Antibodies for the Inevitable

Immunity to Change discusses how to build resilience ahead of new challenges.

Immunity to Change discusses how to build resilience ahead of new challenges. According to Webster’s Dictionary, “immunity” means that something “has no effect on you—for example, you might be immune to a disease or to criticism.” But what about change? It’s inevitable, but it is also one of the most difficult challenges for many people. How can an “immunity to change” help us as leaders?

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey attempt to answer that question in Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. This insightful book provides an easy-to-follow framework for readers to use in building their immunity. It’s divided into three parts:

  • A new way to understand change;
  • The value for individuals, work teams, and organizations; and
  • An invitation to try the book’s approach and monitor the results.

The premise of the first section is that the challenge to change and improve is misunderstood. When we experience the world as “too complex” (which, I would venture to say, most of us did in 2020), there is a mismatch between the world’s complexity and our own at that moment. You can mend this mismatch by increasing your own complexity, the authors say.

It is possible to reach higher planes of mental complexity, and such growth will correlate to more effective leadership.

For example, one executive’s goal is to delegate more. As he delegates, he gathers information about his team’s strengths and his own as a leader. It’s uncomfortable at first, but he eventually discovers new and deeper ways to connect, and together the team produces better outcomes.

The last section offers relatable stories from organizations that have delved into immunity-building work. The strategy that resonated most with me was a team-based approach that advises starting with a chart that defines each individual’s commitment, outlines the first steps an individual needs to take, and indicates how progress toward goals will be measured.

immunity-to-change-book-cover

The authors encourage people to share the chart with their teams in order to achieve the steps needed on the way to immunity. Further, each individual must ask co-workers, friends, and significant others to define the “one big thing” that’s holding him or her back in every area of life. This will sound familiar to anyone who has encountered Brené Brown’s work, but not everyone is a fan of teamwork when personal vulnerability is a featured aspect. The authors offer tips on maintaining a sense of security here, such as invoking a “knock-knock rule” that asks the person “knocking” to offer feedback in the spirit of inquiry, while allowing the person whose “door is knocked on” to feel free to say, “No thanks, I’m not inviting you in.”

Kegan and Lahey also suggest guiding questions for creating one’s immunity chart, including “If your colleague were to make progress on the specific goal he or she identified today, how would it significantly improve team communications and increase team learning and productivity?”

Immunity to Change can be dense in parts, but after witnessing so much change in 2020, I recommend reading through it for some great tools and insights on increasing your immunity individually and with your team—be it staff, association members, or your own family. We’re all in this together.

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