Welcome to leadership from the balcony.
My name is Shawn Griesemer with my co-host Justin Dorroh. And each week we bring you a new leadership concept to inspire your growth and effectiveness as a leader in every area of your life.
It's a model that we build in our mind, even from childhood, oftentimes from childhood, that cause us to see things a certain way, we look through them so long, they shape our reality.
Mental models that are consistently the stories we tell ourselves over time, it's no longer this is what I believe…it's this is who I am.
On today's episode, we're taking a deep dive into personal transformation as we explore the groundbreaking immunity to change process by Robert Keegan and Lisa Leahy. This is a powerful yet accessible tool for any leader to utilize in their journey towards unlocking their potential and embracing change with open arms.
Thanks for joining us on the balcony. We hope you enjoy peering over the railing to gain an expanded leadership perspective.
This topic of the immunity to change concept came through a conversation with a friend who mentioned it was something like 80 to 85% of change management efforts fail. And what they said is the reason for that is there's typically an unseen immunity to change that actually works against the very change efforts that they're trying to embrace. Right. They recommended reading the book by that name, Immunity to Change, which is also by Keegan and Leahy. And we've mentioned their book before, In Everyone Culture. And I believe in In Everyone Culture, there's a chapter devoted to the ITC map. Yes. However, in the Immunity to Change book, it's about a 250-300 page book devoted to the Immunity to Change map. And it's just so helpful when you read it. It seems like such a simple aha, but it's pretty profound what this process can surface in a person or in an organization. Yeah, so true. I remember the first time we actually dove into the book and then we went through our own Immunity to Change map. And it was revelatory. Yeah, eye-opening. Very eye-opening. And I think both eye-opening and tear-generating to see what are those true immunities that have developed over life. And now they literally become the filters we're looking through all the time, and we don't even know they exist. It's an impactful process. And the wonderful thing about the simplicity of learning just even the concept of having an immunity to being able to change is you surface those immunities to changing, and it's a process that you can work over and over again. Right. It's one of the few things in life that truly, while it's simple in its methodology, it's not easy. Right. But it is simple. Yeah, it's like things we've talked about on other episodes, those simple stories, those stories we tell ourselves, those become the narratives that run through our mindsets. That's right. And sometimes we're so close to it, we don't even recognize it's preventing us from embracing change, which is what the tool is designed to help you identify and then work through a process to rewrite those narratives. Right.
So, what is an immunity to change? We have immunities, which is basically like we've talked about so many times. It's a perspective. It's a narrative, a belief. I love the term mental models. It's a model that we build in our mind, even from childhood, oftentimes from childhood, that cause us to see things a certain way. We look through them so long, they shape our reality. Right. And so when new things come at us, we look through that mental model, and it prevents us from seeing another option. Right. What are some of the stories we've heard before? They can be people who, when they're a child, they get lots of encouragement around what they achieve. And there may not be a lot of other places in their life, whether it's sports or it's in their home. Their parents may not say a lot, you did such a good job here, or, you know, when they're a child, and their parents encourage them a lot specifically around grades. Right. And it's the ability to do a good job in some academic way. And that's where they hear affirmation, it's where they hear love, and they go through their junior high years, their high school years. They may not fit in really well, they may not feel a whole lot of other affirmation in the home, but when it comes to grades, they get tons of affirmation. Right.
So, they start to build this belief system, this model in their head, when I succeed, when I produce well, when I perform well, I have value. Right. And as time goes on, soon they enter into adulthood, and now they have this lens that says, when I perform well, when I can make a situation better because of my presence in it, then I matter. So, when things come at them and it threatens, somebody else might be the one who's performing well, and it threatens their identity of being the one who performs well, therefore am I going to receive the same affirmation? And that's the immunity to change. There's another story I think we read in that book, and it talks about somebody who moves to the United States. They're from another culture. And to survive, their parents tell them as a child, you can't trust anyone. And they have to live in, say, it's in New York, back in the 20s. They're immigrating from another culture, another country. And it's hard to trust people who are also immigrants themselves. And so, you live within the culture that you're in, not with a whole lot of trust to those around you. Well, when you get older, or when this individual got older, they had an extreme inability to trust because they had heard the narrative for so many years, you can't trust anyone. You can't trust anyone. And it did help them survive when they were young. But when they entered adulthood and they entered the workforce and they had to trust the people that were around them to make that change, they were immune to it because they were still in the survival mentality that they had been in for the first couple decades of their life. Right.
