Immunity to Change

If you could get better at ONE THING—the One Big Thing that would make the biggest difference to your happiness and effectiveness, what would that be?


If asked, many of us already know what ONE THING would make us better at our jobs. We have enough feedback from bosses, investors, peers, and employees to know what we ought to do. We may even want to do it. For example, previous session participants have said they wanted:


  • To “show up” more in meetings and share my thinking

  • To step back and allow my team to take on more responsibility

  • To say NO more—to set priorities and actually stick with them

  • To delegate more of what doesn’t belong to me so I can focus on my higher-level work

  • To hold people accountable

  • To become a better listener: to listen to people carefully and thoroughly


If these goals are so good, why are we unable to achieve them?


The mind, like the body, has its own immune system. Harvard professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey have spent the last 10 years developing and researching an award-winning coaching method based on their breakthrough discovery of a hidden dynamic called the “immunity to change.” The Immunity to Change (ITC) methodology is designed to help individuals attain deeply sought changes by bringing this internal unconscious resistance to change to light.


For example, a team member may very much want to arrive on time to meetings.


He knows arriving before a meeting begins would allow him to be a better contributor and he knows that he is disrespecting others when he arrives late. He wants to know what is said at the start of the meeting and be able to provide better input. After his boss mentioned his lateness in an annual review, he wants to make a change. He is successful at first, but, after a few months, he is once again 10-15 minutes late for every meeting.


Research suggests that the traditional reasonings behind such behavior—“lack of discipline,” “insufficient motivation,” “the inherent inability to reverse old habits”—are all inadequate explanations.

Instead, the failure to enact visible goals is often due to the “success” of enacting unseen ones.

This man’s “failure” at committing to arriving on time makes room for his “success” at keeping another commitment, one he is not even aware of. For example, he may have an unrecognized goal of “not disappointing the person he’s talking to in the previous meeting” (which ending a conversation to head to next meeting might do) or “to not step away in the middle of a workflow moment” or “to not arrive early and waste time” or any other self-protective goal.

While his continuing to arrive late is a “failure” with respect to his sincere and visible goal, it is also a “success” in maintaining his unseen one. He knows he has “one foot on the gas” (his dedication to the visible goal of being on time) but he doesn’t know “the other foot is on the brake” (his commitment to a hidden goal like not disappointing people in an earlier meeting). Since both are important, how can he change?


The ITC approach helps people take their foot off the brake and understand how change is possible.

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Charlottesville, VA 22906

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