If you’ve read any Leadership blogs or books lately, you’ll have twigged that the next big thing in leadership development is to ‘refresh’ ‘reboot’ and ‘recalibrate’. Seems we may have entered a virtual ‘renewal revolution’ and along with it permission to hit control-alt-delete when we get stuck or run into change resistance.
I love the metaphor of renewal. So much promise, so much potential—and perhaps a little too much like a New Year’s resolution that starts off full of mighty resolve and will power, only to lose momentum and meaning by week three—as if to say we want change and we want it now—in a click!
The truth is that it takes years to alter how people think, feel and behave; so why should we be surprised that most traditional change initiatives deliver sporadic or temporary results? However, when we stay on the surface and focus on what is easy to control—strategy, structure, skills—we ignore the deeper, more complex human systems that are the real DNA of culture change—our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours.
We have long known that change generates resistance which is why effective leaders continue to look for ways to reboot, refresh and recalibrate their organizations.
Powerful Immunity to Change
Culture trumps change because individuals, teams, and organizations have a mind of their own. This creates ‘collective blind spots’ which prevent tangible change from being possible. This powerful dynamic has been identified as our ‘immunity to change’ by Harvard psychologists, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. Over the past 25 years, understanding why we do what we do, when we do it, has uncovered the hidden ways we impede progress in our own, and our organizational lives.
Organizations have cultures that operate on complex networks and relationships of people; each holding as true their beliefs, values and judgments. That is why it is so important to take a systematic look at the underlying dynamics of the resistance and ask, “What if the resistance or ‘stuckness’ wasn’t borne out of stubbornness, but a powerful system operating 24/7 to keep us safe, that we weren’t even aware of?”
Embrace: Increase your capacity for change
*Sam (a senior executive within a large public sector organization) recently shared what it was like to miss out on the promotion he’d expected. “I feel stuck; like I’m hitting my head against a brick wall,” Sam told me.
He’d received performance feedback that he’s seen as a micro-manager, and always too busy to listen to staff. Working through the immunity to change map, Sam’s improvement goal was to become a better listener; especially to focus on what was important and not to sweat the small stuff.
As he looked more closely at what he was doing and not doing toward achieving his improvement goal, Sam began to realize a valuable truth about his leadership style. That he was committed to being a better listener—and he was also committed to behaving as if he had all the answers because he was worried about not looking stupid. No wonder he felt stuck; he had one foot on the gas and one foot on the break!
By answering the question— ‘What’s worth improving?’ —Sam is now on his way to achieving his goal of being a better listener, and getting the promotion.
About Donna Howes, PCC, CEC, CHRP
Tekara Associate and Director, International Coaching Federation (Vancouver Chapter)
To increase a leader’s capacity for change, I incorporate the immunity to change model in my work as an executive and organizational culture coach. Be in touch, and let’s discuss your own your leadership questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
*Sam (not his real name)