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You Can't Force People to Grow

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

Here are Five Things You Can Do Instead

Do you have a team or family member that you are struggling to help move from one level to the next, but they don't seem to share your commitment to their growth?

I always say, "people cannot want your success more than you." This means that if they don't take ownership of their growth, there is nothing you can do to make them grow.

In Prosci Change Management, we say that for people to change they need A.D.K.A.R.:

Awareness that something is wrong and they need to change.

Desire to want to change.

Knowledge of how to change.

Ability to take action to change.

Reinforcement in their environment to sustain the change.

Here are five things that you can do instead:

1. Enlighten

Sometimes we jump too quickly to judge a person as being uncooperative when the problem lies in the fact that we have not given them the information they need to know they have a problem and to decide whether or not they want to do anything about it.

Think about the person you are struggling to help to step up to the plate and answer the following questions truthfully:

1. Do they know that they have this problem? How do I know that they know?

2. Do they want to solve this problem for themselves? How do they know?

3. Have I clearly and comprehensively communicated the benefits to them of solving this problem for themselves?

Make sure you have enlightened them with the awareness that they have a problem, the consequences of that problem, and the benefits of overcoming their problems first.

This will help you know that you are on the same wavelength, and that they understand the stakes.

2. Equip

There is nothing more frustrating than knowing you have a problem, and wanting to solve it, but not having the tools to do so.

Think of the person you struggling to help grow and ask yourself?

1. Do they know how to solve the problem for themselves (knowledge, ability)?

2. How do you know their level of understanding and ability?

3. How have you supported them to gain the knowledge and skills to solve the problem for themselves?

It is one thing to enlighten a person to know and have the desire to change and grow, but if you don't also equip them to be able to do so, you may be setting them up for failure when you press them to change into something they have no idea how to.

3. Empower

One of my favorite behavioral change books of all time is Switch by Dan Heath and Chip Heath. In their book, they share real-life stories of how different people have effectively implemented positive behavioral change in contexts that others would find impossible.

In their book, they give examples of chain smokers going for over 17 hours without smoking when they are on airplanes, something they would not do when they are on the ground.

Almost 20 years of people interventions have taught me that investing in training, team building, coaching, and mentoring does very little if the environment a person returns to after the intervention, hinders, rather than facilitates, the positive behavior they have just learned.

Tell the whole truth, and nothing but, the truth:

1. Have you created a healthy, positive, reinforcing environment to help the team or family member to thrive?

2. On a scale of 1 to 10, how empowering is the environment for the person?

3. What can you do to create an environment that helps them to adopt more effective behaviors for better outcomes?

4. Encourage

"The struggle you're in today is developing the strength you need tomorrow."

- Robert Tew

You can enlighten, equip, and empower a person and they may still seem to prefer to stay small and defeated, rather than grow to higher levels of success.


Because many of us are fighting strongholds that have had us bound since childhood - patterns of thinking that have become their mindset. Positive or negative, mindset is powerful.

While a growth mindset helps people confidently try new things, take on risks, and strive for excellence, a fixed or failure mindset makes them think where they are is as far as they can go.

The thing is, people are wrestling with fears and doubts you may not know about, and that may have nothing to do with the situation at hand.

This is why you shouldn't stop at formal, prescribed, professional interventions. Add genuine, specific, consistent encouragement to their formal training, coaching, and mentorship. You would be surprised by the power of simple words of encouragement to build a person's identity, sense of belonging, self-esteem, and even ability.

With this person you want to help in mind, ask yourself:

1. Have I given genuine, specific, and consistent encouragement to them?

2. How do I know they are encouraged?

3. How can I do better at encouraging them?

Encouraging them to grow (giving them courage) is like watering the seeds planted by enlightening, equipping, and empowering them, and washing away the weeds of decades of discouraging words and situations they have wrongly believed to be the limitation of their potential.

5. Enforce

In the book, Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud, a Psychologist, gave an example of a session he had with the parents of a young man that didn't seem to want to grow up. When he asked them where their son was, they told him that their son didn't want to come because he said he didn't have any problems.

When probed about why they, the parents felt their son had problems, they started telling him how despite paying to get him into the best university, giving him a condo to live in, a great car to drive, and lots of money so that he doesn't have to work (so he can instead concentrate on his studies), their son was still irresponsible. He failed several times and they paid to move him to different universities yet it didn't get any better.

Dr. Cloud told them, their son was right; he didn't have any problems. They did. They enabled his lack of responsibility and growth, because they didn't allow him to own the consequences of his actions.

People will only grow when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing. Keep rescuing them, and you will have to carry them indefinitely - making you and others around you bear the burden that should be that person's (and that person's alone), consequences.

Think of them. and ask yourself,

1. What are the consequences for their actions/omissions?

2. How are they supposed to be enforced?

3. Am I enforcing them?

4. Am I doing it consistently?

5. What do I need to do differently so that they, and only they deal with the consequences of their actions?

If you want to help another to grow, don't be afraid to enforce the consequences of actions.

"Anytime you assist or allow another person to continue in their unproductive/unhealthy/addictive behavior, whether actively or passively, you are enabling."

- Stanly Binio

If it's a warning, warn. If it's suspension, suspend. If it's a financial penalty, penalize. If it's the withdrawal of privileges, including access to you, withdraw. If it's escalating to a higher authority, escalate. If it's termination, terminate.

If the person you are struggling to help grow never has to deal with the full consequences of their actions, they have zero motivation to want to change and grow.

If you continue to enable their destructive behavior, they will continue to behave that way.

Sometimes removing yourself from a dysfunctional relationship, or situation is the best thing you can do. This not only allows others to deal with the consequences of their actions, but it also frees your time, energy, finances, and attention to own and grow with those that are willing to.

Who knows, maybe your withdrawal may be just the wake-up call they need to step up and shape up. Or maybe not. Whatever they choose to do, that would be their choice and their consequence. What you choose to do, will be yours.

“We cripple people who are capable of walking, because we choose to carry them.”

- Christie Williams.

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