The graphic that comes to my mind is…there's a graphic of an elephant with a chain around its leg, chained to a stake in the ground. And it says underneath it, like limiting belief. And it's like, if that experience lasts long enough, you can take the chain off and the elephant still won't go beyond the circle that that chain allowed. That's right. Yes. And so, it's like these experiences that we have, these mental models that are consistently the stories we tell ourselves, over time, it's no longer this is what I believe, it's this is who I am. That's right. Because I've believed it for such a long time, and it has been reinforced with experience or lack thereof because of the things I do or won't do. Yes. But it truly is a limiting belief, and it prevents me from embracing some kind of change initiative, whether it's personal or professional, either one can be true. That's right. Yes. And with a prior episode that we talked about, that creative versus reactive mentality and approach to things, situations happening in your life, this immunity to change is a pivotal belief system that keeps you in that reactive mindset. So anyway, what do we do with it?
You know, one of the first things they talk about in addressing your immunity to change, and this is really how you discover what is the immunity, but then what do you do about the immunity? So, the first thing that they talk about is really being able to find a place that you're stuck or a place that you're wanting to commit to grow, something that really does matter to you, and you feel stuck. You can't move forward with that commitment. You can't grow in the way that you want to. They say that's a great place to start. Yep, and so what that really begins to do is define what they call an improvement goal. It needs to be clear. It needs to be specific so that you can begin to really unearth what's underneath it. Because what's interesting is often there are things we are doing or things we are not doing that are preventing us from moving forward in that specific goal. And defining it clearly and then continuing to work through the process that the ITC map, which is what they call the Immunity to Change map, walks you through is how you begin to surface what are some of those unknown, known, or maybe you don't have awareness of the things that are preventing you from moving forward in that change initiative. That's right. They call them hidden commitments. Right. So, there's this commitment to improve in some way. It could be you want to be a better listener. It could be you want to collaborate more. You want to delegate more. It could be you want to lead with more authenticity in what you do. You have thoughts. You want to add them to the conversation, but you shrink back. You're afraid of what other people are going to think of those. Right. You are concerned that it's going to make people feel excluded. Any host of possibilities, but the commitment that you're trying to make in that case would be how do I lead with more courageous authenticity? I love the listening more because that can go with collaboration. That can go with helping to be more of a learner. I want to learn more, but something prevents me from actually taking the time to listen. I have to always add. So those are some improvement goals that people oftentimes are looking to improve in. I love the being a better listener or being more empathetic. It's another one that can be a tremendous improvement goal. But like you said, what am I doing or not doing that is working to oppose me moving toward that goal? Why don't you say more about that? Yeah, you know, there are things that we, unbeknownst to us, assumptions we make that cause us to act in certain ways. And until we slow down to kind of become aware of those assumptions, really increase in self-awareness, all we know is, and every time this moment comes up, this happens. Why does that happen? And we just kind of get frustrated or we rehearse the same stories over and over again. And really what this process is designed to do is cause you to ask questions around why you're doing what you do, why you're not doing what you're hoping to do. Right. And that process, though slow and at times fuzzy, over time does create clarity to some of those deeper entrenched mindsets that you're not even aware are like a contact lens that you're looking through. This process begins to unearth the fact that this is just a lens. I can pop it out and I can look at it and I can exchange it with another lens. That's right. And as I get intentional to ask myself those questions and become aware of some of those hidden commitments. So, let's go back to the to listen more. Maybe you want to be better at collaborating with coworkers or you want to get better at developing your coworkers. So that can be the commitment that you're trying to make and the things that you're doing or not doing that may prevent that. You might be in a situation where somebody is about to offer something, and you just want to drive towards solutions. Well, that's a doing that's working against you or you might be in a situation where you always jump in with the answers. Some problem arises and you're the first one to offer. Well, that's clearly not that commitment of wanting to listen more or collaborate more, develop your people. Those commitments. Yet you're jumping in too quickly. You're giving your opinion before you listen to others. It could be you're the one who's always saving the day. You know, a problem arises and instead of getting some degree of collaboration from the people around you, you're the one who has the answer. Those can be the things of doing and not doing that are working in opposition to becoming a better mentor or developer or listener. And some people might ask, well, wait a second. Everything you just said, Shawn, like that's what I do every day. Isn't that good? Like I'm being a leader. I'm stepping in. I'm fixing it, saving the day. I have answers. We're solving problems. We're moving forward. I'm removing obstacles. And at a certain scale point, that could be true. Right. However, at a certain size or certain level of complexity of your organization, your team, the season of the business, those behaviors actually could create significant deficiencies and problems.
