Your inner immune system

Imagine you have a colleague who gets all fired up around focusing more effectively on “the critical few.” He wants to clarify desired outcomes, delegate more, support small failures as learning, and challenge thought process and logic instead of details. Suppose he wisely recognizes that this behavior change will not only create value for his company, but will also unburden him personally, and have a pretty inspiring impact on his life outside work, too.

Now suppose he recognizes all this – can taste it, feel it, is deeply committed to changing his behavior – but when he gets to work Monday morning, he finds himself doing the opposite. Crum. He lets new opportunities distract him, accepts more responsibilities so he sacrifices non-work-related commitments, doesn’t ask for help, and doesn’t balance important, more strategic priorities with the urgent things that come flying at him.

Have you ever known anyone like this? I have – plenty. OK, let’s be honest: I have even been this person.

And in my mind, here’s the interesting question: if I assume that at least some of these folks are smart, well-intended, motivated individuals who had real success in other parts of their lives, why are they making so little progress now?

Super-sharp professors Robert Kegan and Linda Lahey at the Harvard School of Education have thought a lot about this. Their new book, Immunity to Change, is their best and most user-friendly articulation yet. Even Oprah loved it. Their thinking has tremendous implications for anyone stuck in a pattern of behavior that’s not getting them the results they want (including me). Basically, this rocks – and can save the heaps of time you waste by applying nuts-and-bolts fixes (or “technical” solutions, as Kegan & Lahey call them, like new accountability structures or calendaring tools) when what’s really needed is stronger medicine (an “adaptive” solution, which enables you to step outside the fishbowl you’re in, get new perspective on how you’ve been swimming there, then dive back in and try something different).

Here’s the idea: we all have an inner immune system designed to skillfully, brilliantly, flawlessly deliver on a set of strongly held commitments we can’t even see. And creating an “x-ray” of your immune system is the first giant leap toward shifting it. In my view, this is some of the most potent work going where leadership development is concerned. As I work through Kegan and Lahey’s process with groups, the room settles in and becomes more authentic. There is a sobering humility that rises, and also easeful laughter. The increase in individual self-awareness is mammoth among people who are ready for it, and can take leadership teams to an entirely different level of interaction and performance.

Intrigued? Run, don’t walk, to get this book. Take it for a spin on yourself and see what you think.

Do you have experience using this work with business teams? How are you using it? What does ongoing practice look like for you and the people you’re working with?