Creating Effective Behaviors

Tom Henschel

Start by observing

“Nolan just isn’t ready to be a VP,” his CEO told me. “He’s a rock star in his expertise, but he just doesn’t feel like a VP.”

Nolan had heard the feedback before and, in our first coaching session, vowed that by the end of our time together he’d feel more vice-presidential than any of the vice-presidents.

Lips thinned with determination, he asked, “What do I need to do to ‘feel’ like a VP?”

“How’re your powers of observation” I asked.

“I don’t know. What do you want me to observe?”

“The VPs,” I answered. “When do you get to see them?”

“Meetings mostly,” he said.

“OK. So here’s the homework. Observe them and create two lists. One list will have all the behaviors that they’re doing that you do, too.”

“The other list,” he said, catching on, “will be the behaviors they do that I don’t do, right?”


“And then what? I start doing the behaviors that are on the second list and I just become a VP?”

“Who knows? But until you start acting like a VP, people won’t see you’re capable of being a VP.”

Nolan, ever determined, was willing to give it a shot.

Practice and Integrate

At our next session, Nolan had his two lists. He said he was already doing four behaviors that he’d observed in the VPs:

Leaning forward at meetings; strong eye contact; stillness; authentic listening.

Behaviors he was not yet emulating were: Clearly articulate complex ideas; be concise consistently; ask powerful questions.

When he asked what he was supposed to do with that second list, I told him he’d completed step one in a three-step process that I call “Act ‘As If’.” In this case, Nolan needed to act “as if” if he were already a VP.

“And step one was what?” he asked.

“Observe,” I answered.

“And steps two and three?”

“Practice and integrate.”

“Practice? I’m going to practice asking powerful questions? How am I going to do that?” he asked.

Low-risk settings

“You’re going to practice in low-risk settings,” I said. “Don’t try this for the first time in the executive staff meeting. Try it at lunch with a colleague. Try it at home with your kids. Try it over coffee with a friend. But practice.”

He smiled and nodded. “Funny, I give my people the same sort of advice when they’re doing things for the first time. OK. I get it. And what about ‘integrate’? How does that work?”

“In the beginning, even in low risk settings, showing that new behavior will take a lot of conscious effort. Integrating means getting to the point where you can get the same result with a lot less effort.”

He laughed. “One of my daughters has been working on this gymnastics move for about a year. She used to have to stop talking and really think hard about it before doing it. Now she does it on her way to the car, chattering the whole time.”

“She’s integrated it,” I agreed.

“You know what this sounds like?” he asked. “I read an article recently about some war movie that was being made. The actors embedded with an actual Marine unit for about a month. The actors all talked about how things became second nature to them, and then, when they were shooting the movie, they didn’t have to think about them.”

“Funny you should mention actors,” I said. “This ‘Act ‘As If’’ tool is something actors use all the time. Observe. Practice. Integrate.”

“Except actors get to practice in private,” he said. “No one sees their rehearsal.”

“That’s why you’re going to find low-risk settings,” I replied.

He nodded, willing, as always.

In your work life, you’ve probably been getting feedback about certain behaviors people would like to see more of. Or less of. Using the “Act ‘As If’” tool – observe, practice, integrate – is a powerful way to manifest new behaviors. Just ask Nolan: within nine months he got his promotion!

To get your own tips from Tom, schedule a consult with him today.