Episode 3: Adaptive versus Technical Challenges with Lisa Lahey.

Co-Director of Minds at Work & Co-Author of "Immunity to Change".


In episode 3 of the Talent Equals series, it is my privilege to welcome Lisa Lahey co-author of a book which has been pivotal in my own professional and personal development – “Immunity to Change”.

Lisa is also the Co-Director of Minds at Work, a change leadership coaching service that employs the world-renowned Immunity to Change method from Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey. Lisa is an extraordinary person to spend time with and this podcast is one of my top favourites as a result.

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William Laitinen

  • YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4znfBsKevmb8u7v4WrCg0Q/featured
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/showcase/talent-equals/
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/william-laitinen-93282/
  • Exige Website: https://www.exigeinternational.com/

Lisa Lahey

  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisa-lahey-3597627/
  • Minds at Work Website: https://mindsatwork.com/
  • Developmental Edge Website: https://developmentaledge.com/
  • Harvard Website: https://www.gse.harvard.edu/faculty/lisa-lahey

Lisa’s Recommended Reads

  • My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem
  • Mindful of Race by Ruth King
  • Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett

Lisa also mentioned

  • Simple Habits for Complex Times by Jennifer Garvey Berger
  • How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • The work of Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault

William Laitinen : Today’s episode is brought to you by Exige International. Exige is an executive search and recruitment training business that Fiona and myself have been working on for the last 19 years. We provide technology and innovation focused executives to the insurance and wider financial services sector with a focus on the UK and Swiss markets. If you have a search, or you’d like to discuss improving your recruitment, and interviewing process, please visit our website exigeinternational.com. Exige is spelt E-X-I-G-E. And tell the team William sent you.

William Laitinen : Welcome to the show. And I am so happy to be bringing you this conversation today. It is one of the best ones that I’ve had on the show so far. And it’s one I’m really glad to be introducing to you under the new Talent Equals brand. So, Lisa Leahy is our guest today. And for those of you who don’t know, Lisa Leahy, then you’re in for a treat because Lisa, along with Robert Kegan wrote a fantastic book Immunity to Change. And Lisa’s work frankly has been incredibly important in my own journey of trying to improve myself, but also looking to understand a new way of helping others as well overcome challenges and changes that they want to make in their life. Lisa’s co-author Robert Kegan is well frankly pretty famous in the field of adult development he created these model is five stages of mental complexity and Robert has been responsible for really changing the way that we view what is possible with latent stage adult development. Lisa comes on the show today really to help us just get to grips a bit with some of the fundamental theories that are inside Immunity to Change, but I wanna pick out one main theme and that’s gonna be title for the show, which is Adaptive Versus Technical Challenges. Now, the reason I’ve chosen that title is because it’s actually one of the mental models of the Immunity to Change method that really helped me reframe many of the challenges I faced. And it’s really give me a new understanding of why I’ve been successful or why I’m still not successful with some of those challenges that I’m looking to change. So, it is a interesting area, which I hope would be uncovered a bit further through the course of the conversation. But I wanted to pick that one out for you as well, because I think if you dive into Immunity to Change, I think it’s a really valuable place to pause for a moment and think on, I will say that we do cover quite a bit of ground and at points, we right at the end discuss a bit about felt emotions, and the sort of the memory of felt emotions. And at the time, I didn’t really have any reference points on which to ask meaningful questions of Lisa. And we were sort of running out of time. But I think on reflection, and as I’ve dived a bit deeper into the area, I realized Actually, it’s quite important theme, quite important topic probably for us understand about how the emotions of our life and our situation sit with us, and how important they can be to overcome if we’re to actually change and grow. Now, that may sound a little bit new age, frankly. But I think there’s actually a lot of value and a lot of truth there in that. But maybe that’ll be for another day. And I do hope Lisa will come back on the show because well frankly, she’s been a fantastic guest and I love the way that she describes her work. So, I think that’s enough. I would hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did. So, without further ado, I’ll give you Lisa Lahey.

William Laitinen : Hello, Lisa Lahey. It’s a real honor to have you here on the podcast. Thank you very much for joining us.

Lisa Lahey : My pleasure, William, really lovely to be here with you.

William Laitinen : Wonderful, so anyone who has been near adult education, and development will most likely if cited your name and long-standing collaborator, Robert Kegan. But for those of you those out there who don’t know you, Lisa, maybe I’ll give you a brief introduction. So, you’re the Associate Director of change leadership group at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and lecturer in education. You’re a co-founder and Chief Knowledge Officer at the developmental edge. Your co-author on five books are the one, at my Last counting. You live in Essex, Massachusetts,

Lisa Lahey : Newly, that is right.

William Laitinen : With your husband and two sons, I believe as well. Did I get that right?

