We have the good fortune and privilege to be partnering with Harvard professor, Bob Kegan, who will be presenting a workshop to our client next month based on his newest book, co-authored by Lisa Lahey, called Immunity to Change (2009). The book describes why we set goals and then don’t reach them, like the person who swears to lose 20 pounds on Monday and then eats burgers and fries on Tuesday. Or like the New Year’s resolution by the person who is 100% committed to her goal, but then can’t execute it. Whether the goal is to lose weight or to become a better delegator, why isn’t a road map and a can-do attitude enough?
Kegan describes some challenges as “adaptive”. An adaptive challenge is one that might actually implicate a change in one’s own self-identity. For example, imagine that my challenge to delegate tasks comes down to an assumption I hold that conflicts with the whole idea of delegation. For example, perhaps I believe that when I delegate I’m actually shirking my own responsibilities. This makes me feel badly about myself each time I delegate something, so I resist the very notion of delegation, even though I also see the need to do so. If I shift my perspective somehow to see that when I delegate I am able to impact others in an entirely different (and more impactful) way (such as by clarifying direction or removing roadblocks for others), this allows me to be less conflicted. In this case, redefining the “right” work to be done is the difference between fighting against a change and embracing it.
Shifting perspective is rarely easy, which is why people often look to trusted others for help. This is one way a skilled coach can bring value. One job of a coach – either a professional coach (see description of this service near bottom of page) or someone skilled at coaching – is to help the person discover conflicting assumptions that generate internal conflicts and thereby prevent the desired change. Identifying assumptions which may be at war with one another requires the coach to help the client enumerate those different assumptions and, when warranted, prick holes in them. The insightful perspective of another is highly useful in that the assumptions we hold most dearly are the ones most difficult to let go. Those assumptions usually constitute a part of our identity, and while they may have been important at an earlier time in our life, they may be now irrelevant and we just haven’t realized it.