Changing Others, Changing Self
A very nervous young bride-to-be was counseled by her pastor on a way to stay focused for getting through the ceremony.
“Take it one step at a time,” said the minister, “When you enter the church tomorrow, you will be walking down the aisle you’ve walked down many times before. Concentrate on that. And when you get halfway down the aisle,” he continued, “concentrate on the altar, where you and your family have worshiped for so many years. Concentrate on that. And as you reach the end of the aisle, your groom will be waiting for you. Concentrate on him.”
The advice worked to perfection, and on her wedding day, the beautiful but nervous bride walked smoothly down the aisle in her processional.
But people in the audience were a bit taken aback to hear her repeating to herself, all the way down the aisle, “Aisle, altar, him. Aisle, altar, him.”
I’ve noted with interest how often consultation questions I receive from leaders have to do with how to change others.
Even when the request for advice is couched from the perspective of “What do I need to do?” or, “What do I need to say?” the desire is to behave in such a way or communicate in such a way as to get someone else to act differently.
This is a natural human response, whether in times of anxiety or at the conclusion of a process of discernment that yields a vision for direction.
In times of anxiety, we tend to focus on getting others to behave in ways that lower our stress.
When we arrive at a vision for a new direction we immediately think about how to get others to change perspective or behavior to support our vision.
The challenge is to accept the truth that essential change needs to begin with the leader.
Here are some checkpoint questions worth revisiting whenever we get too focused on finding techniques or strategies aimed at changing others:
- To what extent am I over-focusing on changing others’ behaviors rather than monitoring my own internal emotional process?
- Is my focus on other people’s behavior a result of having been caught in a triangle? Of overfunctioning?
- Have I checked my personal prejudices, assumptions, or predilections so as not to impose them on others?
- Am I clear that I am only responsible for how I handle my position and not for that of others?
- Am I taking responsibilities for things out of my control (outcomes) or beyond my scope (like the survival and future of the organization)?
- Can I allow others the freedom to take responsibility for how they choose to do their work, make their own mistakes, and work out their own problems?
- Can I discern when I become willful by insisting on consensus, groupthink, compliance, setting ultimatums, and demanding loyalty?
- Am I leading in a way that causes the system to adapt to my leadership, or am I accommodating myself to the system?
Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer & Don Reagan, and Leadership in Ministry: Bowen Theory in the Congregational Context.
His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice Press).
Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.