Lisa Lahey : Yes. Yeah. So, my, my two sons, they are still back in the Cambridge area, which is not too far. Yes. And I’m in this new and lovely, beautiful spot. This is part of COVID time.

William Laitinen : COVID time, fantastic move. I can’t, I’ve got three children. So, I can’t imagine them leaving the house yet. They’re all quite young still. So, one day, I suppose will be, that will be the situation one day.

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : But um,

William Laitinen : So, thank you very much, again, for joining us. It really is a pleasure to have you here. So, in today’s conversation, I wanted to concentrate the listeners on the fantastic book that you co-authored with Robert Kegan, which is Immunity to Change. And this is a book that’s have a, you know, I’ve really been delving into, because I think it helped me to frame a really important concept around adult development, and adult change and but before we get into all of that, really, I’d love to know a bit about your origin story, Lisa, so maybe you could share how did you come to adult development and learning is your life’s work?

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

Lisa Lahey : I’m happy to, it’s a story that speaks to the power of adult development. So, this was, oh, my goodness, I was 24 years old at the time, I was a graduate student. And I was taking a human development class taught by Robert Kegan. And I had a eureka moment when Bob was describing one of the most common meaning making systems in adulthood. And I recognized myself I was like, oh, my goodness, that’s what’s happening to me right now. And it was such a relief for me to have the insight that what I was experiencing was perfectly normal, that the conflict that had been so much a part of my life I said yeah, okay. And it helped me to reframe my feeling stuck in this conflict, which I’ll describe in just a moment. But it helped me to reframe it as not being stuck, but to see it as a growth opportunity. And what it also did was provided a roadmap for me so I could see where I was, and I could see where I could journey to. And the kind of backdrop at this moment in my life was I had just recently gotten married. And I grew up in New York, Jewish and the man that I married, Bill, grew up in Ohio, and he’s Catholic. Now this is all good.

William Laitinen : This is fantastic, yeh.

Lisa Lahey : It all turned out well. Bill and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary,

William Laitinen : Wahey, congratulations!

Lisa Lahey : But what happened was my parents were not exactly keen on Bill. You know, they did not understand the Midwest, where is the Midwest? The religion difference was very kind of hard for them. And I knew Bill knew that they weren’t really keen on him. But the moment where my conflict of how do I be both a good daughter, and a good spouse came out most sharply, just the tension between those two was when my parents would invite me and Bill to dinner. And what I felt was very caught. Because I knew that the good thing to do if I was gonna be that good daughter was to say, of course, but the other part of me who wanted to be a good wife knew that was not a very good thing to do. Because Bill would be really uncomfortable. And I felt stuck in that place with no way to resolve. What do I decide here? Because I wanted each person to be happy. And what I came to understand at that moment, when I was sitting in classes, oh, yes, I see there is no self that is anchored in what it is that I need from myself, and what would make me feel most living in my own vision of my personhood. I was caught around wanting to meet other people’s expectations of me. And having that insight really opened things up for me. And I would say it became a pivotal moment where I began to dedicate myself to my own journey of development and got very engaged in, in how do I have a role in helping to create the conditions in organizations, and wherever I was gonna work to help adults grow. That’s how it all began.

William Laitinen : So, I hear in that origin story, there was this deep personal experience of being caught between two versions of yourself and that you wanting to have in some way, be faithful to those two versions of yourself. But was it recognizing that, that was just a concept and that actually then integrating that into a single person? That and that was a change that was an evolution of you was where that…

Lisa Lahey : Absolutely.

William Laitinen : …and as a possibility there.

Lisa Lahey : Yes. And, you know, if we spend a little bit of time talking about what developmental theory helps to highlight, one of the very common places of adult development, what Kegan calls the socialized mind, is a place where we are, our sense of well-being is very connected to making other people happy and meeting their expectations. And we are not we have not yet developed our own expectations for ourself, that comes at a later point in development. So there actually is no self that is mediating, how do I actually hold two different sets of expectations that are in tension, in conflict with one another? So that’s like the golden moment of recognizing, oh, wait a second. There we have it

William Laitinen : This is my life. And that’s going from the socialized mind to this self-authoring mind.

Lisa Lahey : Yeah.

William Laitinen : And then the next stage would be this self-transforming mind around this is,

Lisa Lahey : Yes, that’s right

William Laitinen : So, I’ve just, I’ve just introduced that one of the main one of the main themes you have one of the main themes you have in the book, which is these three plateaus in adult mental complexity. And I would encourage any of the listeners actually to go and get the book and it’s in there. But maybe this is actually the moment we can, we can come back to that if we may, because I’d like to sort of set the context for our conversation. And why is being able to change our behavior, so important. Now in the 21st century, I suppose it always has been but why now, in the 21st century, do you think it’s so important?