As an example, if I always give the answers, then guess what? Everyone waits for me to give the answer. That's right. Nobody comes to the meeting prepared because they know I'm always going to have the answer. And you're not actually building capacity in your team to problem solve, think critically, all those types of things. You might at one level enjoy the pat on the back of being that hero or that answer person. But at some point you're going to get sick of why doesn't anyone else have ideas? Why do I always have to come up with ideas? And it's going to create a deeper entrenchment of that mental model, which could make the problem even worse. And now the really creative people that you want to attract and retain, they're thinking, I can't grow here. That's right. I got to go. And now you have a retention issue because you haven't been able to surface this mental model, see it for what it is, and begin to run experiments to hopefully adjust and change that so that you can get more comfortable not saving the day, not giving the answer, not being the first one to give thoughts to a particular issue as it comes to the surface. Yes. And think about a growing organization where you may be leading when there are just a few people who are part of the organization. Like you said, as the complexity grows, the organization grows, all of a sudden you need to elevate the leadership of everyone around you. That's right.
We've talked about this with collective leadership and the ability to scale your leadership in the organization. If you always have the answers, then like you just said, when people are creative in their thinking, well, you shut that down. Right. Because now they have no need to offer. Why would they spend the time, the energy, to come up with their own solutions? We have you. That's right. We don't need anyone else. It's like the classic business book, Good to Great, the genius and a thousand helpers. Yes, I think that's right. His point is that doesn't work. Right. You have a genius leader and everyone else is just executing that genius leader's ideas. Eventually, that stops working versus a book that we both really enjoy, Multipliers, written by Liz Weitzman. Absolutely, yes. She talks about being a genius maker, that a great leadership practice is how do you actually automatically think through every member of your team, what is their highest and best contribution, look for opportunities within the workflows of your organization to call that out and celebrate it and actually inform the team of what you see in each team member so that it doesn't just go from one to many, but it becomes a culture that everybody recognizes that person for a, quote-unquote, genius talent that they might have. And who knows? Different people might see different genius talents in one another, and it just builds this culture of developing other people. What you gain is everything's not dependent on you. That's right.
