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Why Elephants and Leaders are Hard to Move

In my day job, I get the honor of being able to teach Freshman. Here is the crazy thing, they don't all want to grow and learn. I know, surprising. However, it isn't just young students. I constantly get emails that say something to the effect, "Show up for this free lesson on...whatever. This will greatly help in your effectiveness."  Then only a very small few show up to that meeting. So what do you do when those you lead do not think they need to learn anything?

Here are 4 reasons people don't want to grow. 


This one is the most frustrating.  Sadly, they don't care because they don't have to care. They already know everything they need to. Arrogance is a dangerous thing. They don't have anything to learn, they already have it all figured out. They see themselves smarter or more equipped than they actually are. Everyone still needs to learn. 


They think they have the answer, but in reality, they don't. They don't know any better. "What else is there to learn." "Nope, I am good." It is ironic that the young leaders tend to believe they have nothing more to learn, while the older leaders recognize the need to still be learning. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Too busy

"I will take care of this later" or "I can do this when I have time." They load themselves up with work and can't seem to find the time to learn. "I am barely keeping my head afloat" (treading water) is a common phrase I hear from young and older leaders. My fear is that people tell me the level of their busyness because it proves their worth and importance. If you spend time reading and learning are you being lazy? Are you telling me I should be spending that time working? 

You are the wrong leader...for now. 

Parents often ask me to help with their young athlete or student. "They don't listen to me, but they will listen to you."  This is common and I often encourage parents that this is normal. Leaders (especially young ones) are desperate to figure out their place in the work and how they fit into it. How are they going to make a significant impact? Someone telling them what to do (even when they are right) is not what they need. They need someone to go with them on the journey. When they don't want to learn from you, model it rather than teach it. Encourage them to seek out other advice and wisdom. It could make you look even better when they realize you aren't full of it. 

“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” — Mary Engelbreit

In the Book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Dan Heath and Chip Heath share how you can make change happen by "directing the Rider, motivating the Elephant, and shaping the Path." 

Your job as a leader or parent is to motivate them to want to learn.

*- Direct the Rider.  What looks like resistance is usually a lack of clarity.  If the Rider doesn’t know where to go, they spin the Elephant in circles.  To direct the rider, create a crystal clear vision of the outcome.  This includes when or how much, along with a specific set of actions and tactics to get there.

- Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.  Make your audience feel the need for change.  Analytical appeals don’t cut it.  Knowing is not enough.  Get beyond the knowing and make it possible for people to feel the impact.  Win the heart and the mind follows.

- Shape the Path.  What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.  Make it easy to embrace the change.  Make instructions simple with step-by-step guidance.  Provide support groups.  Create training.  Pair people up with mentors.  Create peer pressure and social proof.  Behavior is contagious.

A few questions to ask yourself when you lead:
1. Do those I lead know I VALUE them?
2. Have I made the VISION clear?
3. Is my COMMUNICATION clear?
4. Do I CELEBRATE the process, not the final solution?

*taken from

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