Lisa Lahey : Well, I think you’re right in, it has been for, I don’t even know where to put it in the timeline. But I think the increasing complexity of the 21st century means that we do need to be able to hold greater complexity. And from an adult development perspective, that is a very evolved state of being and behaviorally, the implication of that is that we are able to actually take other people’s perspectives. And when you think about the certainly the conflict that we’re experiencing here in the United States right now about the kind of the republican and democratic way of thinking about governing and so on, it is very expressive of people being in more reified relationships to their own belief systems. And that mires people in a pretty stuck place because it’s very difficult to let go of and make room for a different perspective so that you can see what it looks like from another point of view. And because we are global at this point in the 21st century. We need to really understand that when we make a, a decision, as a nation state, for example, it is impacting other parts of the world, and to go ahead and make decisions without an awareness or taken into account others is fundamentally, I believe, what is driving the all these very big, massive, messy challenges that we have, like global warming. So, you could say, and this is more of a, you know, a dire way of casting it that it is essential that we change our behaviors at this point, because we are on a course towards basically kind of self-implosion in the world, when you think about it, just in terms of global warming.

William Laitinen : Well, global warming is, is a theme close to my own heart. How, I wonder what you think about, you know, technology in the 21st century, because you work with a lot of organizations? And have you seen, you know, specifically the way that the world is right now with you know the advent of technology and these exponential organizations, these new technologies are forcing change so quickly, is that something you’ve observed? Is that is that actually a thing that type of level of change and accelerated change? Or are we on a normal continuum that we’ve seen for 20 years?

Lisa Lahey : I end up working in organizations that are facing into and acknowledging the challenges of their being able to change so rapidly. So, I end up seeing more of where’s the struggle happening, and what differentiates those that are able to pivot quickly. And those that are, are challenged to I think is not, it’s not a straightforward kind of a formula. And, you know, it isn’t just about size, for example, which people might think, Oh, it’s just much easier to you if you’re a small company to be able to pivot quickly. My own take, but this is not it from a research perspective is that much has to do of the capacity of the leaders in these changing organizations to see that there is an opportunity that needs to be, like gone for if you think about, like the Innovators Dilemma, and Chris Christensen’s work, there’s so much energy that ends up going into maintaining the status quo and maintaining the status quo that is around the who we know ourselves as an organization to be. And it takes somebody who I think, is able to have a more fluid relationship to that success and that identity, and to be able to say, that is not all we are and to be able, therefore to be breathing more oxygen into the system and see that, yes, you need to take we need to take risks, if we don’t take risks, we are inevitably, basically increasing the likelihood that we will, we will die in some shape or form. And that’s just going on an organizational level, it’s also going on at an individual level, and that is kind of at the heart of an Immunity to Change.

William Laitinen : Yeah, I find that a interesting reflection upon the challenges that face us all that we have, have to exert energy, as you put it, to just stand still, just to stay…

Lisa Lahey : Yeah.

William Laitinen : …as we are.

Lisa Lahey : I think that that, to me is one of the most profound insights of the whole Immunity to Change process is recognizing just how much energy it takes to protect ourselves. And the protection is what leads us to be able to stand still, because to do anything else is to risk stability. You know, it’s like the frog in the boiling water, if you just stay there, you it’s gonna be okay. You know it, right. And you’re not recognizing the bigger set of phenomena that are happening that are actually leading to your demise, or in less extreme cases, just limiting you, and keeping you whether you’re at the individual or at a team level or an organizational level smaller than you could be.

William Laitinen : Fascinating. So, we’re gonna go on to talk a bit about the book now. But I think it’s kind of important, first of all, to share the history of adult development, because many may not be aware that there was a widespread misconception only 30 years ago, that our adult mental complexity stopped developing, when we stopped growing in our 20s. So, this idea that you got to your 20s and that was it, folks, you know, you are as complex a person as you’re going to be. So maybe you could explain the history and this term mental complexity for those listening?

