You can Inspire People to Change: Here’s How

In last two weeks, I’ve written about two of the foundational building blocks of transformational leadership: The Habit of Continuous Growth and Leading on Mission
A natural outgrowth of these two leadership principles is the subject for our third post. In this week’s post, I want to talk about a dynamic tool that can take your leadership to the next level. 
Once you gain a deeper understanding of this concept, you will never look at world the same way again. When you harness this concept’s incredible power, it will change the way you coach, teach, and relate to your players at a fundamental level.
Before we get to that, let me deepen our understanding of transformational leadership by adding some critical information to our last two posts.


The Roots of Transformational Leadership

Are you rooted in what is most important?
Let’s take a quick look back at the roots of transformational leadership.
Our first, post dealt with the key ingredient of becoming a transformational leader. We know that transformational leadership is only possible when the leader fully commits themselves to the daily process of growth.
But we should be careful to distinguish the purpose of this growth; this is not growth simply for the sake of personal improvement.
In America, the personal growth movement has dominated our concept of personal development. Our public consciousness has been shaped by the belief that helping ourselves become “better people” is the quickest way to a happy and fulfilling life.
The cultural phenomenon of new year’s resolutions has painted us a sanitized picture of life, in which “my happiness” is both the subject and the objective of the tapestry of our lives. I believe we were created for more. Our lives were designed to paint a robust picture of life where other people are the subject of our painting. We exist to inspire change in the world around us. At its core, personal development should be other centered.
This faulty belief system assumes that my happiness is a function of becoming “the best version of myself” so that I become a happier person.
Transformational leadership takes that idea and flips it on its head.
Because only when a Leader understands that growth is not a self-help exercise, but a responsibility do we see change start to happen. The best leaders become saturated with the reality that:
Our Growth is for Others


Our second post, explored the difference between transformational and transactional leadership.
I boiled the difference between these two types of leaders to a simple principle:
Mission drives Transformation.
When purpose (or mission) is the unifying and driving force for your team, transformation becomes possible.
Leading through mission is the engine that drives your team to achieve their dreams. Humans are wired to rally around a common purpose and cause, which is what makes leading through mission/purpose so effective. It speaks to the core of our nature while transforming your team in a number of other practical ways.
Now onto this week’s topic:
 All effective Leaders are deeply rooted in the right things.
When a leaders has deep roots, they can extend the branches of their own influence over a greater area. The deeper the roots,  the greater the influence. 
Influence is everything within leadership. Why?
Because influence gives you the ability to inspire people to change.
Inspiring change is the holy grail of all great leadership!
Moving someone from a place where they don’t want to be to a place they couldn’t reach on their own is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It is the buried treasure, a four leaf clover, the holy grail of leadership!
All great leaders are constantly searching for recipe that will bring about change. But change is really, really, difficult to bring about. It is hard to get people to get out of their comfort zone and into a better place. But the good news is that change is contagious:
When we see someone else change we become inspired.
Marketers understand this better than anyone! The majority of TV programming is based around this simple concept – from housing and weight loss shows, to talent competitions and cooking shows, transformation is addictive. 
We love to watch people change. We love to watch people change for the better and for the worse. It doesn’t really matter which direction their lives turn, as long as the characters end up someplace different than where they started.
Good leaders facilitate change, but great leaders inspire change. The fulcrum on which all transformational leadership rests, is the ability to push the people around them to new levels of influence.
A leader takes someone to a place they could never go themselves. 
The concept of changing behavior is multifaceted and complex, but there is one concept that disproportionally controls a large portion of that behavior. This powerful concept, is one of the most influential ideas in behavioral psychology, with wide-reaching implications and the potential for inspiring huge change in your life. 
Are you ready to find out what it is?
Great. Let’s dive in.

Understanding Habits

In his widely popular book, Charles Duhigg breaks down one of the most fundamental aspects of human behavior: our habits.
Duhigg cites several sources that estimate about 40 percent of our daily actions are the result of our unconscious habits. Every habit follows a predictable three part sequence: the cue, the routine, and the reward
Every habit is initiated by a cue, which can be almost anything. A time of day, a person, a smell, an emotion, an object, etc. The cue is like a starting whistle for a track and field athlete. Once your brain here’s the whistle, your mind automically starts to initiate the habit. And once the habit is set in motion, it is nearly impossible to stop.
When the cue initializes the habit, the next step in the process is the routine – this is what we most commonly associate with the idea of habit. Routines can be good or bad, productive or destructive, but the routine represents the actual performing of the action (at this stage our brain goes on autopilot, I’ll explain more about this concept in a second). 
Finally, there is the reward. Like the cue, a reward can take many different shapes and sizes – it could be a feeling, a food, an emotion, an object, etc. The reward gives us a sense of accomplishment and begins to develop a neurological craving which engrains the habit.
Predictably, every single one of our habits follows this routine. Our brain organizes our actions into these predictable patterns called ‘habits’ for three specific reasons.
1. So we Don’t Need to Relearn Tasks
It would be extremely frustrating if we had to relearn simple skills. Imagine if you went on vacation for three weeks and had to relearn how to drive when you returned back home. Habits encode these behaviors in our brains so we don’t have to relearn basic tasks.
2. To Save Effort
Our brains are constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency and cut out clutter. Habits are a great way to do that.
When scientists look at the brain activity of mice that have been conditioned to perform a habit, they notice a spike in brain activity during the “cue” and reward” phase, but during the actual “routine” part of the habit loop brain activity drops off dramatically.
It’s like our brain goes on autopilot. When the activity in our brain drops during the “routine” phase, this is our brains attempt to maximize efficiency so that we have a greater amount of working memory to focus on more immediate tasks. 
3. To Increase Capacity
The notion of “chunking” has become a predominant theory for many psychologists in understanding how our brains organize large amounts of information. Chunking is our brain’s attempt to organize large amounts of information into “chunks” of related material that we can make sense of.
As we look for patterns to emerge from the vast amounts of seemingly unrelated pieces of information that our brain receives every day, our ability to group this data is what allows up to increase our memories capacity.
Chunking is a popular technique with world class “memory athletes’ who use chunking to memorize sequences of hundreds or even thousands of random names or numbers for competition. Chunking helps their brain group these swaths of unrelated data into a coherent pattern. Think of chunking as a brain’s sophisticated filling system. For a fascinating look into how chunking helps us store more information check this out.

