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How to Change Problematic Behavior


How to Change Problematic Behavior


Mark Ledden shares a podcast where he is interviewed on how to change problematic behavior. 

Mike Merrill:  Hi, I’m Mike Merrill. And I’m here with Kenning partner, Mark. Ledden. 

Mark Ledden: Mike. Good to talk to you today.

Mike: Today we’re talking about four steps for changing problematic behaviors. Do you want to describe what you mean by problematic behaviors? 

Mark:  Yeah, we’ve all got these, right. You can call it a habit. You could call it a reflexive tendency, but there are moments when we find ourselves acting in a way that we know rationally is not helpful to us. And probably people have told us that, you could be more effective or have more impact if this behavior was somewhat different. And yet it is very hard to break that habit. 

So, I’m going to call these persistent patterns. There’s lots of different ways that if you’re coaching, you’re going to try to help people break a persistent pattern. One of the particular things that we run into with some frequency is a person who acts in one way in a certain context, but acts differently in a different context. And they would actually be better off if they acted the way they do over here in this other place. But for some reason they just can’t. 

So it’s a funny situation because it’s not like you’re asking them to do something they don’t know how to do. They do it all the time! But they just cannot, for some reason, seem to act in that way, in this different spot where doing that thing they do elsewhere would really serve them. 

Mike: Do you have an example of this?

Mark: Sure. In fact, I want to talk a little more about a particular person I worked with. Let’s call them Ishan–who is very assertive, very clear about what he thinks. Very good leader with his teams, with his peers, and yet consistently receives feedback from a CIO that you need to be more assertive. “You’re disappearing in the steering committee meetings, and we need you to bring more of your insight and to be a little more provocative there.”

Now, this was consistent with feedback that he had heard in many, many cases that especially when he was in high-stakes situations or stakes where there was a lot of situational authority or hierarchy, he tended to be very reserved. So, you know, the question for Ishan is why can’t team-room Ishan be the person who shows up for these steering committees? And he rationally knew that’s what he was being asked to do. And yet over a number of years had really struggled to make that change.

Mike: And this sounds like a pretty common problem, right? I think I’ve seen this probably even in myself. I get into certain situations, especially when I’m speaking to higher level authorities in a group, and for some reason, some of my confidence subsides. 

Mark: Sure. It’s not unnatural, right. There are obvious reasons why you would feel more at risk and why you might show up differently. It can show up the other way as well. I think about another client who I’ve had, a very senior person in an organization who for some reason ended up totally chewing out a much more junior colleague who had screwed up a rental car arrangement. 

Now, ultimately that rental car arrangement did not matter much, but my guy who was actually a nice decent person. He found himself just wanting to destroy this junior colleague, even though he’s been told repeatedly that sometimes he is too harsh, that sometimes he seems to take things to a personal level. And yet in that moment, provoked by this rental car screw up for whatever reason, he just could not hold back from blasting this guy, even though he knew that was terrible leadership, that’s what he did.


Key points include:

  • Speaking to higher level authorities in a group
  • Identifying triggers prospectively
  • Noticing habitual behavior


Access the podcast, 4 Steps For Changing Problematic Behavior, on