Lisa Lahey : Yeah, so I think a very much the history follows from those researchers who were very interested in what actually happens to adults over time. And Bob Kegan’s work is one of the seminal contributions in this realm. And a lot of his early work was taking snapshots of individuals who were facing very significant emotional challenges. And what he recognized was that there were different relationships that people had to understanding and holding their, these challenges. And he got very interested in the possibility that there was something shifting over time, there was something that suggested that the people who were able to hold more and see more, were actually able to do different things with the pain that they were experiencing. And that began a kind of a lifelong interest that began following individuals longitudinally, and you know, as you can imagine, that’s what’s needed in order to really demonstrate that adults can develop because you need to be able to show that over time, a given individuals meaning making system can shift, otherwise what we can, you know what you end up doing with a bunch of snapshots of individuals is, you could say that’s just about individual differences, personality styles, or whatever you could attribute it to. But his work was very much as were other researchers, following individuals over time to see what was changing. And was it random, was it or was it not random. And that was the discovery, which were they’re very predictable ways of people’s meaning making system shifting over time. And that the essence of it, there was the continued ability to be able to move the thing you were subject to, or the way of making sense, you were at the mercy of the way that you just were merged with that development was always about being able to begin to take a more active relationship to being able to look at it. So, you could have a little distance between you, and that way of operating that way of thinking that way of feeling. And so, you could actually create more space between the thing that had you and the thing that you could now have, and it’s a very, very fundamental difference between like being, you know, driven by a particular set of ways of operating, versus being able to operate on the ways that you had been driven. And that’s kind of the heart of what we’ve discovered, is development. Pretty abstract.

William Laitinen : Wonderful. No, I hear this. So, when I was reading about mental complexity in the book, you, you actually have a system which an interview technique called subject object, understand what you guys can apply, which is assessing…

Lisa Lahey : Yeah.

William Laitinen : …your current level of complexity. And I think you’ve sort of just explained about subject object. But so, let’s, let’s just, let’s just well there, so this this subject, object interview, how does it work?

Lisa Lahey : It’s a very fun process. I think for both the interviewer and the interviewee, the way it’s traditionally done is a person sits down with essentially 10 prompts. And each of the 10 prompts is some emotional state. So, its sadness, it’s torn, it things like this, and you are invited at the very beginning of the interview, to take a moment and think about the last time you experience this particular feeling. So, you, it’s a wonderful inventory of just taking stock of when and where have I felt this particular thing, just jot these, these experiences down. And then the interview begins when you are invited to choose which ever card who speaks the most to you right now. And there begins the process of an hour-long interview, it’s a very intimate exploration, where the interviewer asks you as the interviewee about your experience, and the ways you make sense of the particular episode that you are choosing to reflect on. So if I, for example, use the what I shared with you, as we began our time today, of this moment, when I felt torn, between wanting to be a good wife and wanting to be a good child, or adult child, that would be like here, it would be I would start talking about Well, last Sunday morning when I got this phone call from my mother, and she started to ask me about coming to dinner. And here’s what I felt and the whole interview would go into. So, what was happening for you and what came up inside of you and, and the interviewer is very expert in adult developmental theory. And so, some of the questions are helping to identify where are the kind of the boundaries? How far can the individual go in beginning to identify, like, in my example, where is that self who could reflect upon being torn in that situation? And, you know, in my particular situation, the reason why I had that eureka, that moment was because it was old enough of a little bit of me that can see and step up on like the balcony and say, Wow, I see why I’m caught here. And that theory helped me to see that. But the interview would be actually offering a similar kind of opportunity for me to then engage with what is that self that can begin to be on the balcony saying to herself in this situation, and the interview is recorded, it gets transcribed the interviewer pours over it and does a, basically an analysis of it and then often does a follow up meeting with the interviewee to talk about here’s a way of understanding your meaning making system. And that debrief is also a very kind of clearly has an objective, which is to come to some shared understanding of where the person may be in development. But it’s also like an opportunity to be testing out some things that maybe the interviewer realizes, ooh, if we had a little bit more data about this, we could kind of know more one way or another about your development. So that is its most, that was how we began doing them. And you know, there’s different variations on the theme. I will say that Jennifer Garvey Berger, in her book, I forget, it was the title of it, it was the first one has got a wonderful chapter of inviting people to do a self-diagnosis. So maybe it’s leadership in simple times, I think, is the title of that book…

William Laitinen : We’ll give it we’ll give him into it in the in the show notes for sure.

Lisa Lahey : Ok.

William Laitinen : Thank you, I can’t wait to do one of these interviews myself, because I think what you have there is this idea of hearing it right, the, you know, in our world, we are subject to these thoughts, these, these intuitions, these learned behaviors that we have, and the ability to make those experiences those feelings, those values, objects, in our view, we can…

Lisa Lahey : Right.

William Laitinen : …see them simply as an object and then understand them is so critical, then to creating strategies for changing those behaviors. Right?

Lisa Lahey : Absolutely.

William Laitinen : Yeah, without seeing….

Lisa Lahey : Absolutely,

William Laitinen : …that we can’t change them.

