Baby Steps

Michele Porterfield

I recently got into a discussion with a coaching client about how hard change is – about how it is one thing to know something intellectually, but an entirely different thing to actually act upon or “do” what we “know” to be a better, more effective way.   Specifically, he had been getting feedback that he needed to be more decisive and willing to take risks.  While he acknowledged that this was a hard to hear but fair piece of feedback, he struggled to figure out how exactly to change a behavior that was deeply entrenched in how he saw the world…”always think things through… and play it safe so that you minimize mistakes.”   While we meandered into a long and interesting discussion about exactly why he was wired the way he was – we ultimately still landed back on where and how to begin his change process.

My advice centered around inviting him to find simple and basic places to start – and they did not have to be within his work situation.   In fact, maybe starting outside of his work situation was in fact better anyway.  I forced him to identify three situations in his personal life where he could stomach taking more of a risk – or where he could be more decisive instead of procrastinating for fear of making the wrong decision.

I did not badger him about the specific situations, wanting first and foremost for him to feel some degree of control.  Besides, it really did not matter what situations he chose.  Instead it mattered that he at least chose something and just got started.

The behavior is the same, just applied to different circumstances.  And…just like with real babies, we know that lots of baby steps lead to bigger steps which lead to full blown walking and even running without even thinking about it.

My parting advice to him that day was that if he really wanted to be seen in the organization as someone who could take on broader leadership responsibilities, decisiveness and risk taking were going to be critical components. This is not to say that great leaders don’t gather valuable input from others or  carefully think things through, but that they are ultimately willing to put themselves out to take action and move things forward for the good of the organization – even if their decisions and actions don’t turn out exactly as they had hoped.

They have enough underlying courage and confidence to learn from their mistakes and keep it moving.

I look forward to my next meeting with him.  Maybe he picked out a wild and crazy color to paint in his house, or maybe he finally pulled the trigger on the cruise he and his wife had been mulling over for the last few years. Either or both would be a successful baby step in my book – and when he realizes that the baby steps worked out quite fine, he will be motivated to stretch further.

What about you?

  • What is one behavior you would like to change about yourself?
  • Where is one place in your life that you could take a baby step?

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