Cognitive Behavioral Leadership (CBL): Create a Checklist for Changing Your BehaviorPosted on October 13, 2019

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

Changing one’s instinctive behavioral patterns is difficult and requires persistent effort. Leaders are often unwilling to pay the price—particularly if they can get away with behaving in ways that feel natural to them. Moreover, many leaders keep longing for others to change, never recognizing they are the ones who need to change. Many leaders spend their professional lives feeling frustrated that people don’t meet their expectations instead of recognizing that they cannot reasonably expect that until they have made their expectations clear.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

If some of your patterns of leadership behavior are diminishing your effectiveness, you must own those behaviors and invest the time and energy to change them. Good intentions will not cut it. You will need a list of evidence-based strategies to follow.

How can you do it?

If you wish to accomplish any goal, you must consistently follow a process that will produce the result you desire. This is especially true if you intend to achieve a lasting behavioral change. The following steps that have been successfully used by leaders who have succeeded in changing their disabling leadership behaviors can help you design your own successful behavioral change process.

  1. Identify a recurring behavior you need to change. For example, let’s assume that you have decided you must stop crying at work.
  2. List the reasons you need to change. If you cannot make a compelling case to yourself that crying at work is widely viewed as weak and unprofessional, you are not likely to succeed.
  3. Explain how you will motivate yourself to persist. If you intend to succeed, you must prepare yourself for the long haul–the rest of your life. You can learn to resist the urge to cry in the workplace, but the urge will persist.
  4. Make a public commitment to change. A public commitment to stop crying won’t make your quest easier, but the social pressure will make it harder for you to not follow through on your commitment.
  5. Consult with leaders who have successfully changed their flawed leadership behaviors. You will need every helpful hint you can find. And you can find plenty of leaders who have successfully stopped crying at work. Ask them how they did it. Some of their strategies will work for you, too.
  6. List the barriers you must overcome. It helps to be optimistic, but denial, ignorance, and failure to plan are not. Identify the circumstances at work in which you find it hard not to cry. You cannot avoid stressful circumstances entirely, but you can at least be prepared.
  7. Describe the new behavior you will use to replace the destructive leadership behavior. It’s a lot easier to replace a bad habit with a good one than to just stop the bad habit. Taking a bathroom break or excusing yourself to make a phantom call might be better alternatives than dissolving into a puddle in an important meeting.
  8. Ask your colleagues to hold you accountable. Augment your willpower with a team that won’t let you off the hook. A knowing look from a colleague at the moment may be enough to bolster your strength to maintain your emotional composure.
  9. List helpful mental distractions to employ when your brain undermines your intent. In the war with your brain, you must find ways to trick your brain into fighting with itself. For example, when you feel your emotions welling up, you might choose to begin writing down the parts of your brain that are creating these feelings.
  10. Write down the destructive beliefs that cause your brain to urge bad leadership behavior. If you have chosen to believe that, “crying publicly means that I care,” you will want to reconsider whether that belief is true.
  11. Describe contrasting, constructive beliefs for each of your destructive beliefs. You may choose to the above destructive belief with, “When I cry at work, it is evidence that I am not managing my feelings as a wise leader should.”
  12. Write down your new (replacement) constructive beliefs daily for 30 days. Investing the time to write out the replacement beliefs supporting improved emotional control will help you reprogram your brain and increase your willpower.
  1. Post your new constructive beliefs at home and in your office. You can increase your emotional intelligence by reminding yourself of your new beliefs and intentions several times during the day.
  2. Measure and display your target behavioral results daily with a trend line for an extended period. Just by recording the times you cry at work over time, you will likely notice a decreasing trend right away.
  3. Anticipate failure and learn from it. Your brain’s flawed programming can never be entirely erased, but you can partially replace it with more mature instructions. Slipping back into your mental ruts will remind you how you have improved and provided an opportunity to grow further.
  4. Reward yourself for any progress. Changing bad leadership habits is hard. When you make it through some situation that would have previously reduced you to tears, give yourself a big high five afterward. You deserve it.
  5. Be patient with yourself and others. Remember, it will take a long time to change your reputation; people will think of you as that leader who contaminated the workplace with your emotions long after you have stopped doing so.
  6. Teach others how to change their bad leadership habits. Helping other leaders change will help to solidify your own changed behavior.

How have you used a checklist to change your behavior?

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