Lisa Lahey : Absolutely. And I think this is a very important, much more important than I, then I think people realize, for example, when you think about somebody whose sense of their own, like their emotional regulation, it’s very easy for somebody to be subject to blaming other people for the way they feel. Somebody said something to me, and made me angry, it’s their fault, I feel angry. And from a developmental perspective, that is a pretty significant moment of you. But if you don’t realize that’s what you’re doing, you will just continue to be in a mode of ascribing responsibility outside of yourself. And so just follow that through, which is imagine then what the person sees as the potential pollute solution space. Well, the solution is the other person has to change. Right, the other person has to apologize. But it’s a very different thing. When I can start realizing, wow, somebody said something, yes, they did say something. But there was something inside of me that interpreted that in a certain way. And I had an immediate reaction, which I now can begin to see. Because I can hold that a little bit as object and the more, I can take that as object, that I am the meaning maker, and I have an experience, a felt experience that I need to take responsibility for. That is, I can’t even begin to say what a world of a difference that is, in every single relationship that we have, right? Whether it’s in the intimate world, or in the work world, or parenting world, and so on, that is like a major change. And that really is at the heart of the shift that happens from moving from a socialized mind to what we call the self-authoring mind.

William Laitinen : Yeah, I must say this was one of the big, big revelations for me is and trying to understand and hopefully get a bit of a grip on the subject, object. And I couldn’t tell you actually, through the course of you know, reading the book, and then applying it to my daily life, I’ve had a few incidents which has happened, where I felt strongly about something but, but also some level of uncertainty in my position. And in that comes for me, a level of kind of Inquisition to myself. Why do I feel this? One hand an immediate reaction, like an intuition?

Lisa Lahey : Yes

William Laitinen : But then a level of uncertainty about that. And what I did in this instance, and I’m a coach to an under eight football team, and I have this feeling about should I be letting new players into the squad now after I have an established squad, and I had to unpick it, because I feel conflicted. On one hand, I feel a duty to the team members who were there with me now, but also, I feel a duty to bring new children in because it’s a community action. And I know they can grow. But I, my initial reaction is I shouldn’t be letting any more children in until I can look after the ones that I have in my team.

Lisa Lahey : Yeah.

William Laitinen : And the problem is, it’s not very clear yes or no. And but I have a feeling. And so, I tried your very system. And I tried to understand what emotions and feelings Am I subject to? When I think of this situation?

Lisa Lahey : Yeah. 

William Laitinen : And through that process, I’ve been able to make them object. And through making my feelings and my values objects, I’ve been able to criticize them, and decide upon whether or not I think they’re right or wrong. But I feel really importantly, I’m now able to communicate it to the other coaches who work with me in the team and say, Well, this is how I feel. And this is why I feel this way. Do you agree? Do you not agree?

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : And…

Lisa Lahey : Yeah, yeah…

William Laitinen : …I found that to be a beautiful way of dealing with otherwise something that I may just have to act on and be somewhat bloody minded about. And that is it and…

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : …and I think…

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : Maybe that’s just a sort of a small example. But you can imagine how that that sort of is extrapolated into day-to-day life. And does that make…

Lisa Lahey :  Yes. 

William Laitinen: How do you feel about…

Lisa Lahey : Yes

William Laitinen …that reflection?

Lisa Lahey : Absolutely. No, I think that’s that there’s so much in what you’re saying, starting with the attentiveness to your being aware, you had this very strong feeling. And I think that curiosity of Gee, what’s happening for me right now, why am I feeling what I’m feeling itself is a developmental triumph, because you’re not just taking it as a given that I feel this way, and just carry on out of the feeling and having some kind of like, reactive decision that therefore gets made, you’re able to be in a much more active relationship to it slow it down, see, what is it really about here? What’s going on, and in the process of that, you’re able to be more like, maybe it doesn’t have to actually be that way. And that process that you’re engaged in begins to allow you to reform how you are thinking and feeling. And you could be asking you know yourself, where does that should come from? Can I unpack that should, because should is that really big word. And I think we do learn over time doing this developmental work that there are some richer kind of arenas in which to be slowing down you can’t slow everything down. But when to slow things down. And I think the dilemma, a dilemma is always a great thing to pause around what is actually happening here, and to give yourself the opportunity to do exactly what you did. And one of the things that I think is beautiful in the that what you just shared is, you then went on to be able to be explicit with other people about where you were coming from, why you were saying what you were saying. And in the process, you shared, your kind of the inners, so to speak. And that gives them a opportunity to be much more with you and your how you’re putting the pieces together. Because you’ve shared the pieces, you didn’t just share the conclusion, we’re gonna do this period, full stop. So that allows you, in this example, to be much more collaborative with other people, then if you were just going to be pronouncing Look, this is I’ve settled this all within myself here. And I’m going to tell everybody, here’s the path that we’re taking and just you know, suck it up, basically.

William Laitinen : Yeah, Well, thank you, by the way, because that directly came from reading the book. So, I will say that was a that was a great impact on myself. The world of under eight football will be that much more harmonious as a result. Wow, who could have thought. So,

Lisa Lahey : Hey, Harmony anywhere is a good thing these days.

