Immunity to change

People and organizations resist change in different ways. Harvard University professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey have analyzed the sources of resistance and explained the methods to overcome them in their book “Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.”
Kegan and Lahey start the book by referring to a recent study which showed that when doctors told heart patients they would die if they didn’t change their habits, only one in seven patients was able to follow the changes successfully.
The authors make an interesting analysis of mental development, of which they say there are three phases. The first phase is the socialized mind. Even though the word “socialize” has become popular recently, in this book it has a negative meaning. When one is trying to become a part of a group the person tries to take on the characteristics of the group. This person tries to be a team player, a faithful follower — he tries to align. For instance, if the person is trying to join a group, instead of making his own personal decisions, he adapts his thinking to the group. For example, many drivers swear in traffic: When a polite person sits in the driver’s seat, he becomes a rude person in traffic. Without being aware of it, the person has socialized his mind.
The second phase is the self-authoring mind. This phase looks more individualistic, and it is. In this phase the person becomes a leader and sets his own agenda and solves problems independently. He has his own point of view, instead of aligning with others he expects others to align with him. A typical autocratic leader might be a good example of this mental development phase.
The third and the last mental development phase is the self-transforming mind. In this phase, the person goes beyond the ordinary lines of leadership and discovers that developing and mentoring others is more important than their obedience. The leader in this phase gives a compass to followers instead of orders. The most important characteristic of this phase is multi-framing. Many people spend their lives as if there is only one truth. It is right to advocate your own opinion; what is wrong is to assume that your thoughts and opinions are always true. In the third phase of mental development, even at times when it may appear to be contradictory, the person embraces different thoughts and approaches.
The authors further explain that everybody with immunity to change has two types of commitment: visible commitment and hidden commitment. Visible commitment is what we express as our commitment, while the hidden commitment is our inner desires and our assumptions that support these desires. The third element is the behavior that is working against the change. The authors define this as doing, or sometimes not doing, something. The simplest example to illustrate this theory is weight loss. The visible commitment of somebody is to lose weight. The behavior requiring change is overeating or eating when the person isn’t hungry. If the person wants to lose weight, why does he behave in the opposite way? Because there is a hidden commitment. The person may want to be full of energy, may believe that eating is fun or doesn’t give value to being physically attractive.
The authors argue that people cannot change because of their hidden commitments: If we can think and talk about our hidden commitments and supporting assumptions then, we can keep up with our visible commitments. 19 December 2010
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