In her many years as a coach, Karyn Ross has found an alternative to the current paradigm of changing mindsets. The Lean Post recently sat down with Karyn to hear about this new approach and the psychology behind it.

Can you describe to me the prevailing paradigm of changing mindsets in coaching?

In my experience working with various organizations, large and small, primarily focused on services, the paradigm is that if we want people to ‘do things’ differently in the new, ‘lean’ way, we must first change their mindsets. So, to convince people to change their minds, we create long training classes with information about why they would want to do the new thing and all of the possible benefits. Then, we send people to those training classes with the expectation that once they’ve completed the training, their mindsets will be changed, and they’ll automatically start doing things differently.

Something about your voice tells me that that doesn’t work.

Not in my experience at all. In general, what happens when people return from training is…nothing! They continue with the same behavior they had before! They don’t actually ‘do’ anything differently. Even if people think the ideas presented are perfect and could be beneficial, most can’t suddenly change their behavior just because they’ve heard about an idea.

Why do you think that is?

A couple of reasons.

The first is we think that if we tell someone to do something and they say, “Yes, I’m going to do it,” the person will do it! Just because we told them to! Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Changing behavior is difficult for most people. And it doesn’t matter what job grade or title a person has. We’re all human beings, and doing things in new ways makes us uncomfortable.

Second, as human beings, we’re creatures of habit. We get used to doing something the same way, and that creates neural pathways in our brains. When we act habitually, our brain makes us feel comfortable and happy. When we feel comfortable and happy, we feel like we ‘know’ things, and face it, who doesn’t like to feel that way? And how many people enjoy being unhappy and uncomfortable because they ‘don’t know’?

So, could you tell me what your fix is?

I use the opposite paradigm: I have people do things differently first. They change their mindsets once they’ve acted in a new way and personally experienced the positive results.

For example, let’s say I’m working with a leader, and I’d like them to learn how to “go see for themselves” and the benefits of going to the Gemba. The first thing I’ll do is schedule our coaching times together at the gemba, not in the leader’s office, saying, “Please meet me in this area, and here’s what we are going to look for.” After we’ve gone to see together and the leader has had the new, eye-opening experience, I’ll follow up with a quick bit of theory right then and there.

How do you help people overcome the feeling of being uncomfortable?

I will use the words “challenge” and “nurture.” Together, they’re the basis of my coaching philosophy. When I work with someone to change their behavior, I know they will be uncomfortable. So, I first “challenge” and push them to move outside their comfort zone. Then, I stay with them (often standing beside them!) as they try out the new behavior. That’s the “nurture” part that many coaches so often miss. When our coachee is in an uncomfortable learning zone, we, as coaches, need to be right by their side for support and encouragement as they practice the new behavior under our watchful eye. If we “challenge” people to act differently but don’t “nurture” them while they practice the new behavior, we leave them to ‘sink or swim.’ That’s very disrespectful. People in the uncomfortable learning zone need to “borrow courage” to act in new ways. And the person they borrow that courage from is their coach.

What’s the most important advice you can give other coaches?

Remember that the people you are coaching are human beings. They will feel uncomfortable when you “challenge” them to do things in new and different ways, and you need to care for and “nurture” them as they gain the confidence that can only come from doing.