You’ve likely heard of Meatloaf — the late American singer and actor known for his powerful, wide-ranging voice and theatrical performances. In 1993, he released one of his most popular songs, “I’d do anything for love (but I won’t do that).”
While there’s a bit of ongoing discussion about what Meatloaf would not have done for love, the song title actually has applications in the ways we think about and manage change.
Take a situation where you were considering a major change. For example, vying for a major promotion or switching to a new career. You make the decision it’s something you want to do. You think about all of the steps needed to get things moving. You talk to friends and colleagues about it. You even prep any needed documentation, research, or coursework to shore up your skills.
But then, nothing. You don’t pull the trigger. You “just can’t do that.”
Why? Meatloaf Syndrome.
It’s a combination of Loss Aversion Bias (preferring to avoid losses to acquiring equivalent gains), Status Quo Bias (preferring the current state of affairs), and Worse-than-Average Bias (the belief we are worse than others at difficult tasks or jobs).
People may say it’s just cold feet, or a hesitancy to pull the trigger. But it’s more than just fear of change. The majority of decisions we make are founded on emotion rather than logic. This emotion doesn’t manifest in a single way — it’s a combination of perceptions, context, and biases. And usually more than one bias.
Meatloaf Syndrome inhibits people’s ability to get out of a cycle or circumstance which they want to change. Think about how this not only affects you individually but organizations as a whole. People in companies who are offered promotions they don’t take. People who aspire to contribute in a more meaningful way, but hesitate to take action. People who take on new responsibilities for a period of time, and then request to go back to their previous role.
As leaders, we have the opportunity to identify Meatloaf Syndrome and help those employees to work through those biases holding them back. This includes tools like providing mentors, creating “small step” career journey paths, driving positive reinforcement, and developing coaching programs (note that I did not mention training, as we’re talking about influencing emotional drivers, not logical ones).
Because why waste great potential over meatloaf?
Andrea Belk Olson is a SCORE subject matter expert, CEO of Pragmadik, three-times published author and TEDx speaker.