William Laitinen : Absolutely, and those little kids, they deserve it. So, you actually you know getting to the book back to the books we thought sort of explored the sort of subject object component. But you introduced early on in in the book, the thinking from Ronald Heifetz, I think if I pronounced it right, which was helped me to rethink the challenges, sort of, you know, I wish to overcome through this idea of technical versus adaptive challenges. And

Lisa Lahey : Yes

William Laitinen : I found this fascinating. So, it’s so important. So maybe you can tell us what is a technical versus adaptive challenge?

Lisa Lahey : Right. So, the first thing that I would say is that I think this quote, I’m gonna share a quote, and it goes like this, the single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems. And when I describe what the differences between these, I think it will, make clear why that is such an important distinction to kind of clean up for ourselves. So, adaptive challenges have much more to do with our mindsets they have to do with what’s going on inside of us. And technical challenges are the things that you can actually solve by bringing in an expert by they’re solvable. And I wanna be absolutely clear in you know, in talking about these two things right now, which is that they are both important. And I don’t wanna end up having kind of listeners think about this is kind of one is better than the other is not better. The problem is that we are mostly orienting towards how to solve problems from this more technical position, because we know how to do things. And keeps us in our comfort zone. And it keeps us in our comfort zone, not only because we know, oh, I can employ this particular tool here. But it also gives us a sense of efficacy, like I’m doing something, there’s something I could do here, different from the adaptive part of a challenge is gonna take much more time, it’s going to be much more, you know, you have to change your heart and your mind about things. So, if you tune into the more adaptive part, it means basically having a different kind of a conversation, and you have to face into there are strong feelings that are involved. Giving a work example here, which is one of the most common leadership challenges that we often hear about is the challenge of giving candid feedback to people. And we know that there are lots of different kind of technical ways people learn how to give feedback. And I think the like the Cambridge Leadership Group here in the United States, or in North Carolina, they do a fantastic job of packaging, this way of approaching giving feedback. And it’s called SBI. situation, behavior impact. And it’s a wonderful like structure to help somebody think about how they are going to give feedback. Here’s the situation in last week’s meeting behavior. You were on your phone, it looked like texting while I was talking. And I the impact on me was I felt like, dismissed and you were not valuing my contributions. Okay, great. Right, very clear. Now, that’s something somebody could learn technically, to do. But the question is, can the person actually make use of that tool, and that is going to actually depend on the person’s own inner landscape. And when I say the inner landscape here, I wanna be kind of bringing up for people, this whole idea of mental complexity, because if I’m at that place, in my own development, where I am subject to people’s expectations for me and making them happy, it’s gonna be very hard for me to use that tool. Because I am afraid that by saying to somebody, that the impact was I felt hurt, and not seen and not valued, I worry, I’m going to damage the relationship. So, I’m not gonna do it. Right. So that’s the really good example of, I need to be more kind of able to see and have a relationship to that part of me that may worry, I will be damaging relationships, and I will be damaging my own well-being if I give this feedback. And so right now I see the trade off, I’m making us don’t give the feedback, stay safe. But if I can begin to see Oh, there is that part of me, then I can begin to maybe test out, is that actually so true I’m gonna damage the relationship? And that’s all of what the Immunity to Change does. It helps surface what is the adaptive nature of the challenge that you are necessarily going to experience as you take on this next particular improvement goal that is gonna make you the bigger, better version of yourself. You want to get to?

William Laitinen : Fantastic. I think this does, there’s a lot of hope in this idea that we can we can be better than what we are right now. And I think also that’s why I love this work because it’s bring some real joy and an opportunity for growth and with joy and opportunity comes you know, there’s real fulfillment and satisfaction in life.

Lisa Lahey : Yeah. Yeah. I am, I just want to say, you know, I absolutely agree with you about the infusion of hope and I also want to say that development is hard, and it can be painful. And that’s, I think a phenomena, we really have to respect that there are that there is an energy system within us. And this is the immune system that would, it’s an unconscious decision, prefer to know things as they are, and maintain the status quo than to take the risk of developing because you don’t know that the development is actually going to be any better. Truly, you don’t. And what you know is, and what you’re most tuned into is the risk and the loss. And that makes me just wanna underscore, it can be painful to develop. And when we were earlier talking about these three plateaus and adult development, the reality is that the majority of people are more in transition than they are even in the plateau. And the most common place where adults are developmentally is between this socialized self and the self-authoring. And if you just try on how very painful it can be to be going back and forth between feeling like you’re at the mercy of other people’s liking you and your own sense of power and empowerment and being able to be the person you’re choosing to be, it’s a very kind of, it can be a very painful place.

