With Martin G. Moore

Episode #65

How do you Make Someone Change? Leadership Arrogance

As leaders, we often feel as though it is our obligation to ensure that everyone in our team is happy, motivated, and succeeding. Although that would be nice, it is also incredibly unrealistic.

This episode explores the line between accountabilities for the leader and their people (many of whom may also be leaders, of course).

How far does your obligation extend to help someone change? And how much rope should you give them if they are clearly not turning the corner? We get really practical here, so buckle up!

Now this episode is pretty dense, there’s a lot to take in and remember, so I’ve created a free PDF downloadable for you that will help you work out what a leader’s obligations are, and what your people’s obligations are.


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Episode #65 How do you Make Someone Change? Leadership Arrogance


As leaders, we often feel as though it’s our obligation to ensure that everyone in our team is happy, motivated and succeeding. And although that would be nice, it’s also incredibly unrealistic.

In this week’s episode, we explore the line between accountability for the leader and for their people, many of whom may also be leaders, of course.

How far does your obligation extend to help someone change? And how much rope should you give them if they’re clearly not turning the corner? We get really practical today, so buckle up. We’re going to start by examining why we over-function for our people. We’ll then move on to look at the relationship between setting standards and how accountability and performance expectations follow from there. And we’ll finish with some classic examples from my past to help you identify the red flags a little more easily.

Today I’m actually going to start with the punch line. How do you make someone change? You can’t!

Let’s spend the next 15 minutes or so exploring why you can’t and how to set the boundaries for yourself and for your people.

First of all, why do we over function for our people? I had some great advice from one of my mentors many, many years ago. I was telling him about a problem I had with one of the particular staff members who was working for me. And I laid down in great detail all the plans I had for lifting their performance and how to bring them up to the standard that I was looking for.

And he listened patiently. And then he looked at me after about five minutes and said, “Gee, you’re arrogant, Marty.” And I was really taken aback by this. But he looked at me and he said, “What makes you think you have that much control over another human being?” And I thought about it for a while, and he was absolutely right. It wasn’t for me to do.

This was totally liberating once I got my head around this. I didn’t beat myself up anymore when someone chose not to meet the standard. Listen carefully to my language – “… they chose not to meet the standard.”

Every single day we make choices. Outside of the workplace we make choices and the rewards, and of course, the consequences naturally come back to us. No one else is responsible for our choices outside of work. Why would we defer to our boss or the organization for our choices?

In the real world if we borrow a debt we can’t repay, it’s on us. If we choose to drive after too many drinks, it’s on us. If we choose to eat hamburgers every day, don’t bother to exercise and have health issues, it’s on us. And if we fail to invest in our most important relationships and find ourselves in divorce court, guess what? It’s on us!

When people come to work, they make choices too. Some people choose to spend two hours online shopping each day. Some choose to spend hours looking for jobs on monster.com. Some simply choose to ignore our guidance and advice, and some choose to not meet the targets that they’ve agreed to meet. Why on earth would we take on accountability for those choices that our people are making? And why would we think that it’s our responsibility to change those people?

I’ve heard people at all sorts of levels in organizations say, “My leader should motivate me.” Well, okay, that’s fine. But what if she doesn’t? Then what? What are you, 12?



Leaders need to enable the peak performance of their people. They’re not there to drag their team kicking and screaming to the base level of performance and professionalism that they’re being paid to exhibit when they turn up. Everyone needs to take accountability for themselves, their decisions and their behavior. Rewards and consequences are merely the inevitable outcome of those choices.

Often leaders will enable poor behavior and performance so that their people aren’t forced to change and nor are they. There are two key reasons for this. The first is leadership arrogance, and the second is leadership avoidance.

I have heard leaders say genuinely and heartfelt of their chronic under-performers, “They’ve never had a good leader before, so they will be better under my leadership.” Wow… just wow. The problem is if I say, “They’ll be better,” and I say it loudly and emphatically, I’ll start to believe my own bullsh!t. Convincing myself that there’s material improvement even if there isn’t.

Now, this always ends in tears. The team hates it. It really demotivates the good ones as they watch people have their tires pumped up by their leader for obviously substandard performance. Results aren’t achieved. And unless it’s either an organization that isn’t exposed to market forces or doesn’t operate in a competitive environment, it is simply unsustainable.

The second underlying reason is leadership avoidance. Not admitting that there are any performance issues in your team is a way to handle conflict aversion or the fear of not being liked. It enables a leader to hide their insecurities and avoid the hard work of leadership.

If I say my team is all performing well, then I convince myself that I don’t need to do any of the difficult leadership work. Sure, and if you tap the heels of your ruby slippers three times, you end up in Kansas, too.



Let’s take a look at the relationship between setting standards and how accountability and performance expectations follow that. Now that we’ve established that people have to be responsible for their own choices, what is our role as a leader?

I’m going to have this as a downloadable that you can pick up off the Your CEO Mentor website. As CEO, I used to say that my role is to set the tone, the pace, and the standard for the organization. It’s all about setting expectations, clear goals and targets, and most importantly, the way you want those to be achieved.

