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Coping with Recurring Behavior

When there are too few examples of a leader doing the right thing and too many of continuing the offending behavior, both disconfirmation and coping mechanisms are needed.

We’ll find ourselves better prepared to give disconfirming feedback if we get the leader’s agreement on our role:

“Would it help if I mention it if I observe you doing this again?”

If leaders agree intellectually that change is important, but for whatever reason are not actually making that change, they should be open to the group developing coping mechanisms to minimize the effect of their behavior. Coping mechanisms combine ways of empowering the group to behave functionally with consequences that disconfirm the leader’s disruptive behavior. Examples include:

If the leader chronically comes to work at 10:00 a.m., she will not require staff who start at 8:00 a.m. to do support work in the evenings.

If the leader bottlenecks communications that require her signature, staff will be empowered to take them off her desk after three days and sign for her.

If the leader screams and abuses staff, they will get up and leave until she regains self-control.

If the leader dominates meetings, she will put five dollars in a kitty for each statement that cuts off group input, as will anyone in the group who cuts off others.

Agreed-upon consequences remove the feedback process from the verbal level and place it on the action level. This is important, as a follower may be reluctant to appear the nag by continuously harping on the recurring behavior.

Recognizing that there are consequences to behavior is a key element in the transformation process. Self-initiated consequences provide leaders with symbols of potentially harsher public consequences should their behavior remain unchanged. And agreed-upon coping mechanisms give followers a way of taking care of their needs and the needs of the organization while the leader works to improve.