William Laitinen : Yeah, again, we were sharing examples here, I’ll give you one, I stopped drinking alcohol for nearly a year and a half. At first, it was a technical challenge. My nonalcoholic beer, I just, you know, had social sort of proof. I saw a social pressure because telling people about it.

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : And it was affecting my, and people were like who are you? You, this is William, you always used to have a drink? You’re a great. Oh, great laugh. Then it became an adaptation like it became a new identity for me. Right?

Lisa Lahey : Yeah.

William Laitinen : Then, then came COVID. And now I’ve started drinking again. But

Lisa Lahey : Yeah

William Laitinen : So, I’ve had to deal with the idea of my drinking is no way I drink much lighter than I used to, which is a fantastic adaptation. But I still now have to re-process that change that I that I’ve gone through and understand. Is that me going backwards? Or is that me evolving? And I think this might be what I uncovering. Also, what you’re saying is that maybe part of fear of change is that, that change might not stick. And if that doesn’t stick, then what does that say about you to yourself and to the world outside you?

Lisa Lahey : First, I really appreciate your sharing that example. And, and I wanna if you’re interested, like can we go to the particulars?

William Laitinen : Yeah please, absolutely. Let’s do it.

Lisa Lahey : All right. And I also want to say that what you’re describing what you just said, which is the fear of failing, can keep one from taking on the challenge is such a common self-protective commitment in the Immunity to Change language. My own way of hearing what you said is, it’s impossible to know, on just a behavioral level, whether you are backsliding, or whether you are in a more evolved place. Because the difference would be when you are engaging in what looks like the same behavior of having a drink. What is it or who is the self who is having that drink? If I think about a early version of somebody working on their wanting to be drinking less, they could have an assumption that I assume that if I don’t just kind of partake, when my buddies are in alcohol, I will be not included, I’ll be less included. Or I assume that I will be less funny, less jovial, I assume that I will be just less fun to be around. Okay. So those are three assumptions that I could have right there that are all assumptions that at that point in my development are driving my behaviors to drink, then what can happen over time as you to the technical quote, unquote, fix of let’s have that nonalcoholic beer. If I’m only working at technically, I’m just trying to get through the night. That’s a kind of work. But then if you go back to drinking, and then you’re back to drinking as much, then I would say that is a backslide. However, quite conscious if you take an Immunity to Change approach even unwillingly, you begin to test those assumptions I just named which is so when I have this nonalcoholic beer, can I feel included? Do I feel included? How would I know I’m feeling included? I, I like go inside myself I’m feeling connected to people or I am not feeling connected to people. And that’s what begins to change your mind. And your assumption, your belief system about what the role of alcohol is in your life just using this illustratively, or do I find myself being able to be at ease and still be funny? Well, it’s probably the case that, you know, to begin with, there’s a lot of self-consciousness. And there’s a lot of like, Can I actually, you know, say something clever here. But over time, as you stay with the new behavior and paying attention to the inner experience, I feel relaxed, I feel like, Yes, I wanna be with people. And I’m getting joy out of being more connected to what they’re saying and what I’m feeling. So,

William Laitinen : This is fascinating. So, I’m gonna spend all day talking about these things. So, lets, I think we touched on a really important component here, which is fear, okay. And I know in the book, you explore this, you explore the concept that the immunity system is sort of a protection against the anxiety to new things. So, I think we’ve given some really nice examples there. But is it is this is sort of another example you’d like to give of how anxiety plays a part in the process of change, maybe stops us.

