5 Reasons People Love the Chains That Hold Them Back

Leaders: I’ll bet you have someone in mind right now:  If he would JUST change his working habits, he could double his productivity. If she would JUST make better decisions, her life would change. If he would value his team more, they would help him break company records. If she would take the time learn the new software, her life would be so much easier. The list goes on and on, and I see it on a regular basis. So the question becomes, Why? Why are they willing to continue frustrated, stumbling, and failing when often with a few simple changes their life would be so different?

Centuries ago, Voltaire said, “It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”  He was right. In my own consulting and coaching work with churches, ministries, and nonprofits, I’ve actually found people who would watch the organization burn before they admitted they were wrong or made a change. If that situation has frustrated you, here’s a few reasons why it continues:

1) Fear of Change:  They may not have other employee’s respect, and they might even realize they’re not doing a good job, but they’re afraid of what could be next. Read my book “Jolt!” to discover just how difficult change is for some people. In these cases it’s critical to help them understand the alternatives, and most of all, what will happen if they don’t change.

2) Silos:   They don’t see a bigger picture because they can’t. When organizations are so focused within departments, and leaders allow employees to build their own internal kingdoms, change is almost impossible because they don’t see the big picture or the need.

3) Habit:   This is a huge problem with more experienced members of the team. People tend to do what they know. They’ve worked this way for so long, they can’t conceive how changing their habits would help. It just doesn’t seem worth it, so why even try?

4) Embarrassment:   You can never discount the impact of embarrassment in a working environment. Especially if the employee has seniority, has framed awards on his or her wall, or is relatively high up in the organization. For them, admitting the need for change would be a public repudiation of everything they’ve done their entire career. They view it as humiliation and loss of respect.

5) Finally, Guilt.   Constantly offering to show them a more efficient way to respond to email, techniques for making better decisions, leadership suggestions, or creative ideas is a regular reminder that they’re not preforming at the level they should. These people get it, but would rather live in failure than face the truth.

In the future, we’ll talk about how to address each of these symptoms, but for now, just knowing why they refuse to change will help you be more sensitive, successful, and effective.

Without naming names, share situations you’ve experienced with people who for no logical reason, simply refused to make changes that would make a positive difference for them.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • It has been said… A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. A wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid that mistake altogether.

    Phil, as consultants, we often play the role of smart man for our clients so that they can be wise men. We leverage our years of experience – good and bad – to help them make wise choices regarding their organization.

    We are often initially called to assist our clients because they need more money, more sales, more donations, or more viewers. The client will always tell you the problem is “Not enough viewers. Not enough traffic. Not enough phone calls. Not enough donors.” But the real problem is often related to the limiting factors you list in your article above — the shortage is merely the symptom. The challenge with uncovering limiting factors is that it identifies things that must change – and change is always difficult.

    Year ago, I was called to a large church that was aspiring to have a national television outreach. As I probed for the ministry’s limiting factors, I determined that the biggest obstacle holding the television ministry back was the pastor’s wife. Her presence on the television program diminished the overall impact of the show. While she was a wonderful person and quite effective in other roles, her television presence was less than stellar. However, the pastor was understandably reluctant to make the change. However, years later, the change was made and the show quickly grew to reach a national audience.

    Every leader of every organization has a blind spot. I love to ask leaders if they know their blind spots… but it is a trick question. Of course, they don’t know their blind spot — if they knew a blind spot was there, it wouldn’t be a blind spot. When a leader can’t figure out how to take his organization to the next level, it’s usually because the stairway that will take him there is hiding behind his blind spot. Leaders can’t see their own blind spot because they are on the inside, looking out. The first step of a good consultant is to be a friendly pair of eyes on the outside, looking in. Consultants like us provide honest assessment, insightful strategies, and proven results to help break the chains that hold people back.

    • That is a powerful (and accurate) comment. And you’re right about blind spots. We all have them, but in some cases, they’re limiting a leaders ability to reach the next level. Having someone who can graciously expose those blind spots is a wonderful thing. Thanks for commenting Mark. That’s worth chewing on for awhile…!

  • GarySweeten

    Prochaskasays that there are 6 stages of every decision to change. Read about them.

  • Nathan Jones

    Reminds me of Maxwell’s “Law of the Lid.” To paraphrase, a person or organization can only work up to the lid of their own potential. To achieve past the lid, people with greater experiences/talents must be brought on board. The problem is, management rarely hires anyone they feel is more qualified than themselves, as they feel intimidated or fear they’ll potentially lose their job to the new hire. Once I learned about this law, I began seeing it played out in so many institutions.

    • Great point Nathan. It does lead to a vicious cycle…