4. Be prepared for sacrifice

People have to really believe the current state of things is untenable or less attractive than this desired future state.

But fear and loss can often play a part in resisting change.  In order to change, we have to give something up.

As a young manager I had to admit my fear of loss of being liked in order to become more performance focused.

5. Lowering expectations

Finally, one of the biggest lessons I am learning as a coach is that change is really hard and not everyone will.

Lowering my own (often unrealistic) expectations of myself and others has been one of the most monumental learnings I have experienced.

This quote sums this sentiment up entirely…

Quote - The Leader's Digest


  1. aquariancoreRich aran on January 23, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    The key discovering not just what the motivation is and does it work for me (you)? Not all motivations translate into driving forces that we sometimes need. Great post

  2. Jamie on January 22, 2014 at 4:04 am

    Great post! Suzie, might I add my favorite coaching question in this area…What might be getting in your way? And to understand more about this check out the book, Immunity to Change.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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