Change AntiPatterns (The Significant One) – Is One of These Blocking Your Efforts ?
We are in an era of continuous change only we live with a very old-fashioned understanding of change. What do I mean by old-fashioned ? We are still living in a frame where change happens, then it all stabilises for a long while and then we go through the effort of change again. Only that isn’t how it all works these days, change is continuous. Gone are the days where we could relax and let the process take care of it. These days, before the process has been designed the conditions have changed and then what does arrive as the new process is no longer effective. All of which means that to cope in todays world we should be cultivating one key skill, being permanent learners.
To change is to be able to see if things are having the impact you were expecting and to adapt!
To change is to learn!
But what does it take to live as a learner ? What are the patterns and anti-patterns that Coaches need to look out for ?
One pattern that I have been encountering quite a bit recently is that of the Significant One! A word of caution here before I go further, these patterns aren’t who the person is, they are ways to describe behaviour and how individuals have learnt to interact with the world.
So how do you know you are dealing with a significant one ? The first clue is when you find that no matter what options and possibilities you offer, their solution is still the ‘right’ one. This pattern of behaviour results in a belief that they know all that is required to deal with whatever comes up. They and only they have the answer and it is a good answer, because they have done a lot of thinking about it. Think pearls of wisdom here and you are on the right track. People who are living this pattern often have come to define themselves as a crucial source of learning for others. They are committed to being the people who solve the problems and rescue the world and they are committed to showing up in the world as being clever.
This pattern is not conducive to learning as learning works from an open frame of mind. When we learn we acknowledge that someone else has something to offer and that someone else is a possible source of learning. For someone living the significant one patter, they are the only source of learning and no-one else can be a teacher or offer them anything. Which limits their options quite considerably. When you are living from a continuous learning perspective, you embrace other ideas and have a tendency to integrate other people’s ideas into your own rather than presenting a solution and batting down all other possibilities.
Incidentally, this is a prevalent pattern for Geeks (I am using the definition of Geek defined by Paul Glen in his book, Leading Geeks) as we (I am definitely in the Geek category) come out of a schooling system where individual knowledge was rewarded and expected. Geeks are used to being the smartest people in the room and having the answers.
What does this mean for us as change agents ?
Well firstly, it isn’t personal – this is how someone has learnt to engage the world and they are most often not even aware of the pattern or the impact that they are having. In fact, it is often very frustrating for someone living this pattern as they can’t see why everyone doesn’t seem to want to adopt their solutions.
If you are dealing with someone who is embedded in the “Significant One” pattern expect to find little space for other options and possibilities. Often the expectation can be that you are there to admire the elegance and brilliance of their solution. Sharing other perspectives can be taken as a judgement leading to defensive reactions. Significant one’s are often quite influential and may have created a culture around them where they declare answers that the team then implements – which often shuts the team down and prevents them from being curious and innovative. All of which do not create fertile ground for changing ways of working.
The trick here isn’t to judge the pattern or to start a war with it. I haven’t found any sure fire ways to manage this pattern…..yet! Using very open ended questions that speak to the approach that was taken to get to the solution sometimes creates curiosity and the possibility for learning. Another possibility is to spend time creating awareness for the individual around the impact they are having – are they getting reactions that don’t line up to expectations ?
Individuals with this pattern may struggle with feeling heard which means they often start a conversation from a place of defense and explanation. One quite successful way of countering this pattern is to embrace the solutions and generate visible facts that show the impact of the solution being ‘forced down’. In other words, visualisation is your friend here, bring the impact out into the open in a way that is neutral and self evident.
My experience with this pattern is that it is very resistant to change and very sensitive to feedback. My current hypothesis is that creating meaningful shifts will take courage on the part of the coach as it probably is going to require one of those hard conversations where honest and gentle feedback of observations and experiences is shared, all of which the individuals aren’t going to want to hear.
In fact, my own experience of being entrenched in this pattern for a large part of my life supports this hypothesis. Looking back I realise that subtlety never really made a dent in how I was engaging with the world – I was too sure that I had done the thinking and that I was right! I was too caught in that trap to be open to other possibilities, too invested in being the one with the answer and so safe because answers are always needed. It was the gentle honesty of one or two people who found the courage to mirror back for me how I was being received that made the difference and created the doubt that perhaps, just perhaps something I was doing responsible. I didn’t take any of this feedback well, how could I ? I was hooked into an identity where I was right and where the world was wrong and I had decadesof proof and investment behind me. I really resented this ‘negative feedback’ and spent a lot of time and energy accusing anyone who feedback stuff I didn’t agree with of being brutal and cruel. I blamed them and the world for a long time, but the seed of doubt had been sown and it was that seed that finally got me curious and allowed me to start exploring new ways of being.
Oh yes, some really good coaches also played a critical role in this transformation so this probably isn’t something a Lean Kanban Agile coach is equipped for. In the words of David Anderson, sometimes challenging someone’s identity is NOT the way to create the change you are looking for. Not everyone is up for this kind of challenge or change and it could be a real possibility that the only way to shift the team into change is to remove the people who aren’t up for the change.
So two sets of inquiries to finish off!
The first is about how you are as a learner. Do you recognise some of your experiences and patterns and logic in this description of the significant one ? If you were living this pattern, how would it be showing up ? How could you start to consciously embrace being a beginner and not having all the answers ?
The second set is more outwardly focused. Is this a pattern that is showing up in your space ? How have you managed it ? What questions have you found to be really effective and what strategies seem to be viable ?
[Thanks to Alan Sieler and his Ontological Coaching Course for introducing me to the Enemies of Learning and the Significant One. This is information that in 20 yrs of reading and learning and looking for answers I had not come across and this and the other anti-patterns are turning out to be very useful in depersonalising resistance and so creating a more effective space for change. www.newfieldinstitute.com.au]