OCTOBER 27, 2015

CityU Library Reviews “Influencer: The new science of leading change”

CityU Library Reviews “Influencer: The new science of leading change”

Review by Theresa Gehrig, Librarian

Willpower is not enough: Focus on behavior, invest in skills

Librarian Theresa Gehrig
Theresa Gehrig, CityU Library

Have you ever watched a TED Talk, brimming with hope and inspiration as you listen to a visionary call for change? What happens after the video ends? Can the TED Talk help identify the slow, small, deliberate practice you will need to get there? Can the TED video watch your practice and offer prompt feedback to improvement and correction? Does the TED Talk help you rally from the inevitable falls? Does it prepare you to fail? And view each failure and setback as data informing your practice?

According to Influencer, we tend to approach change with a combination of persuasion and sheer willpower. Unfortunately, no matter how articulate or inspiring, exhortations do not endow one with abilities or skills. And even if we are convinced, willpower doesn’t tend to sustain truly lasting change. Influencer emphasizes that “much of will is skill.” Extensive practice of new skills is the heart of change.

The person who wants or needs to change (the changee) begins by studying the times and situations which trigger the undesirable behavior. By careful study of the times and settings, the changee can invent rules or techniques to interrupt and alter the behaviors, and rehearse new behaviors leading to the desired outcomes.

As mentioned, we have long trusted the formula of sheer willpower, guided by the voice of reason. Finding the crucial moments and vital behaviors is the beginning of change:

The changee is not practicing skills in isolation but rather receives immediate feedback against a clear standard. Think “coach/athlete” relationship. The coach/mentor holds up the standard and reviews the practice – in very brief intervals.  Feedback will informing the next actions for the practice – whether the change moves by meters or millimeters.

Feedback after short periods helps prevent flaws becoming part of the new behavior. New skills are monitored continuously, and while the overall trend is upward, there will be slips and setbacks. The changee knows to expect these “failures” and (perhaps hardest of all) learns to see failure as data to inform the next practice session. The number of hours spent practicing a skill is less important than receiving clear and frequent feedback.

Change, as presented here, is harder and more complex than I thought! It is also less mysterious. I am not left puzzling how the examples in the book somehow got or used elusive willpower. Influencer does us the favor of showing the change as it is: Intense study, practice and failure, and small changes. We can then think and plan realistically. One millimeter at a time.

Influencer: The new science of leading change. Grenny, Joseph, Patterson, Kerry, Maxfield, David, McMillan, Ron, & Switzler, Al. 2013. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Professional. 338 pages. Check WorldCat.org to find a copy at the library closest to you.

Curriculum Connections

There are a variety of disciplines which might benefit from exploring the themes discussed in Influencer. For example:

Business, Management, Leadership, Education, Social Sciences: Almost every aspect of business and leadership involves change or leading change. Influencer’s focus on motivation and ability offers strategies and approaches for anyone working with people or in organizations. Use one or all of the sources of influence to help others or themselves to change. Every industry and every person is in constant need of reform and renewal. Consider the light on energy and power available for people able to people freed from destructive behaviors or ineffective habits. What would performance reviews look like if people could begin to make progress or meet their personal and professional goals? This book is full of personal and group case studies illustrating change from all areas – hospitals, disease prevention, addiction and juvenile delinquency. Incentives for using the change models and ideas here? Greater productivity, happier, empowered employees, new potentials and opportunities. For a culture accustomed to instant, 24×7 service, change shown here is not a quick process. Rather, this guides us to the slow and hard work of learning new behaviors and skills. There is a natural intersection to coaching, mentoring and leadership.

Related Resources

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CityU Library book reviews feature materials relevant to academic programs. Each review includes curriculum connections and a list of related resources.  We hope you enjoy learning and discovering new resources with us!


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