Roger Fairhead Certificate JMT Certified

Can you change the behaviour of a nation?

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” 

~ LP Hartley

People won’t follow you to “there” until they know they can’t stay “here”.  Even then you can’t change people’s behaviour simply by trying to change their behaviour.  There are two elements that are necessary to lead people through change, and both of them need to be present for us to be able to experience lasting change.

We saw a fascinating example of that in action earlier this week, on Monday evening when our Prime Minister conducted what I thought was a pretty good exercise in both elements.  On Monday 23rd March Boris Johnson announced “strict new curbs on life in the UK to tackle the spread of coronavirus”.

People may only leave home to exercise once a day, travel to and from work when it is “absolutely necessary”, shop for essential items and fulfil any medical or care needs. 
“Shops selling non-essential goods have been told to shut and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together will be prohibited.

~ Boris Johnson, Prime Minister

I am not privy to the decisions taken by our Cabinet Office, however it seemed to me that the announcement on Monday addressed these two crucially important elements of Leading Change.  

I’m sure that many critics would say that he should have said “this” or ought to have said “that”.  To come up with the perfect plan that fits with all scenarios, points of view and perspectives requires some sort of omniscience that is unfortunately lacking in most mortals.  Although making and taking the time to come up with the best plan of action (all things considered) has obvious merit, in all things there comes a time when a plan is good enough to put into action, and to postpone a decision only makes the circumstances deteriorate.  As Gen. George Patton once said “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”

~ Gen. George Patton

The first element is to establish that we need to leave here.  Here, on Monday, was a place where an increasing number of British people were falling ill to the new pandemic, and with the numbers needing to be treated by the NHS increasingly on the rise it was becoming evident to all that we would soon be overwhelmed by the limited capacity of the NHS to cope.  

To have made the “strict new curbs” announcement too soon would have meant people wouldn’t be ready or able to change their way of life in the necessary way.  Leave it too late and the NHS would have been overwhelmed and unable to cope.  This meant that there was a timing call to make, and that timing call was made last Monday.  

Even then, even with the evident need to change, with the pressing urgency to change, many would not have complied without the other element of leading people through change.  How many people do we see who know they need to change their eating habits to address increasing obesity, yet they fail to make that change.  How many people do we see who need to change their smoking habit or improve their exercise regime to address their declining health, yet they fail to make that change.  It’s not easy!

It’s not easy for people to change their behaviour because there will be all sorts of fears, the “what if’s” and “I could never do that”, and there will be all sorts of self-limiting beliefs, the ideas that tell us “surely that could never work” and “I can’t see how we could overcome this, or that”.

It’s not easy to lead people successfully through change without both the “need” to change (we must leave “here”), and the “inspiration” to change (we must get to “there”).

To lead people successfully through change requires the “need” to change and the “inspiration” to change.

By Monday we could see the stark reality that we needed to leave ”here” and yet that realisation alone would not be enough.  Nor would threats of punishment or police action be enough to change the behaviours of a nation.  

Our behaviour is largely based on our habits, attitudes and emotions, which are based on our values, which are based on our beliefs, and to see effective change we need to work on these underlying causes of behaviour to see behaviour change.  Our culture is formed from our beliefs and values, so we need to connect with people there.  The we need to build on these common cultural beliefs and values and find ways to connect with people’s emotions, alter everyones attitudes and change the habits of a nation.  

“Our behaviour is largely based on our habits, attitudes and emotions, which are based on our values, which are based on our beliefs.”

Only then will we see a change in the behaviour of the British people.  Then, and only then, will people be inspired to break through their fears and self limiting beliefs, and move towards the goal of changing their behaviour.

So, the second necessary element is to find a way of inspiring people to be able to confront whatever might hold them back from going to “there”.  This inspiration is the fuel that will turn ‘have-to’ into ‘want-to’, it will give people the determination to get to “there” whatever it takes, and find ways to break through their fear barriers, and their self-limiting beliefs.  

This emotional connection was threaded right throughout the announcement from our Prime Minister on Monday, taking every opportunity to touch our hearts during his speech and connect with our emotions.  He told us: “The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost.  And yet it is also true that there is a clear way through.

The way ahead is hard, and it is still true that many lives will sadly be lost.”

~ Boris Johnson

Where will this all lead?  Well, I’m sure it will lead to many differing verdicts on the efficacy and effectiveness of the present government, and on their priorities and their methods.  There will be many political figures who “would have done it differently”.  

However, of one thing I am sure, when we get through this, we will experience a “new normal”.  LP Hartley starts his novel “The Go-Between” with the words “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”  The door to our past has been soundly closed and our new normal is starting to emerge.  

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” 

~ LP Hartley

About Roger Fairhead

Roger is a Leadership specialist and uses the PRIZE Winning Leadership model to help leaders improve their effectiveness and that of their teams, through remote and on-site delivery of keynotes, group training events and individual coaching sessions.

He is the author of several books including "PRIZE Winning Leadership" and “Personal Productivity Planner”, a Chartered Engineer, a Fellow of the Institute of Leadership and Management and a Director of the Global Leadership Network UK with extensive experience in Project Management and Sales.

“He is articulate, tracks complex issues with ease and has an incredible gift for raising pearls of wisdom out of the murky depths of people and process.” His passion is to help people to learn effective leadership skills to lead their teams to capitalize on their strengths and passions to realize their dreams.

Roger also invests into the dreams of families in the world’s underserved communities to offer them small loans that empower them to invest in their future, to provide for their families and give back to their communities.