If we go back to Ep.19: Execution for Results, we talk about how to set accountabilities in the team appropriately. I’d recommend you go back and have a listen to this, but in this context of over-functioning, I want to give you a very specific set of guidelines on how to do this. I have seven things here:

  1. Set really clear objectives. Make sure they’re sensible and achievable. Make sure you have buy-in from the accountable person and make sure you cover not just the what, but also the how you want that to be achieved.
  2. Establish milestones that enable you to monitor progress. They have to be tangible and they have to be visible. And they must enable you to see how the individual is tracking without you having to get into the detail. Be results oriented. Look for outcomes. Don’t worry about the inputs. You’re not worried about how much time they’re spending at the desk. You’re worried about what they’re delivering and how they’re delivering it.
  3. Give feedback at regular intervals. If you have a clear set of milestones, they’ll be easy to interrogate. But make sure you’ve got processes in place that will enable you to see regularly where your people are up to. You need a rhythm of one-on-ones and then very specific review meetings monthly or quarterly or whatever’s appropriate to check on how the progress is.
  4. If you are leading leaders, don’t forget to monitor this too. It’s not just the widgets that the teams are turning out, it’s also holding your leaders to account for their leadership performance and behavior. Also talk about their people and how they’re performing. Make performance conversations part of your vernacular. For example, “How is Michael doing with that project? He’s been struggling for a while, hasn’t he?” Or, “Have you thought about how to stretch Christine? She looks like she’s ready for a bigger challenge?” Or, “This particular team’s been underperforming for some time. Do you have a plan for changing the leadership and how will you uplift performance?

Ask what these leaders are doing to develop their people. Regularly check the health of their talent pipeline and make sure you’re talking to them in their terms, their time horizon. At an executive level, you might be talking about the two to three year time horizon, but for a frontline leader, you might be talking about meeting this quarter’s production numbers.

  1. Make yourself available. Ensure that if your people need to come to you, they can. Don’t over-function here. They need to have the judgment to come to you with appropriate issues, not to have you baby them constantly by checking in. If they’re unreasonably taking your time to seek your approval for their micro decisions, then you need to push back on that.
  2. Be approachable. This is different from being available. How do you handle bad news? If you are a shoot the messenger type of boss, your people are less likely to muster up the courage to walk into your office and to talk to you about something that’s going wrong. And instead, they’re likely to wear the stick their head in the sand or just hope that it gets better and blows over.
  3. Don’t allow upwards delegation. Your people will very often try to share their accountability. They’ll push it up and they’ll say, “Are you okay with this? Is this right? Are you happy with it?” If you are strong and you’ve given them clear single-point accountability, the right people are going to love that because for them it means autonomy. But the wrong people will try to shy away from it and they’ll push their decisions upwards to you so that they’re not wholly and solely accountable. And this can be quite subtle, so you have to watch out for it.


If you’ve done this well and have ongoing interaction with your direct reports, that is your job as a leader. Beyond this, you cannot (and should not) do anymore to make your people successful. If you do, you’re over-functioning for them. In other words, doing their job –  you’re most likely micromanaging and you’re most likely not doing the job you are being paid to do and will ultimately be judged upon. Which, just to be clear, as a leader, you’re paid to create the maximum value, however your organization defines this, using the resources the organization has gifted you – people, money, assets, and time.



Now that we’ve worked out what your role as a leader is in helping people to be successful and making them change, what is it that your people need to do? There are three really simple things here.

  1. If they agreed to do something, they need to do it to the requisite level of quality, cost, and time. Simple. If you’ve set it up properly, they will have agreed to rational goals that they’ve considered and bought into themselves, and they’ll be resourced appropriately. If you haven’t set them up the right way, you need to have a good, hard look at yourself and then go again with a better setup.
  2. They need to apply due care, skill, and diligence. They’re in their role for a reason. They don’t need to know how to do everything, but they certainly need to know how to get the job done. For example, there’s no way I could have run the CS Energy trading desk myself… but I didn’t need to. I had a bunch of really smart, experienced people who were specialists in their field. I needed to know how to lead them – how to set appropriate targets; the tone, the pace, and the standard; how to give direction when problems and unknowns arose; how to help them with cross business unit skirmishes; to ask them the right questions that focus them on the right outcomes.
  3. If something changes and they can’t meet their commitments, they need to come to you and discuss it as soon as they know they’re having issues. This is simply about being an adult. If they find an issue, that’s fine. The world moves beneath our feet constantly. You obviously don’t expect them to never have issues, but what you should expect is that they recognize and respond to these issues. They at least need to be adult enough to talk to you about them.

If your people come to you with a problem before it blows up, well, that’s what we call good management. If they come to you after it blows up, that’s what we call an excuse. And to me now, after all my experience leading people over the years, no matter what words come out of someone’s mouth, if they’re explaining to me after the fact why they didn’t deliver on their commitments, I only hear five words. “The dog ate my homework.” That’s it.


Your people will make their own choices about how they do this. They’ll choose how much effort to put in. They’ll choose how much guidance to seek from you and others. They’ll choose what to do with any guidance you give. They will choose their level of effort and commitment. They will choose whether they harness the resources at their disposal or whether they squander them.