Let's stay with that. The improvement goal is to listen better and to develop leaders in your organization. That's the commitment. So now what are you doing, not doing? You're jumping in too quickly with solutions. You're becoming the answer man for everybody's problems. You are ensuring that the others around you don't have the space or really feel the value of their contribution. So what you are doing is shutting them down, which is working in opposition to your goal of actually raising them up. Correct. What can often be the cause? You talked about hidden commitments, so that's the next thing. We've gone through improvement goal, listening more, developing people, and you have these doing, not doing, I'm shutting them down, not listening to them. Why is it that people continue to do those things working in opposition? Oftentimes there are hidden assumptions. There are narratives. There are stories we tell ourselves, and there is a perceived risk. There's something where if I stop doing this or start doing that, something's at risk, and we're not fully in touch with that. So on the immunity to change map, I believe what they call it is the fear box. Yes, or worry box. Worry box, that's what it is. There's a worry box that's underneath that assumption, and that's the real thing that is unseen. And learning to ask yourself questions, what might happen if I stop doing this behavior that's causing the problem? Or if I start doing this behavior that could create a different outcome? Yes. What would be at risk for me if I did that or I stopped doing that? And as you start to get in touch with what starts to come to the surface as you ask yourself those questions, you're starting to drill down into that worry box, which is really where your assumptions are living. Just think how this can play out. You're sitting there. You're wanting to raise other leaders, but you're jumping in, and now somebody offers something. And the worry box in you might flare up and say, oh no, what if people look to that person now? What will be the space for me? It's what makes your anxiety spike. They might do it wrong. They might not fulfill what they just said, and then it's going to reflect back on me. If you're the leader in the situation, then the other people in the room and the actions that they have and the ideas that come out of these meetings that you're leading, well, they're going to reflect back on you. And what if it's a bad reflection on you? And what if they don't make you look like a genius anymore? So these different worries are in some way creating a risk for you. That's right. And oftentimes, even that question, what's at risk for me if I let this happen, is a great way to start to get in touch with what is in that worry box or the thing that you can start to define, what am I committed to more than that improvement goal? And there are a number of things that people can be concerned, become, is this the reality? Is this what's going to happen? And it could be they come up with an idea and I'm going to be responsible for it. They come up with an idea and it wasn't seen as being my idea. So now I won't get the accolades for it. And now I'm not the important one. Again, the genius, do I always want to be the genius? Is that the commitment I have? You know, like the example we had a second ago of I always got affirmation because of my academic abilities and now somebody else is getting seen as the, somebody else is being seen as the genius, not me. Well, that's a threat to me. Right. Exactly. To me, one of the most powerful things of this whole ITC process, this ITC map, is once you get down to those assumptions, what are those maybe more embedded or deeper mindsets, mental models that really are driving my reactions?
The way to change those narratives is so counterintuitive. I feel like in our, I'll say, modern American leadership landscape, it's all about these bold moves to break through barriers and to overcome obstacles and all these things. But actually, in this work, it's the word they use is experiments. Yes. And the way they give you some guidelines around what is an experiment, it needs to be safe. It's a risk that you're going to have to take, but you can live with it if it doesn't go well. It needs to be small. You're not trying to take on the world in 24 hours. Something small enough that you can do it in the next few days. And it needs to be specific. Who is it that I need to talk to? When is it? With what team, etc.? Can I run this experiment? Because the whole idea is how do you take one of those assumptions? You might have 10 that are in your worry box. But let's not take on all 10. Let's pick one. Let's be specific with what that assumption is. And then let's begin to design an experiment. Something we can do that would give us more information about the truth or the validity of that assumption. We're challenging that assumption, so to speak. And we're seeing maybe it's not true. And what we want to do is, through those experiments, collect fresh data or fresh experiences that could challenge any aspect of that assumption. Because when we can have an experience that is different than that assumption, all of a sudden, our story can change. And when our story can change, our behaviors can change. With less, for lack of a better term, grinding of the gears on the inside. It becomes a part of a more intuitive, organic process. So, from the beginning, improvement goal, I want to listen more, I want to increase the leadership capacity in the organization. What I'm doing and not doing, shutting people down in meetings through a host of different behaviors that are working counter to my goal. My worry box has a number of different possibilities that, in my mind, could come as a result that led to assumptions, like you were talking about, of what would it really mean about me? The things that are at risk and what's causing that. It could be the place of affirmation when I was young or even up through college of just, these are the things that I get praised for and they could go away. And to run the experiments to say, is that really the reality that would happen? And in some ways that you can run those experiments.
