Getting to the Need Behind the Deed

At times, every leader will display negative personality traits or knee-jerk reactions that don’t seem to fit with the rest of their leadership package. They demonstrate excellent leadership skills 95-99% of the time but once in a great while they have an unpredicted outburst or go silent or won’t face a problem or … They have tried to modify their behavior but that doesn’t solve the spontaneous unexpected reaction they have to some isolated situations.

When a leader simply tries to modify a behavior (theirs or a teammate’s) and does not get to the root cause underlying the behavior it is like pushing a beach ball under water. The moment they release their grip the ball (the behavior) will pop to the surface. This is most often seen at moments of stress. Wise leaders use behavior patterns to indicate character or value issues that need to be corrected.

In “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” from the Harvard Business Review (May-June 1991) Chris Argyris coined the terms “Single Loop Learning” and “Double Loop Learning.” He used the term to differentiate learning that solves an immediate problem (“Single-Loop Learning”) from learning that addresses the root causes of problems (“Double-Loop Learning”). The single loop tends to be the easy one where leaders simply teach themselves or their teammate how to modify behavior i.e. stopping their angry outbursts, but the second loop forces the person to deal with the anger that generated the outburst. The second loop around the issue is more difficult but is essential to truly solve the problem. Wise leaders take themselves and help their team to take the second loop around the issue and discover and change the character flaw that created the problem.

Example from a scripture:

John 13:34-35
(At the Last Supper) Jesus gives the disciples a new commandment. They are to love one another as He loved them. He says the world will know they were His disciples by their love for one another.

John 13:36-38
Peter is zealous to be with Jesus in His hour of need. Jesus predicts that Peter will deny him three times before morning.

Matthew 26:69-74
Peter’s denied knowing Christ in the courtyard of Annas the father-in-law of Caiaphas the ruling High Priest.

Matthew 26:75
Peter realizes his sin and weeps over his actions.

Matthew 28:10 and Mark 16:5-7
Through a group of young women Jesus instructs the disciples to meet Him in Galilee for breakfast. He makes a special point to have them invite Peter to be there.

John 21:12-19
Jesus modeled the Double Loop discipline. Jesus reconstructed Peter without addressing his behavior at all. There was no lecture on commitment or dedication, no finger pointing or blame that Peter had denied that he even knew Jesus but three times Jesus forced Peter to examine the root of the problem. While Peter’s behavior problem was important, Jesus knew that a change wouldn’t last unless the root of the behavior was addressed.

Example from the home:

Your daughter is 15 years old. She made a commitment to Christ when she was 9 but seems to have problems living out her faith. She doesn’t want to attend church, does attend youth group but more to be with the other kids than to deepen her faith. The battle lines are drawn and frequently confrontations take place concerning her need to grow into a more mature Christian. It appears you and your spouse are driving her away from Christ rather than helping her mature in her love for Christ.

You talk to your pastor and youth pastor and they feel it would be good if everyone could get into the room at one time for some family counseling. You talk to your daughter and because her youth pastor is involved she agrees. The pastor is an experienced counselor and draws out the need behind the deed.

Several years ago, when your children were quite small your marriage was in crisis. There was a fair amount of arguing even at the table during meals and several times one of the two of you left the room in a huff. There even came a point when you left home for three weeks during the early phases of counseling. With the help of a godly counselor, God moved in your life and your spouse’s life and over a period of months the immediate crisis was averted. As so often happens this troubled time in your marriage simply became part of how you both grew up and over the years the whole incident has been put behind both of you and you have both all but forgotten that it ever happened.

Your daughter’s behavior had little to do with her lack of desire to grow as a Christian and everything to do with her fear of deepening a relationship (even with Jesus) that could shatter and she would again experience the fear and emotional pain she experienced when she thought your marriage was breaking up. Even though your marriage had gotten back together and there has been years of a consistent, loving, secure environment, the decision made with an emotional charge had become the dominate core truth. Long story short – your daughter needed to hear the rest of the story from you about your marriage reconciliation so the real facts could challenge the emotional core truth she formed that you must protect your heart from close relationships.

