Ask An Expert May 2019

Ask an Expert

Q: To implement a successful culture change initiative it must begin with a change in how leaders lead. That’s a given. And most leaders I work with in my coaching practice have any number of LPI® behaviors that could be improved upon. But, how realistic is it to have them focus on multiple behaviors at once? Sounds like a recipe for failure.

A: You are correct about culture change: if a leader’s behavior does not change, culture change fails. We also know that the 30 behaviors of the LPI are linked directly to a leader’s effectiveness. But, of course, we can’t expect leaders to tackle all 30 of these behaviors all at once—or even 3 or 4 at one time!

In fact, recent research from behavioral scientist Thorben Emmerling and others suggests that a person can be expected to make just one meaningful behavior change in a 12 month time frame. This is a very significant and important benchmark to keep in mind when coaching leaders.

Taking into consideration this notion of one-behavior-change-per year, at WorkSmart we use a core framework to help focus our attention on the key elements of what it takes to make this happen in the transformation space, including:

Knowledge and information
  • People must be given a very compelling “why”—preferably evidence based and linked to a clear personal and business case. 
  • Leaders need to be given the requisite skills training (information) to know “how”. 
  • Information by itself cannot change behavior, which is why intellectual insight is the next essential step to help leaders understand the deeper forces (what they are subject to) that are at play. This can be provided through a tool like the Immunity to Change Map that can be used to explore this issue at both the individual and team level. 
  • A deep level of ownership needs to occur for any chance of a behavior change. This is usually accompanied by the person realizing the damage and hurt their existing behaviors are doing to themselves and others. This is fundamental. 
  • Practice is a mix of skill application, skills adjustment, and deep personal learning. In other words, the practice itself is a rich ongoing source of insight and iterative learning. Without practice there is no possibility of sustained behavior change. 
  • It is extremely helpful to have a developed self-awareness/mindfulness practice. This allows for much more success in terms of the behavior change and to master the subject/object dynamic. 
  • Practice must be singular and must be sustained. 
  • An understanding that emotional distress and discomfort is a marker of authentic practice is very useful. Once again, this is where mindfulness practice can be profoundly useful (making the distress object). 
  • It is critical that leaders have a safe-to-fail environment, providing psychological safety. 
  • Coaching (ideally from their leader) is extremely helpful. 
  • Feedback loops that provide positive reinforcement and social recognition for practice. 
  • Rituals for practice, support and feedback. 
  • Systems and processes that support the practice. 
  • Some objective method for measuring progress is required. This can be data (i.e., a 360 assessment) and/or stakeholder feedback. Importantly, it is associates/direct reports that assess the progress of change, not the leader. 
  • The optimal conditions for transformational change are high challenge-high support. The high challenge piece usually comes in the form of accountability which, ultimately, is executed in terms of consequences. Without consequences, accountability fails. 

Michael Bunting,
Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®, is founder and managing director of WorkSmart Australia, a leadership development consultancy, and a guest lecturer in the University of Sydney’s award-winning Executive MBA program. He collaborated with Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner to author Extraordinary Leadership in Australia and New Zealand: The Five Practices That Create Great Workplaces, and can be reached at


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