Overcoming Pattern Behaviours


Joe is a manager. By and large, he's pretty good at what he does. He's not a superstar, but he gets the job done reasonably well–on time, on-budget, on–target.

Every once and a while, though, Joe can be slippery. If something goes wrong in his department, he's pretty quick to shift the blame to someone else. Usually that guilty person or group is in another area of the organization. Joe is famous for making excuses and blaming others rather than taking responsibility. As his boss, you've talked to him about it, but those conversations always end up in the same place. Joe is a "victim of the circumstances".

Mary always seems to be flustered. She just can't seem to handle very much. If you give her just one more thing to do, she has a tendency to collapse under the weight of her work. It's confusing, because she's very well organized. And she's the most gifted of all the people you manage.

Mary's productivity is not what it should or could be. As a matter of fact, her co-workers are shouldering work that she should be doing. You've talked to her, provided extra training, shown her how to integrate new work, and coached her daily. She is good at what she does; she just can't, or won't, do more.

Jim is a micro-manager. He is on top of his people with an iron grip. His staff complains that his style is domineering and that his constant demand for micro-details is limiting confidence and interfering with group performance. Jim's direct reports are all seasoned managers with excellent skills and good performance records. Yet, Jim just can't let go. Jim has a reputation as a control freak.

These are three examples of patterns of limiting behavior.

A pattern of limiting behavior is an unconscious response to a situation that is emotionally upsetting or where we perceive some kind of threat to our well-being or comfort zone.

These patterns are with us at home and work. We have chronically repeated them because they ‘work' to keep us in control of people, events and circumstances that cause us distress.

Mostly, we're unconscious to them. Those on the receiving end of our limiting pattern behaviors though, are usually well aware that we are manipulating or coercing their behavior for our own needs.


Classic Patterns

The classic pattern behaviors are:


The failure to trust others often results in the need to micromanage. This can extend to what someone else isdoing, saying or feeling. Control patterns undermine confidence and limit the effectiveness of others who are forced to ask permission rather than take action in a timely way.



The victim pattern signals an unwillingness to "move on" from a situation where we have felt injured in the past. As a result, the original dynamic is constantly recreated with some marginal differences — we choose situations, relationships and responses that are horribly familiar, knowing that things will turn out badly. Then we begin to generalize: all men are bad; women can't be trusted; authority figures are all corrupt.


This pattern arises from an experience of failure, a fear of failure in the future, consistent negative feedback, or a dramatic setback that shakes our confidence to the point where we turn against our self. We come to believe that our resources are insufficient to face challenges or perform competently. Underachievement is the hallmark of the Insufficiency Pattern.



The Attention Pattern is driven by the need for recognition, positive regard, approval and the acknowledgement of others. Narcissism is the root of this pattern behavior. The behavioral traits that accompany it include vanity, self-absorption, egotism, selfishness, self-importance and conceit. Dealing with someone with an attention pattern is exhausting. You spend your time focused on them.


Breaking Patterns

Patterns behaviors signal that we do not trust other people, the circumstances or ourselves even when that trust is warranted.Eventually, the pattern can become so dominant that it undermines our development and performance as leaders.

Breaking patterns is never easy, but it is within the capacity of any determined person. I know this from twenty-plus years working with individuals, and groups committed to transformation.

People who are pursuing something that is deeply meaningful, something bigger than their fear of failure, can summon the courage and personal discipline to make significant behavioral change.

Breaking the grip of behavioral patterns requires that we do the following:


Identify the Pattern Behavior

Recognizing what your dealing with is the first step in breaking a pattern. Is this a pattern of self-pity, low self-worth, being controlling, or playing the victim?

To find out, ask yourself:

  • What does this pattern look and sound like in my self-talk and behavior?
  • What kinds of people or situations ignite this behavior?
  • When am I most susceptible?


Identify the Benefits

There is always a pay-off to a pattern behavior. In other words, we get a feeding from repeating it. What are the benefits that are derived from the habit? Ask yourself these questions:

  • When did I first use this pattern behavior successfully? For what purpose?
  • What does this pattern enable me to do? What does it keep me from doing?
  • Who, besides myself, enables this pattern? How do I use this behavior to bond with others?


What is my New Commitment?

What is it that I really want despite the habits that interfere with my performance? Ask:

  • What commitment must I make in order that I interrupt this pattern?
  • What are the specific behaviors that I must adopt to generate change?
  • How will I hold myself accountable?

What Support Do I Need?

Changing behavior is seldom successful without help from others and supporting structures. These questions elicit insight into the nature of the support required for successful change:

  • Who or what can help me integrate new behaviors?
  • Who or what must I break away from in order to stay true to my commitment to change?
  • What conversations must I have with loved ones and friends to explain what I am doing and to enlist their support?
  • What limits or boundaries must I set to ensure I follow through and do not allow myself or others to sabotage my progress?

Anthropologist Carlos Castaneda suggests that our freedom from pattern behaviors can be won by destabilizing them. He writes, "Any habit needs all its parts in order to function. If some parts are missing, the habit is disassembled."

Personal transformation always requires that we are willing to let go of behavior that undermines our performance. Breaking patterns is one way of accelerating our capacity for leadership and moving out of a comfort zone into excellence.

Staying conscious to repetitive patterns is half the battle. The other half is won through hard work and discipline.

Transformational Leaders do their personal work. They recognize the benefit of being the author of self-improvement. It beats having change mandated because of performance failure.




Posted on March 1, 2011 .