Want Someone to Change? You Go First.

by Alli Polin on March 28, 2014

Invite someone to change, never demand

Does this sound familiar?  You really want someone to make a change in their life or leadership and you see the need for change so clearly, it’s killing you that they are not changing a thing.  You take their change on as your personal mission and encourage them to change, tell them what they need to do, and practically beg them to make a shift yet for all of your pleas, they are not moving a muscle.  What’s going on?  Why is this person totally immune to your rational arguments, emotional plays and aggressive threats?

Telling rarely inspires a meaningful shift. 

  • You need to lose weight.
  • You need to stop working so many hours.
  • You need to get a better job.
  • You need to stop whining.
  • You need to do this thing I really want you to do and I don’t care if you really want to do it or even see that you need to do it.  You just have to because I said so.

Workin’ for ya?

There’s also the school of thought that I should change because I know I need to make a shift and my will power should be enough. 

  • I need get to the gym more.
  • I need to spend more time with my family.
  • I need to be less temperamental.
  • I need to get a new job.
  • I need to do this thing because once I do, my life will be better, but for some reason I still really don’t want to do it.

In practice, knowing what to do still struggles to go from the brain, to our way of being and into action.

I’m a firm believer that change happens through our relationships and not because someone tells us what to do or that we just don’t have enough resolve to follow through on our wishes.

When we are in relationship with each other, I can accept you for who you are and trust that it’s not my job to change you, but to change myself which in turn will invite you to do the same.  

When I ask  you to change, I know better.
When you struggle to change and can’t, you’re not good enough.
When I encourage you to change, I want for you.
When you are stuck in your efforts to change, you are deeply stuck. 
When I force you to change, I’m smarter.
When you refuse to change, you feel alone with your struggle.

When I change, I invite you to join me, as my equal, to discover what’s possible for you. 

I’m reminded of a story that I first heard when I was studying with the Arbinger Institute (if you have never read Leadership and Self Deception do yourself a favor read it.  This is not an affiliate link, I’m just passionate about Arbinger’s work.)

Here’s the story: 

A young man in India was suffering from health problems due to his love for sweets and sugar. His mother tried everything she knew to change his eating habits, but he could not, or would not, change. It seemed that the more she got after him, the worse his problem became.

Finally, at a loss for how to help him, she decided to take him to see Mahatma Gandhi, whom she knew her son admired. After a long and hot journey, they finally arrived at Gandhi’s ashram and upon reaching him she said, “Mahatma, my son is in ill health because of his love for sugar. Could you please tell him to stop eating sugar? Perhaps he would listen to you.”

Gandhi paused for a moment, thinking. Then he looked at the woman and said, “Madame, bring your son back in three weeks. Then I will speak with him.”

A little confused about why he could not tell her son to stop today, she accepted that she would need to make the journey again in three weeks time back to Gandhi’s ashram.

Three weeks later, the mother again traveled with her son to see Gandhi, whereupon he told the boy to stop eating sugar.

“Why did we have to wait three weeks for that?” the mother asked, before leaving.

“Madame,” Gandhi responded, “three weeks ago, I was still eating sugar.”

What shift do you need to make in your own life and way of being before you’re truly able to invite others to create change in their life and leadership?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz March 28, 2014 at 8:08 am


Such a key point! Change happens from within. If we are unwilling to change, how can we expect others to? Getting those changes to happen takes a jolt at times and other times it takes starting new, small habits. A change I made was doing more strength training. At first, it was a pain… literally! After awhile, the change in my health and the way I feel made me happier and willing to do more. We just need to begin.




Alli Polin March 29, 2014 at 1:26 am

Starting small actually is such a key strategy in change, isn’t it? In the past I thought I’m going to do this thing seven days a week! And they when I fall off the wagon after three I kick myself instead of starting again.

Sounds like you’re making great strides this year with your commitment to a healthy lifestyle! Inspires me!




Terri Klass March 28, 2014 at 8:31 am

I loved the story, Alli as I too think we sometimes need to make adjustments with ourselves before we can fully influence others. Leadership is about influence and we need to be forthright and authentic to build meaningful relationships.

