Immunity to Change

We’ve been working to develop our leadership skills this year.  This has required substantial attention and intention along the way. It has taken energy, time, and resources from all of us.  Sometimes we have made progress quickly and smoothly.  Other times, it has been slow and painful.

If you are like most of us, you’ve been surprised by how difficult it is to actually grow and develop in the areas that mean the most.  Especially if your growing edge has been of the adaptive sort, you probably struggled more than you expected.  Getting better has been more difficult than you thought.  It is for most of us.  At least, it is if the growing edge you are working on is a meaningful and evolutionary one. 

It is almost as if there are parts of you conspiring to hold you where you are and not let you move forward. 

Robert Kegan and Lisa Lehay talk about this challenge of growth by calling it an “immunity to change.”  (If you would like to read more, click here.)  This is a fascinating metaphor.  If this is true, there are parts of you—parts within you—that will rush to overwhelm or inhibit even your best intentions.  Any attempt to change yourself will activate this built-in system which is committed to keeping you at your current stasis.  It will not let you stay tipped off balance for long, or infected with some new way of leading. But "off balance" is what we need most sometimes, or at least a kind of leaning in and leaning forward, in order to grow.  New and uncomfortable edges of leadership are what we need in move toward in order to develop.

In a biological system, the immunity response is the resistance of an organism to an infection or disease. But in your own leadership system, an immunity response keeps you from making progress on your growing edge.  It comes in the form of worries, competing commitments, and big (and often crazy) assumptions. The best way to disengage (or at least keep moving in the face of) your immunity response is to try some experiments to test the big assumptions that hold you back--those crazy, but powerful, “if-then” propositions that sit in the back of your head and rush to minimize and thwart change.

An experiment should have a few characteristics.  It should be

·         Safe (if things go badly, you’ll survive),

·         Modest (just one step forward),

·         Actionable (a tangible plan),

·         Research (aim is to gather data about the big assumption more than to get “better”), and

·         Test (the best ideas test the validity of the big assumption).


Action Steps

1. Design an experiment.

2. Run the experiment.

3. Record your learning on your leadership canvas.