This is what many of us do when we want to make a change. While we want to get better at some aspect of our leadership or life at the very same time we put roadblocks in our way. And we do it to ourselves. Knowing what we need to change is very different from actually making that change a reality.
Authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey describe this phenomenon in their powerful book, Immunity to Change. They site a medical study that showed that only one in seven heart patients make changes to their personal lives and habits when they are told they will die if they don’t change. As the authors write,
“Change fails to occur because we mean both things. It fails to occur because we are a living contradiction.”
Here’s an example from the business world
Let’s take a look at how change conflict can play out at work.
Tammy is a business owner who wants to hire a manager to do the jobs that weigh her down. If she has a talented manager Tammy envisions she can take herself out of day-to-day operations and focus on driving more excitement and interest to her business. This change will grow her customer base and business revenue. Tammy has hired three managers in as many years and they have each failed to live up to Tammy’s expectations.
So, what is going on here? Tammy has one foot on the gas (having a manager run her business) and the other foot on the brake (not having a manager run her business). Is it just bad luck that she hasn’t yet found the right person for this job?
What could be getting in Tammy’s way? Let’s examine what happened with each failed manager to find the clues:
1. Tammy micromanaged one manager which prevented him from taking initiative to run the business.
2. Tammy was so highly critical of one manager that her fear of making mistakes led to a complete paralysis to act.
3. Tammy didn’t give one manager clear expectations for his job role and outcomes, so he thought he was doing what she expected, only to later find out that he missed the mark.
4. Tammy didn’t coach any of the managers to help them grow into the manager she wanted, so they all stagnated and didn’t lead in the ways she had hoped.
5. Tammy didn’t hire well and put the wrong people in the position.
So, why would Tammy express a strong desire for a manager, yet behave in opposition to her goal? The answer lies in Tammy’s “immunity to change.” This is a strong force that keeps Tammy right where she is so she can protect some of her deeply held assumptions—assumptions she doesn’t even recognize.
What are Tammy’s assumptions?
Lets uncover Tammy’s assumptions by looking at how she might feel if she has an awesome manager:
1. Her team will depend on the manager, not Tammy, leading Tammy to feel superfluous.
2. Her team will communicate mostly with the manager, leading Tammy to feel out of the loop.
3. When Tammy spends time in her new and unfamiliar business development role she will feel uncomfortable, inadequate and like a beginner.
4. When Tammy shares the secrets to her success with the manager, she will feel less special and unique.
When Tammy can look at these behaviors as a valuable source of information, rather than as the problem itself, she can begin to uncover her resistance.
I’ve seen examples of all of these ways that business owners sabotage their efforts; whether to hire a manager, learn to delegate, improve communication skills or any other significant goal.
How can I uncover my “immunity to change?”
Most of us aren’t able to see what’s getting in our way. That’s where help in the form of a colleague, friend or coach can be useful. Here are four questions to ask:
1. What am I committed to changing?
2. What am I doing and not doing instead?
3. What do I fear could happen if I make this change? (this unlocks your hidden competing commitments)
4. What are my BIG assumptions? (If….then….)
Let’s say that Tammy’s answers lead her to realize her big assumption is that if she has a manager then she will no longer be an integral part of her business. What then? This realization will send Tammy on her way since that one “aha” can enable her to reframe and redefine her role in her business, eventually leading her to having an awesome manager, or making a conscious choice to continue managing the business herself.
So, I’d say that when we uncover our assumptions we can get out of our own way and make the change we want. What would you say?
Image from Google images
Gas/brake metaphor from Immunity to Change