I am a believer in helping others come to their own conclusions by asking great questions and supporting their choices, even if those choices seem less than optimal to me. My experiences along the way have empowered me to be more patient, open and careful in how I say things.

Another post that really got me thinking, Alli!


Alli Polin March 29, 2014 at 1:27 am

Terri – leadership is definitely about influence which is impossible without strong relationships. Even more, we need to be aware to when those genuine relationships blur the line between wanting to do something for someone and manipulation.

Thanks, Terri!


Samantha March 28, 2014 at 9:23 am

Another hit a home run out of the ball park post Alli!

How many times do you see and read posts and tweets or interact with people who seem to be the expert at what you should do yet don’t seem to apply the same expertise and advise to themselves?

I see it all of the time. I’ve also been guilty of it myself. (maybe once or twice…grins)

I eventually tune out the people that are more eager to get me to change yet won’t live up to their own lofty standards. Hypocrisy certainly doesn’t inspire people to change.

There’s another important to all of this I’ve been chewing on recently. It’s the energy behind the judgments and the controlling and shaming that is really revealing during a pause when we stop reacting to another persons efforts to control and change us. (or vice versa…whoever we are feeling compelled to change) It’s the blind misconception that we are being loving, kind, and helpful to the other person AS IF 1) they aren’t already hurting…. 2) they actually CARE about the other person

So often people seem to be such experts on the lives of people they don’t even know, have all of this advice….and how often do they even bother to have a REAL conversation with the people they so desperately feel need to change? Have they struck up a conversation? Have they bothered to ask any questions to see what is going on in the life of another person? Do they have any CLUE as to what is REALLY going on in the life of another person?

Case in point…I noticed Kate Nasser tweeting about an incident that happened with Self magazine. Apparently they mocked and shamed a cancer survivor who wore a tutu during a marathon. Made fun of her. They didn’t check their facts. If they would have, they would have learned she was a cancer survivor and that the tutu was her own business product and money was being donated to charity.

Judgment. Shame. Mocking.

All because people don’t stop long enough to have a REAL conversation and check the facts.

It’s so much easier to think we KNOW ALL about people.

Thanks for another great post.


Alli Polin March 30, 2014 at 8:12 am

Well said: Hypocrisy certainly doesn’t inspire people to change.

When people see themselves as if they know better, understand more, can see what’s right for you even when you can’t… it falls flat. It’s meddling in the guise of a relationship instead of truly loving, caring and connecting.

Right after I read your comment, I came across a ton of posts about Self Magazines awful choices in publishing a mocking picture of that woman. Talk about seeing themselves as better than and knowing more. How hard would it have been to walk up to her, ask a question or two, before assuming they understood the entire picture?

So much of our relationships are colored by the way we see ourselves. It impacts our choices, behaviors and of course the way other people experience us too. A sure fire way to stop knowing more and assuming more is to be real, vulnerable, human and IN relationship… make a connection… not only give advice.

PS. I saw a brilliant tweet today that was so simple “Practice what you tweet.” What if we pulled that into all parts of our lives?

I feel you, my friend and am nodding along!!!


Samantha March 30, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Let’s face… NONE of us can declare ourselves exempt from a little hypocrisy now and then. Unfortunately, it most often happens in moments we truly aren’t conscious that we ARE being hypocritical! lol

That said, the big goal for myself is I WANT to be someone who practices what I preach/teach to others. And if we aren’t seeing it in others, we have the opportunity to BE the change (as Gandhi says). Personally, one of my biggies is in the honesty department. And again, over the past year I’ve really dug deep into this subject only to find that it’s NOT a black and white issue for any of us. We can be honest and be downright cruel and lacking in any genuine love and so how does THAT help us? So there’s both a learning curve there as well as situational discernment that is called for. And for the most part, it changes with EVERY person we interact with since each of us have our own unique blueprint, histories, reaction ‘buttons’, etc

I love the tweet you mentioned…it’s GREAT! ‘Practice what you tweet.’

Even better, it might be good for all us tweeters to ask ourselves if we are applying it to ourselves before we tweet or just tweeting it because we feel someone ELSE should live up to it?

