The best predictor of someone’s future behavior…

…is their past behavior.

I find the simplicity of that statement to be both refreshing and annoying. I know that people don’t change very often or very easily. And I also know that I fall into the trap of thinking that he or she just might.

A small, personal example: Theresa and I made a deal when the kids came along that she would cook and I would clean. We’ve stuck to that deal, more or less, for 17 years with only a few hiccups. Those hiccups include her occasional but desperate desire to run into a burning building at the thought of planning for and preparing yet another meal. For me a longtime hiccup was my bewilderment at the state of the kitchen after dinner.

You see, Theresa has a knack for separating lids from containers in a manner and at a distance that defies logic, gravity and lots of other laws. For quite some time I fumed about this trivial thing. The part of me that operates on a rational plane was unsuccessful in making sense of it. So I puttered and pouted, making my annoyance known before getting to work.

And then one day I stopped being annoyed. One day I realized that this was just her way and it was not going to change. So, I changed instead. And today I consider it a friendly competition to see if I can master this complex game of hide and seek.

A bigger, professional example:

I once found myself over-reliant on a certain colleague. Their contribution to my thought process about the work was substantive and deeply meaningful. But when it came time to putting those great ideas into practice, making concrete plans with specific and timely deliverables, this person was incapable. I was so entranced by the possibilities that were spun in our long, rich conversations that I repeatedly made the mistake of assuming they would somehow manifest into real action.

I understand now that they were operating from a set of very specific gifts and that I was expecting and needing them to be something other than what they were. I was slow in learning that I needed to put our conversations through the filter of my more practical, planful colleagues but that wasn’t nearly as much fun! And the work suffered because of it.

Do you see the thread connecting these two examples? There’s always a choice between waiting for others to change or just getting on with changing ourselves.

Learning to accept reality is hard to do. It’s a path that always leads to the same doorway, the one marked “change starts within.”

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

2 thoughts on “The best predictor of someone’s future behavior…

  1. Hello, Herb –
    Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts and feedback on this post. I’m not sure we could be in greater agreement…and I am certain that I don’t know how to get leaders to demonstrate more humility. The best approach I have come up is to attempt to practice it myself. One way I do so is through writing, sharing my experiences in a way that I hope demonstrates a continuing commitment to learning, about myself, others and the world we inhabit in a very confused and erratic way. But how else could it be! And that’s the source of resistance to humility and vulnerability. In the face of the unknown the reflexive action is to be certain, assured, fixed and unmoving. In other words, closed off to the influence of new information and perspective. It is operating from fear at its most fundamental level.
    Humility in the face of change and complexity is to demonstrate openness, seek new information, additional points of view and to move with the pressure of the moment instead of standing rigidly against it. The image of a strongly rooted tree that survives the storm by bending with the wind comes to mind here.
    I believe that what we are witnessing in the professional, political and educational landscapes today is a regression to old, easier patterns of control that signal the inevitable dawning of a new way of being. They won’t go down without a fight but it is not a fight they have any chance of winning. I wish it would happen faster but these are ancient forces that aren’t easily moved. (We’re not as far removed from our hunter/gather days as we might like to think!)
    I’ll keep doing my part. Thank you for doing yours!

  2. Dave,
    Your latest post, “The Best Predictor of Someone’s Future Behavior…”, is true and thoughtful, as I find all of your messages to be. To me, these “behavior improvements” as I will call them are largely based on one’s ability to embrace humility to some degree. It takes at least some of this magic ingredient to tell oneself that it doesn’t matter if my way is clearly better than her’s, what matters is the agreement or relationship or goal or bigger picture. My daddy preached this to his 10 kids to the point we were tired of hearing it many moons ago. But it works, works well, and maybe is the only thing that does work in interpersonal contexts.

    The business environment where I made my way for 45 years, including 30 yrs of college teaching as an adjunct professor in the CSU system, distains humility to an extent that blows me away. None of the business literature (aka HBR and similar) rarely mentions it and never in a positive light. It’s like humility is the equivalent of capitulation. About 9 yrs ago, I proposed and later finalized a list of 10 core values for the company I started in 1986, WESTPAK, Inc. The last item on the list was “be humble”. The amount of grief this one item inspired was astounding to me. After I gave my company to my employees in an ESOP transaction, the new management removed the entire core value listing from the website.

    My point is a simple one; before anyone is capable of getting above the “The Best Predictor of Someone’s Future Behavior” syndrome you talked about (and I agree with), one must have and indeed embrace a sense of humility in their dealings with others, on both business and personal plains just as my dear ‘ol daddy urged low those many moons ago. But it doesn’t seem to exist or even make the back pages business journals. Yet it’s the basis of the personal success you just wrote about. How about picking up this topic in some of your future posts (in case you haven’t already done so and I just was sleeping when it came through – very distinct possibility…).

    Thanks for your messages, much appreciated and needed.

    Herb Schueneman

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