Several years ago a medical study was performed involving doctors and their heart patients. The patients had serious cardiovascular issues and were told that they needed to make serious life changes if they wanted to live. They needed to change their diets, increase their exercise level, and make an overall lifestyle change. They were motivated to make these changes; they wanted to watch their grandchildren grow up, live long lives, see more sunsets, etc. The incentives for change were great and the doctors made certain their patients understood the gravity of their situations. Yet even with all these factors, only 1 in 7 patients was able to make the change. It wasn't that the others were lazy, undisciplined, or unwilling to make the change. They simply didn't have the ability to make the changes.
If people cannot make necessary changes when their very lives are on the line, then how can organizational leaders at any level expect to successfully support processes of change? We need a better way to understand what factors prevent and enable our own change. There is a gap between what we genuinely and passionately want and what we are able to do. Closing this gap is the central learning problem of our century.
There are three challenges that face leaders when attempting to facilitate change.
Lack of Understanding
The first challenge is the disjunction between our understanding of the need for change and our lack of understanding of what prevents it. Most leadership training is long on leadership training and short on actual development. This stems from a common conception is that people can't change once a certain age is reached. This is a global perception. However, current research shows us that the human brain is capable of both learning and change well into adulthood. In fact, without neurological health complications, the ability to change and learn is lifelong.
Tons of Training, Very Little Development
Leaders know that learning is an essential element in their organizations, but most training programs lack a sophisticated understanding of adult development. Mental development is limited without understanding how adults learn and develop over time. The reason that many training programs are not as successful as they could be is that people are not developmentally well matched to learning experiences, and as a result are simply not capable of learning what is being taught. This is not to say that they can't learn, but that the approach organizations often take to learning is missing an essential element.
People are capable, at any age, to overcome the limitations and blind spots of current ways of making meaning. One way to think of the challenge is in relation to computer programs. Most training attempts to download additional data into the operating systems of individuals. However, all of that data is still limited by their current operating system. True development involved a qualitative shift in the operating system so that they can increase their mental complexity and become more effective at work, in their relationships, and in life generally.
Development is about renewing your existing talent so that you don't have to hire outside help and start over. Most modern training programs are not capable of renewing your existing talent, but there are tools that do work and have proven effective over the last 30 years. We will cover some of these techniques and principles in later posts.