A Leader’s Secret Sauce – Heinz Kohut’s secret for leading change

Creating business transformation and market growth

Heinz Kohut, noted 20th century psychologist and behaviorist, gave us insight into leading people to change.

He, along with his colleagues and peers, found the old adage to be true:  “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Unfortunately, many managers and leaders don’t believe this.  As a result, too many leaders and managers promote their thinking, their solutions, their products, their perspective and dump it on the listener expecting them to hear, accept and adopt their proposition.

People don’t do this.

While its true that when people respect a leader who has demonstrated success they give more credence to the proposition, they do not simply accept and adopt it.  For them to accept and adopt the proposition it must make sense to them, and fit into their own view of the world.

Kohut came face to face with the reality that for people to change, people have to WANT to change and arrive at their own conclusions about the why, how and what.  With this as a premise, he identified a sequenced series of interactions that can lead a person to want to change, accept a proposition and make a sustainable change.

Simplistically, he set out three conditions or interactions that must be established.

  1. Common structure –
    1. This condition references a shared environment.  In Kohut’s view a structure could take many forms.  It could be a physical space like a room or gym, a social structure like a family or community, or an organizational structure like a business culture, club or a academic institution.
    2. Kinship/Twinship –
      1. Kinship is a shared life experience. Whether constructive or destructive, we have had an experience, emotion, elation or frustration that we can observe in another and resonates with us.   Empathy is a natural result.
      2. Trust and trial –
        1. When one has arrived at the truth about the situation, frustrated and in pain, we begin to seek a solution from someone else who has had a similar experienced.  Thus, a common structure provides a way to discuss the influences causing the dissatisfaction, and kinship provides the empathy from another opening the door for me to ask, “what would you do.”  That trust provides the basis for action – emotional and cognitive –to relieve the frustration with another’s potential solution.

His research and life work proved this out – change can occur when people are led through these steps.

Trust, then is built through this process, to the point where the individual trusts that you, the leader, has a proposition that works for them, solving their problem.

The implications for leaders and marketers is clear. Intuitive sales people have known it all along:  Before you can provide a solution, you make sure the prospect knows you understand his problem, that you have experienced similar situations and that your proposition worked for you, and can work for them.

These stages of trust building are essential for moving anyone to make a change.  The greater the impact of the change, the deeper the process and the more time required to establish that trust.

I have distilled Kohut’s approach into The Four Stages of TrustSM.

  1. Shared values (common structure)
  2. Shared vision (Kinship/twinship)
  3. Assumed responsibility (trust and trial)
  4. Always delivering on your promise (trial success)

Anytime change is proposed, trust is required.  Building this trust always is built upon these four stages whether intentional or intuitively communicated.

Of course, the more intentional a leader or marketer can be about this process, the faster and deeper the trust can be established, trial created, leading to change for good.


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