Now that we have a basic understanding of how habits work, the question becomes:

how does this understanding lead to transformational change in the people we lead?

Inspiring Change Through Habits

Habits are incredibly powerful, but habits don’t inspire change on their own. Habits are an important ingredient in the recipe of change, but they need to be used in a specific environment to be most effective.

When you bake a cake, flour is an crucial ingredient, but you can’t bake a cake with flour alone. You need to mix the ingredients so that they compliment each other. Habits operate in the same way.

Here are the ingredients you need to leverage the power of habits to inspire change in your life and for your team.


Don’t Create, Replace

In his book, Duhigg talks about the “golden rule” of habit change which is:

If we keep the same cue and the same reward, a new routine can be inserted.

Because our brain uses habits to maximize our efficiency, once a habit is created, it can not be destroyed (this is why you don’t have to relearn how to ride a bike every Spring after the snow thaws). Since habits can’t be destroyed, the easiest way to change our habits is to keep the same cue and reward but insert a more beneficial routine.

Why go through the difficulty of creating a new habit when you can easily replace an old one?

Our brains were designed to maximize our productivity, go ahead and use it.



Researchers have found that simply identifying the habit loop (Cue-Routine-Reward) is not enough to inspire lasting change in someone’s life. Understanding the subsequent parts of a habit can help you change a harmful behavior, but researches have found that the times when people are most vulnerable to returning to their old habits is during a time of stress or disappointment in their life.

Why do people who are on a path to escaping their harmful addiction revert to their old ways during a time of difficulty?


The answer is simple: they don’t believe they can change.

Groups like Alcoholics Anonymous help people overcome addictive behavior by bulking up people’s belief. 7 steps of their 12 steps process mention a belief in God or some kind of higher power. There are countless addicts who have joined AA without any kind of prior belief in God (and even ardent atheists), but who came away from their experience in the program as changed people.

What researchers have found is that AA’s emphasis on a higher power gives people the framework on which to construct a belief that, change is possible.

When temptation arrives to revert to old habits, belief is the steady hand on the steering wheel that keeps us driving on the straight and narrow. Belief gives us the power to believe that our future can and will be different.



If Belief is the flour in our recipe, then Community is the sugar. You can’t have one without the other. To change our habits we first need to believe that we can change, but this belief is most effective within the context of a group. 

In a group context, our belief grows from an intellectual hope in the future, to a walking, breathing, talking example that change is possible.

Our belief puts on skin.

The function of belief is to give us hope during times of hopelessness. And the inspiration for change is most powerful when we can talk and touch it in the form of our teammates, coworkers, or friends.


Strengthen with Stories

Once we have identified the habit loop, start telling yourself the right kind of stories. Find the people within your community who have changed for the better and highlight their accomplishments. Track your own progress and share your successes with people in your life.

Start constructing a narrative for yourself (or your team) that praises the accomplishments of what you set out to accomplish. Giving yourself/your team concrete examples of positive change will keep your belief tank filled with fuel. If you find yourself running out of gas, stop for a minute and refill your tank with stories of change and transformation. You’ll be glad you did.


Growth Exercise

Team Application

Let me first start by saying that this post had two purposes: first to give you a better understanding of habits, and second to better equip you to inspire change within your life and in the life of your team.

As I’ve written about in the past, the greatest gift a leader can give their team is a daily commitment to the habit of continuous growth. Changing your personal habits is one of the most effective ways you can become, “a leader worth following“.

I hope that you use your understanding of habits to ignite change in your personal life – and although we could all think of a dozen habits we’d like to change I would challenge you to get into the habit of reading every single day, there is nothing more transformational for a leader.

In addition to your personal habits, one of the easiest ways to build a culture of excellence on a basketball team is to encourage the leaders of your team build virtuous habits that set a precedent of excellence.


Let me illustrate with a quick personal story:

When I first arrived at the College of William and Mary as a freshman in 2008, the culture of our basketball program wasn’t great. The senior leaders on our team were not hard workers or great leaders. They set an example of apathy and selfishness in their actions on and off the court. They rarely put in extra work outside of the mandated practice time and we didn’t have a culture that valued continuous growth.

Over the next few 4 years, I saw that culture start to change. In terms of wins and losses, my college career could have been considered a failure (we only had 1 winning season in 4 years, and we only won 6 games my senior year).

But one of the things I’m most proud of is the legacy my class was able to leave in how we started to develop a culture that valued extra work and continuous improvement. Today, our program is more successful than it has ever been and there is an incredible culture of work and commitment to growth.

Undoubtedly there are countless factors that have contributed to their success, but I am proud that our class was able to contribute to that success in a small way.


Exercise for Your Team

  • Identify Your Leaders
  • Get them to buy into specific habits (think about the cue-routine-reward habit loop) that will trickle down to the rest of the team – an example could be a specific routine before practice starts.
  • Integrate these Habits into the fabric of your team
  • Identify and Praise the change you see in players (ex. if your habit is getting extra shots up, then showcase how people have improved their shooting percentages)



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