All leadership comes down to changing people’s behavior. But why does it seem so hard at times? Science has come up with a few surprising answers to this perplexing problem.
In an article by Fast Company, they tell the story of coronary-artery bypass patients who have surgery to relieve pain, rather than to cure them. In fact, the only real cure is for them to start taking better care of themselves, such as quitting smoking, eating less, and exercising. Yet, in study after study, very few do! When these patients are looked at two years after their surgery, 90% have not made any significant change to their lifestyle.
Here are people facing a life or death situation, yet they fail to make the right choice, thus they face more pain, more surgeries, and possibly even death. How can we expect leaders to change people when they will not even change themselves when faced with a major personal crises?
John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor says that you need more than careful analysis, measurement tools, and management to help someone make a behavioral change; what you actually need to directly address are people’s feelings.
Going back to the heart patients, a researcher, Dr. Ornish, showed that a holistic program, focused around a vegetarian diet, can actually reverse heart disease without surgery or drugs. This holistic program includes going after their feelings by having them attend a twice-weekly support group sessions led by a psychologist. It includes instruction in aerobic exercise, meditation, relaxation, and yoga and lasts for about a year. A study showed that after three years, 77% of the patients had stuck with their lifestyle changes and avoided the surgery. A far cry from the 10% who succeed when only given cognitive instructions.
This holistic method works better as the change is reframed — rather than trying to motivate patients with the fear of death; they are motivated with the joy of living. Facing death for most people is much too frightening to think about, thus patients often go into denial; where as making daily life more enjoyable is a powerful motivator.