If we aren’t willing to apply it to ourselves first, then perhaps we shouldn’t tweet it at all.

And you got it gurl! ‘A sure fire way to stop knowing more and assuming more is to be real, vulnerable, human and IN relationship….make a connection…not only give advice.’

I feel we ALL do better when we learn TOGETHER instead of lording it over one another.

It’s easier to be vulnerable with people who are willing to be vulnerable with us.

Great stuff Allie! xo


Alli Polin April 1, 2014 at 2:03 am

Funny you mentioned why we’re tweeting… is it all for us to preach the right way to live to others or for something deeper? We are all “I” a “You” and a “We” at different times. I am not separate from you… we are the same. How anyone can assume that their “wisdom” is only for the benefit of others is beyond me. I am crazy far from perfect but I’m not shooting for perfect but instead to show up and be and do the best I can. I think that invites relationships that are far more meaningful than expert to learner.

We’re all learners and like you wrote… learning TOGETHER!!



Joy Guthrie March 28, 2014 at 11:03 am

A great post and a great story Alli. Thank you.


Alli Polin March 30, 2014 at 8:14 am

Thanks, Joy! I think it was a remarkable story too and have thought about it many times over the years. I’ll wonder: What’s my sugar? and start to build from there.


LaRae Quy March 28, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Great post, Alli.

It reminds me of a quote I heard while at seminary: “Preach the gospel at all times; if need be, use words.”

Our actions do speak louder than words.

Thanks for reminding us all.


Alli Polin March 29, 2014 at 1:28 am

LaRae – that quote is awesome. That’s what it boils down to… being responsive to the needs of others through our words and actions or being resistant.

Always appreciate your wisdom!


Chery Gegelman March 28, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Alli – several things stood out to me when I read this.

The first is that from a little girl to the present- others will only be able to influence my behavior if they can paint a clear picture of why I should or should not do something. Telling me I need to change without a clear mental picture/understanding of the impact that change will make had and continues to have absolutely no impact.

Secondly this quote resonated because I know I have made people feel that way at times. (Hopefully in the past and not in the present.). “When you struggle to change and can’t, you’re not good enough.”

Lastly I love the story. Change yourself before giving advice!

Thank you!


Alli Polin March 29, 2014 at 1:33 am

You raise some great points regarding change, Chery. Telling ain’t changing! Still, I’ve seen even in my own life and certainly in the lives of my clients that we know WHY yet still don’t change. What’s up with that? I think that’s where relationships truly come into play and are the secret from getting unstuck (especially when you combine it with a meaningful why!)

Oftentimes, certainly unintentionally we put people in boxes but they’re the ones that build them based on how they feel the world is treating them or what they’re owed. “Better than.” “Worse than” “Invisible” “Deserving” “Less than” Interesting to think that our way of being in relationship has and impact on the way others in turn see themselves and interact with the world.

Love this topic and I know change is a passion for you too!


Carl March 29, 2014 at 3:22 am

Alli, such a great post! Thank you,
What I took away was the realization that we use our attempts to ‘change’ others as a defense against effecting change within ourselves.
Look within, before looking outward.

Best regards,


Alli Polin March 29, 2014 at 5:03 am

With you all the way, Carl! In fact, when we focus on changing others instead of within, we’re really betraying who we are and what we most want and need to do for ourselves too.

With gratitude,



Christi Hegstad March 29, 2014 at 9:32 pm

What a terrific story to support your point, Alli. It really brings home the importance of integrity in leadership: the “do as I say, not as I do” route rarely yields positive results!

One of my guiding principles also stems from Gandhi’s wisdom, to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” We can’t expect others to change simply because we tell them they should; we need to be models of change ourselves. Thank you for the reminder!



Alli Polin April 1, 2014 at 12:59 am

Christi – I’m with you all the way! We do need to be models for change without judgement of others choices. If we change just because we want someone else to follow suit, we’ll have failed. If we change because of a spark within ourselves or our genuine connection and love for another person, we are standing in our integrity.

Appreciate your insights, value your comment! Thanks so much!


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