The next team meeting you walk into, if this story, if those things I just went through might be true of you, the next meeting you go into, take a moment and when a question gets laid out or an issue gets put on the table, instead of offering an answer, give it some time. Let the room breathe. Ask others, what's your perspective on this? Yes. Let other people ask their own questions. Either they ask follow-up questions, or they share their own thoughts as opposed to you being the one to speak first or to frame. How many times have you heard people come into meetings and say, let me just frame this conversation? Right. And really what they're doing is they're saying, here, let me get my ideas out first. Right. And, you know, like a great example of a small experiment. If you're used to being the first person to say anything, starting the meeting by being silent actually might be too big. Your first step could be. Great point. I might, since I'm probably still going to be the first person to say something, instead of saying what I think, I'm going to ask the question. There you go. To at least elicit other people's input. That's good. And it's just making these small, measurable wins because if you do that for a sequence of meetings, maybe then the next experiment is I can embrace silence to start the meeting. And I don't even have to ask the question anymore because my team has been primed to share their thoughts first and I'm going last, if at all, in terms of inputting to the specific conversation. And with every good experiment, you have to know what's the data that you're looking for. That's right. So, if you go into the meeting to say, it may be too much not to say anything, but I'm going to start by asking others their perspective, then write down after the meeting is over, what happened when you did that? Right. Ask yourself, did the fear that I have that was in the worry box and in those hidden commitments, did they come true? And if they did come true, to what extent? Did it really have the impact that you thought it would have? In what ways did it come true or did it not come true at all? Right. So, be able to truly assess, run the experiment, and then document your outcome at the end of it so you can go back and evaluate, wow, this is what I thought would happen, but this was the reality. And one of the best things you can do is bring somebody else in your process. That's right. If you say, hey, I think this is what I'm trying to go for in a goal. These are the things that are holding me up. Can we debrief meetings afterward? I'd love to hear your perspective. We've talked a lot about colliding perspectives before. This is a great way to get somebody else in your developmental process. That's right. And I even think, as an example, we went through a process before where we went through this ITC map with a group, and week to week or every other week we would meet on Zoom to kind of go through, here's the hidden commitment and the assumption that I was challenging this week. Here's the experiment that I ran. Here's the data that I collected. Here's the new story. Here's the new narrative that's beginning to emerge. And what I remember going through that process is, it's so interesting. You know, you can't see your own process, so to speak, or you don't realize the gaps in your own thinking. But you sit with a group of people and walk them through what happened. It's amazing the questions that people ask, that I got asked, that stumped me. Well, how did you feel when that happened? And I'm like, I don't know. I didn't know to think about or pay attention to how I felt. But one of the things I learned is, paying attention to how you're feeling when you're running these experiments is a significant data point of changing those narratives, because you realize, I didn't feel nervous, or this didn't feel that risky. Why have I been so scared of this? I don't actually know. And it just, I even watched somebody who was in our cohort make the comment on their experiments. And when I did this and this and this, it felt good. And that was in their language all the time. And I remember pointing that out and going, I don't use emotional language as a general statement, but I get it. It helps you process those experiences and recognize the emotional side of that experience. That's right.
We want to challenge leaders over the next week or two. Take some time, sit down. This is an easy experiment for you. Try and think through an area that you want to grow and you want to develop in, something that is an improvement goal for you that you feel stuck in. Feel free to ask people around you, hey, what have you heard me talk about wanting to improve in? And then make a list of the things that you're doing or you're not doing that are working in opposition to that improvement goal. And then ask yourself, why am I doing those things? What am I concerned about? What am I afraid will happen if I actually see that commitment goal, that improvement goal, go through? And then ask yourself, what are the assumptions about yourself, the beliefs, the narratives that you tell yourself that are causing you to be concerned? And then I love what you said. It's run some experiments.
Actually go into situations with your improvement goal in mind. And when somebody makes a move in a meeting, in a conversation, whatever the case may be, and you feel that worry box description fire, and you start to sweat, your heart raises, or just fear comes up, ask yourself, what is it right now that I'm concerned about? And find out what's sitting under that and begin to say, okay, what happens if I do the opposite? What happens if I go toward that improvement goal and see what happens? And then debrief it with somebody afterward and get their perspective. It's just let them ask you questions in the process.
Two last recommendations I would make. Number one, this isn't an overnight process of getting all of your assumptions taken care of in one fell swoop. And number two, you can't just think your way there. You have to get down to the place of action and experimentation to truly be able to rewrite narratives. With certain things I've read in the past, it just talks about if you'll just focus on the right mindset, everything else will take care of itself. And I have found that's a piece, but without the experiment to confirm that new step that you're wanting to take, it won't cement those changes that you're wanting. To confirm the steps you're wanting to take, but also to show you the reality of the assumption you had been taking.
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