It was Leo Tolstoy who said, “everybody thinks of changing humanity, but nobody thinks of changing himself.” (Mahatma Gandhi later said a variant, “You must be the change you want to see in the world”, but this is more about consciously standing out as a role model so that others will eventually come to copy you.)
Why is this a valuable idea in business life? As a development coach I hear all too often otherwise highly competent clients complaining about the problems caused by other people or by the system around them: “I can’t do this because my boss…..”; “If only they would manage their time better….”; Why can’t they be a bit more open to new ideas….”; and so on.
They seem to spend hours analysing the other person and finding solutions the other person could implement. If the other person saw it as a problem. If they were willing to make changes. If they were capable of making changes.
So that’s their situation; what is there for my client to change?
Option 1 - Change the other person. This may be possible if you are their boss (or you have some other power) and you are willing and able to direct or coach them or, like Gandhi, model the required behaviours over time to change their behaviours. Or to sack them and replace them with someone more compliant.
Option 2 – Change the system. You may be in a position to get changes made to the procedures or working environment that govern the other person’s behaviours. But how long will it take you? How much effort?
Option 3 – Change yourself. This is the option which is most likely the one you can implement. You can change your own behaviours so they impact on the other person and causes them change their behaviours. You can change your own behaviours to find a working solution, one that you can implement. You can change your attitude to the situation, for example learning to accept it as just a fact of life, however troublesome. Or you can walk away from it.
This is the line of questioning I follow with clients who complain about others, “What can you change in yourself to change the situation?”