From that point, you as the leader, simply need to operate the scoreboard. You can’t help your people beyond this if they choose not to perform, nor should you. It’s not up to you to change them. The notion that you should be able to make everyone successful is somewhat ridiculous given the myriad human conditions that you are going to find in your team. And if after all your leadership skill and effort, the score doesn’t move, the consequences are on them, not on you.


Let’s finish with some classic examples from my past that might help you to identify the red flags more easily. And I have five of these examples.

  1. When you give really specific direction that an individual chooses to ignore. I once had an executive working for me who did exactly that. He’d only been with me for three or four months, but he had a general manager working for him who’d been in the organization for a few years, and we’d had a pretty good look at him.

This general manager’s operation was going backwards at a rate of knots in every facet and indicator you cared to look at – financial, safety, culture, operational performance – everything was in a hole.

And I said to this executive, “Look, I know you’ve only had three or four months to look at this guy, but I’m absolutely convinced that he can’t do the job. And I can see that organization going backwards at a rate of knots. You really need to deal with him. Now the call is yours and you’ve got to work out how you do it, your timing and everything else. But come back to me over the weekend and let me know what you’re going to do.”

And he came back on Monday morning and said to me, “I think I can turn him around. I’m going to work with him.” Now that’s okay. But the remedy for that as I applied in this case was, I made it really clear that if he decided to go against my explicit direction on this, it was his call, but he was his own. Now, the prognosis for someone like this is that they are extremely unlikely to change. You just have to let them sink or swim based on their results and action it quickly.

  1. Someone who pushes accountability for their decisions upwards. I once had a head of safety who was a classic example. I said to him, “Look, there’s an issue I want you to look at. I want you to go and do some research. There’s plenty of stuff on this out there. Go and do a bit of research and come back to me. But this is something I’ve done in other organizations. I think it’s a good thing and I think it’s something we should implement.”

And this went into the black hole. A few months later, I said to him, “How are you going with that research I asked you to do and what decision have you come up with?” And he said, “Oh, well, I haven’t really done anything.” And I said, “Okay, this is important to me. I think it’s something that’s actually needed in the organization, so I’d like you to find out a way to go ahead with it.”

What did he do? He went out into the organization and said, “We are going to do this because the CEO said…” None of the old, “I’ve done some research. I think it’s a good idea. This is my decision because it makes sense.” It was, “The boss said.”

If you’ve got people who operate like this and who can’t take responsibility for decisions, they need to get it between the eyes. They need to hear your expectations, in no uncertain terms. And they need to own their decisions and take them forward with strength, or they’re not fit to lead in your team. Prognosis for someone like this, once again, it’s extremely unlikely that they will change. For a start, trust will always be an issue with you.

  1. A leader who protects their team members regardless of performance or behavior. You see these in various forms, and there’s always a reason. The ones I like are the ones that just give people too much rope and too much benefit of the doubt. “Oh, she’s turning a corner. I just need a little more time.” Well, some corners I’ve seen are longer than the east coast of Australia.

The remedy, as their leader, you’ve got to give them very strict time boundaries. “If I don’t see something by this time next quarter, then the game’s up and you’re going to have to do something about it.” The prognosis in this case is reasonably good, funny enough.

You just need to set a higher tempo and get them to move along with it.

  1. A leader who always talks up how well the team is doing, in the absence of credible evidence. I had another exec who worked for you at to point who just showered her team with a hailstorm of superlatives, always talking about how awesome her people were. The trouble was, she had inherited the team and it had one or two good performers, a couple of plodders and one that simply wasn’t up to it. They didn’t all of a sudden become superstars just because this leader walked in and told them they were.

The remedy for this is you have to be much more directive about the type of result you’re looking for, and then you have to look for them to make the hard people decisions or not. But the prognosis, once again, it’s extremely unlikely that a person like this will change. This type of leadership is generally born from extreme conflict aversion.

  1. Look for the disinformation that people will give you to drag you off the scent. At CS Energy, we used to run a six-monthly talent management process. This was done by reviewing every single leader in the organization based on their performance and their potential. If someone was both not performing and didn’t see the potential to move from where they were, then that was what I called the up-or-out Not performing, and not showing any potential.

It’s okay to be in there at a point. For example, when you just step into a new role, you wouldn’t necessarily be expected to be at full performance. But if you’re still there six months later, well that’s a problem. And if you’re still there 12 months later, it’s your leader’s problem for not holding you to account, managing your performance, and applying consequences.

I’d quite often see movement of people from session to session, particularly in the operations where I knew nothing was changing. Someone would be moved out of the up or out box because the leader knew that I would question it and I’d get onto it.

What they were actually doing was moving them just to avoid my inquiry. And what were leaders in between them and me doing? Not a lot apparently. But it was hugely informative to me about the leadership capability I had, the culture they were creating and their own performance.

Up or out starts with you! Eat your own dog food. The remedy for this, if the leaders below you aren’t capable of managing the performance of their people, then perhaps they’re the ones who should be up or out. Prognosis: extremely unlikely to change. Replace them quickly.


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