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Why I Love the Immunity to Change Method

As an executive coach and consultant, I've enjoyed working with leaders at every level, from CEOs to newly promoted managers.

Many of the leaders we've worked with wanted to change something about their behavior or communication but had difficulty accomplishing this change.

We often utilize the Immunity to Change (ITC) method with our clients.

We believe that it's the most effective process we know to address someone's internal barriers to self-improvement.

This process is fantastic because it quickly makes a difference in our clients' lives.

The ITC process was developed out of solid research by two leading researchers at Harvard, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.

Real Change is Hard

If you were recently promoted to a leadership position, you might realize that you need to delegate more effectively.

Or perhaps you're the CEO, and you know that your "large and in charge" communication style is alienating people.

Maybe you're an executive who has been getting feedback in reviews over the past few years that you need to speak up more in meetings with your peers.

If you're like most of the leaders with whom we work, you've made sincere commitments to change.

· You have participated in training programs

· Invested in books

· Outlined self-improvement plans

· Set accountability measures

Maybe you can get things to shift for a little while, but eventually, you return to your habitual ways of relating, working, and thinking.

· What is going on here?

· Is it a lack of willpower?

· Are you dealing with a fundamental flaw that cannot be changed?

What is Immunity to Change?

Harvard University researchers Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey set out to unravel this mystery.

They point to a study that found that when doctors tell heart patients that they will die if they do not change their habits, only one in seven will follow through successfully.

If change is elusive for people even when faced with life and death matters, Kegan and Lahey concluded that desire and motivation alone couldn't be enough to change the status quo.

They became curious about what lies behind each of our habitual behaviors and mindsets.

Instead of writing off any habit as "bad," Kegan and Lahey looked to see what useful purpose the habit might be serving.

If you know that you are facing burnout and want to be a better delegator but continue your habit of taking control and doing things yourself, you must have a pretty good reason.

Perhaps you are afraid that things will devolve into chaos.

Perhaps you grew up in a world where you learned that delegating work to others makes you lazy.

Maybe your identity is wrapped up in being seen as the creative genius who produces excellent work.

Beliefs and Habits

Kegan and Lahey discovered that behind each of our habits is a firmly held belief that not only keeps us in our groove but also fights any change that threatens the status quo.

This resistance is so strong, so adaptive, and so systemic that Kegan and Lahey liken it to a finely tuned immune system.

It works like this:

  • If I fundamentally believe that my value lies in being an expert, I will be very invested in asserting my views and being right. I am going to defend my expert status at all costs.

  • Listening and accepting influence will undermine what I consider my core value. I will believe that no amount of investment in skill development will make me a better listener.

  • Even a strong desire and motivation to be a better leader cannot compete with the deep-seated belief that my value lies in being an expert.

  • We are dealing with an Immunity to Change that first needs to be unearthed for real and lasting improvement to be possible.

Overcoming Immunity to Change

Kegan and Lahey developed an Immunity to Change methodology that we use with clients in one-on-one coaching sessions and group workshops as part of a team or leadership development program.

The objective is to pinpoint and address whatever beliefs and assumptions block clients from the changes they want to make.

Creating an Immunity to Change Map is a simple way to bring to light the personal barriers to change.

It starts by outlining the client's commitment to an improvement goal.

Then it sketches out the things that he or she is either doing or not doing that prevent progress towards the achievement goal.

The Map then identifies competing commitments, as well as the big underlying assumptions behind those competing commitments.

The Value of an Immunity to Change Map

In the Map, what we find is that the client is operating with one foot on the gas pedal—the improvement goal—and the other foot on the brake.

Your competing commitments and big assumptions that keep your foot on the brake are typically unconscious.

If you do not map them out, you can't address them to move forward.

The Immunity to Change Map is robust; completing one Map typically provides helpful insights and often dismantles assumptions holding you back.

After the Map, there are as many as nine different steps in the methodology to help overturn the assumptions.

Typically, this takes place throughout a six-month coaching engagement.

A coach may not use all nine steps but customizes the approach based on the individual and goal.

When Immunity to Change is Most Useful

The Immunity To Change process is most useful for the thornier and more difficult self-improvement goals.

Perhaps your role requirements or business context have changed, and "what got you here can't get you there."

Or perhaps the same issue keeps showing up on your performance reviews, and you have not been able to crack it.

Common leadership improvement goals that the Immunity to Change process addresses include:

  • Delegation

  • Communication (speaking clearly/succinctly

  • Engaging in conflict constructively

  • Speaking up with peers or executives

  • Listening

  • Prioritizing and creating focus

  • Building trust and relationships

  • Developing others

  • Work/life balance

  • Collaboration

Start Here with Immunity to Change

The place to start is defining a good improvement goal.

It should be focused and important.

What is the one thing you could change that would have a significant impact on your performance?

It also must be motivating.

The truth is that the Immunity to Change process will take you out of your safety zone a bit, so you need to believe that the result will be worthwhile.

While the Immunity to Change method is effective and fast, it isn't easy to do this work independently.

We cannot see our own blind spots, and so much of what drives an individual's Immunity to Change is unconscious and hidden beliefs.

Are You Ready to Explore Your Immunity to Change?

If you would like to know more or start working on your Immunity to Change, contact us today so that we can get started.


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