Can You Change On the Inside?


January 25, 2011

I was watching Supernanny yesterday, well more like it was on and I happened to be in the room.  If you haven’t seen the show it tells the story of various families who have incredibly poorly behaved children.  Supernanny comes swooping in, observes all the mayhem, gives solutions, observes some more, then leaves.  At the end they all live happily ever after.

What struck me was something the mother said.   It was something to the effect of I have to live with who I am on the inside every day, and that’s something I can’t change.

It stopped me in my tracks.  What we’re trying to do as leaders or as human resource professionals is change behavior without addressing who that person is on the inside.  Without understanding what factors make that employee behave in a certain way.  It’s only through developing a relationship with that person that you can start to understand what might motivate him or her to start or stop a behavior.

I don’t have all the answers on this one.  What do YOU think?  Can you ever change who you are in the inside?  Can a leader ever really understand who someone is so that they can change behavior?


  • Trish,
    Great post and observation. I think that as a leader I can understand someone and what makes them tick, so to speak. It’s a time investment from the leader to their people, in which you get to know them and their values and beliefs. I have found that sometimes my initial assessment of someone was wrong when I got to know them and their background and history. Investing the time to get to know your people is the key, it’s hard to do, but well worth the effort. Thanks for your time and great post.


  • Trish,

    I love this subject. I think the odds are stacked against us when it comes to change. If you’re interested, I wrote about this exact subject a couple of weeks ago ( Therefore, leaders will be best served to maximize an individual’s strengths than trying to change their weaknesses.

  • I think that anyone can change, but, depending on the type of change it can be an involved and deeply personal journey. It always starts with the person understanding the need to change and wanting to do so.

    I think that any manager worth his salt would know his employees enough to know if they can/would change and how to properly motivate them towards that, if necessary.

  • Trish – If people understood the perspective of others, could really get into their minds, we might actually have peace. While I do not believe everyone can change, most of us can change behaviors if we have sufficient motivation to do so – but that’s the key, we have to want to. You have posted an important topic and called out awareness to try to understand before we judge or try to “change” someone else. Forced change is not change.

  • Yes…that’s the power of being a human being…and in understanding how the brain works it’s amazing how much!

    A a coach…it’s what I do for a living…and I can’t tell you how much I’ve changed…even in the past 5 years.

    I also agree…many HR professionals are not educated on behavior change…and waste alot of money on employee training because of it.

  • Trish-
    What I think we do in most cases is try and manage to a line that we want people on one side of. What is not accepted even once where I work (crossing that line), may be cause for first step discipline somewhere else. We don’t try to change someone who is disrespectful of others, we just try to not hire them!
    When behavior gets in the way of individual or team effectiveness, but isn’t “line-crossing”, then HR and Team Leaders work in good faith to help the person understand the required behavior change and try and provide situations that nurture that change.
    I think we are all capable of immense personal change. This doesn’t change “who we are on the inside”, which is sometimes the excuse we use to avoid the work related to the personal challenge to improve.

  • It happens every day with my clients.
    They change their behaviors because I provide the understanding that allows them to change their identity, values and beliefs.
    Once they’ve made these changes, the behavior automatically aligns with the new belief.
    My favorite changes are when people move from a worthless identity to an identity where they are priceless.
    If you want more info on how to do this, email me or check out my website.

  • Behavioral change is absolutely possible. As others have rightfully said, wanting to change is the first step. I believe the second step is identifying obstacles to change, be they deeply held false beliefs, patterns of thinking, or constraints in the working environment. As leaders, the best thing we can do for our people is work with them to identify those obstacles and try to break them down. Sometimes the process of removing obstacles is slow and systematic, and other times it comes suddenly with great impact.

  • Hmmmn good question. Who we are inside is pretty complex – we all have positive and negative tendencies which can dominate based on what’s going on outside. It takes a profound life event to fundamentally change who we are whereas behavior can be adjusted with the right stimulus.

Comments are closed.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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