Example from the church:

The youth group is bulging at the seams. For a little over a year, there has been 25% more kids attending than there is room for in the space allotted to youth meetings. The deacons come up with a proposal for a K-life style youth building to be constructed on the back edge of the churches parking lot. The proposal was scheduled to be presented to the church members at a regularly scheduled business meeting.

Even though the church has very little debt and the monthly income for the past two years has been stable and shows there would be enough money to service the debt, the very mention of the potential of a building project sends several members of the congregation into orbit. Several individuals became very vocal at the meeting and to keep the issue from becoming divisive the proposal was pulled off the table and there was no further discussion at the business meeting.

The discussion at the business meeting had been all over the place from lack of money, to poor use of existing space, to this being a temporary problem, to alternate plans i.e. renting the local high school gym. There was no one focal point for the objections but the group was very united in their objection to building. The unity of the group’s behavior did not seem to match the diversity of the group’s arguments not to build. The chairman of the deacons determined to find out the real problem concerning the youth building so he asked those who had expressed dissenting opinions at the business meeting to meet with the deacons and the pastoral staff to elaborate on their concerns in a more private setting.

At the private meeting it came to light that several of these individuals had been part of another church in the community and about 20 years ago, that church was almost driven into bankruptcy when there wasn’t enough money coming in through offerings to pay the pastor and make payments on the loan. In this case leaders had coerced member families to take one month of the loan during the year to keep the church from defaulting on their loan and harming their testimony for Christ in the community. Their resistance to the proposal had nothing to do with the needs of the youth or the church’s ability to pay the debt service but had everything to do with lack of forgiveness of the previous leaders for their poor planning and the lack of trust that the leaders in this church were doing anything different.

The deacons sought and were given permission by this specific group to go over the plan in detail at this private meeting and explain their plan and backup plan for loan payments. Once the second loop issue had been addressed and trust established, at the next business meeting the head of the dissenting group actually presented the building plan for the deacons.

A few steps to getting to the second loop in the double loop learning process:

  • As God, Jesus obviously knew Peter’s heart problem. Most of us that read about Peter’s denial did not put two and two together to understand it was a problem of loving Christ not a speak-without-thinking problem.
  • Even though we do not have the power of Christ to discern the heart problem, we have direct access to God and are promised the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. The first step in discovering the need behind the deed (the attitude behind the behavior) is to seek God’s wisdom about the issue.
  • Allow some time for God to speak to you concerning the root cause behind the attitude and allow God to speak to you concerning when and how to address the problem.
  • Don’t rush in with all the answers. Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him. Peter began with surface answers that Jesus did not accept. Christ allowed Peter to discover the truth for himself and only then was there lasting change.
  • Pray for wisdom with a blank slate. Don’t allow your bias because of the sting of negative behavior to affect your desire to resolve the issues and change future behavior.
  • Don’t expect perfection immediately. Change comes in the form of a thousand repetitions. There may be other failures but watch for trends, effort and desire to make the change complete. The problem attitude was not perfected overnight and life patterns from that attitude generally take some time to change. As each new situation arises there is a new learning curve.
  • Give meaningful assignments once you are sure change is coming. Don’t wait for the person to prove change in every possible life situation. Act as if you believe the change has been made. Sometimes it is your believing in them that allows a person to make the final steps to complete a change.
  • Continue to pray for the person.

Leaders committed to God’s best in their personal service and for their team will pay attention to Double-Loop Learning. First time around the loop – behavior. Second time around the loop – values and attitudes that drive behavior. Effective leaders do not stop after one time around the learning loop.

Behavior is an outgrowth of character, values and attitude. To permanently modify behavior for yourself, your children, others at work you must get to the reason you act the way you do. A large part of your job as a business or church leader, as a dad, or husband in the home is to be aware you cannot stop with the first loop which is simply correcting behavior but you must to go around the loop again to find and change the root cause of the behavior.

Memorize Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”


Leave a Comment