Lisa Lahey : Sure. So, the… So, the example I want to give comes from a piece of research and practice that colleagues and I were engaged in with a very large international law firm. And these were senior partners, who wanted very much to take on the work of being a better welcoming place for, for bringing associates in and keeping the associates or helping them to develop, because there was a lot of churn. And this is a very, you know, one of the top law firms. You know, you just think, Oh, great, it’s so wonderful that they wanna be doing this and they were game for taking up the whole immunity to approach it Immunity to Change approaches, they thought about this. So, I just wanna give you like a quick example of the way that anxiety gets, kind of, immobilizes us even when we want to really change things. So, this is comes out of the work with these very senior attorneys who are leading the office. And so, the what the ITC process that’s short for Immunity to Change process does is it ask people to just face into, what is the thing they want to get better at? And why is that important? So, in the example I’ll give here is this senior partner who says I wanna get better at empowering associates by giving them better opportunities, client opportunities, better training and by giving them feedback. And the reason that is important was for this particular person, but very much for the firm, which is, we really want to be the go-to place we want our reputation to be this is a good place for associates to come. And we can see from a business perspective that makes sense. And we know from a humanity perspective, that makes sense. And this was really important to this person. Okay, then the next step in the process is to go to your behaviors, you know what we’re talking about. And the question is, what are the things you do currently that work against that important goal you just named and so what we have this particular partner saying is I quickly write off associates and decide who’s worth investing in. Also, I don’t give people second chances, and I don’t give people feedback. Okay, then, this is exactly the point in the exercise where it’s very easy to go into a Alright, I’m gonna have a technical solution here. And the way that technical solution is going to work is I am going to you know basically create a bit of a spreadsheet for myself, and I’m going to make sure that I really hold myself to a different standard, around giving everybody a second chance. So, I’m gonna keep track of that, or I’m gonna make sure I have 15-minute conversations with everybody and give them that feedback, right. And what I’ve said to you before is if it is a technical problem, go for it, go use a technical solution, but if those don’t work, because they’re not sticking enough, then you have to take that next step which is to try to Understand, and this is why the Immunity to Change approach really does help us understand the adaptive nature is what is going on behind those behaviors. And this is where the anxiety management system comes into play. So, you ask people to think about what is the worry or fear you have if you were to imagine doing the opposite of those things. So, what would happen if you didn’t quickly write people off or you gave people second chances, you gave people feedback. And for this particular person, it came down to a set of commitments to being right to being, you know, to feeling good about calling the winners to not losing his status as a top firm Rainmaker. And you could see just in that moment, like even that last one, it’s so powerful. You know, I don’t wanna lose my status as a top firm Rainmaker. If I were to actually begin to change my behaviors, my worries are, I would begin kind of screwing up or gumming up my own way of doing all that I know to do here well, I could be mucking up my whole equation for how to be that top Rainmaker…

William Laitinen : Yeah

Lisa Lahey : Right?

William Laitinen : Yeah, absolutely.

Lisa Lahey : So, I don’t wanna do that I have a lot at stake…

William Laitinen : Yeah.

Lisa Lahey : …not just financially, but emotionally. What is the meaning somebody gets out of being the top Rainmaker, about being the person who calls a winner? So that is just in a nutshell, if we could recognize that we have anxieties that are about losing that sense of self. In this case, that person who could be the top Rainmaker, who could be like this really special person in the firm, right? So, there’s a lot invested in that, once you see that, because I don’t wanna leave it just at the anxiety, because I want us to recognize that a lot of those anxieties are driven by unconscious beliefs we hold, beliefs that often were formed many, many years ago, and that we keep drawing on over and over again. And so, they become reified. And those are the things that keep us limited. So, you know, in this particular case, there are a whole bunch of assumptions that this person came to see. But ultimately, it was like, my value here depends on producing winners, and producing winners, like the, what the person began to recognize is, Oh, my God, that’s why I end up just going right to the people who I know can be winners. And then recognizing, all the people I see are winners are all the people who look just like me. And is it possible that my value here could actually depend on expanding who those winners look like? And I can see, I actually have a hand in helping those people come along. And that’s what the Immunity to Change approach does, which is to try and shine a light on what could you experiment with doing differently, behaviorally, so that you could begin to test whether your limiting belief system could be more expansive and include a bigger reality. And that’s kind of a heart of why the Immunity to Change process helps you be to be able to address the adaptive challenges, not just kind of see them, because it is the diagnostic part, which is very important. But that’s more at an insight level. The really important part is the testing of the big assumptions and seeing that the world does not necessarily operate 100% of the times, all the ways that your unconscious belief system has you believe.

William Laitinen : Brilliant example. I can see how we going back to the subject, object component how it may amaze people when they must do this third column and I’m writing my own Immunity to Change extra myself by the way. You do this, and it is very difficult on your own…

Lisa Lahey : Yeah

William Laitinen : …it’s very difficult.

Lisa Lahey : Yeah.

William Laitinen : You know, you write down your worries, and you’re like, Oh, my God, I have that is something and you know, it’s true. Because you say, you know, when you’ve got something because you kind of feel it, and you do feel it because you feel like it’s maybe threatening something, you know, the something…

Lisa Lahey : Yeah.

William Laitinen : …What is it threatening? And you see in that example, that my value is picking winners and that value, my value. And when we start questioning on value, that’s a dangerous place to be, isn’t it? And then you said it about…

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : …this equation. I figured something out, which has got me to this, maybe an a million pounds salary if I mess with my mojo. I may mess with my salary and my value in my status and wow, how that crumbles so very quickly.

Lisa Lahey : And why would I do that?

William Laitinen : Yes exactly.

Lisa Lahey : Right?

William Laitinen : Yeah.

Lisa Lahey : Yes, I want to empower associates, but well that’s a lot to give.

William Laitinen : Exactly, that’s a lot to give up there. That’s a beautiful example. So, if I can summarize where we got. So, let’s do a bit of a summary if I can. So, we recognize change is very key to professional success in the 21st century. For all the reasons we’ve just highlighted, we live in a very complex world with ever changing environments and technologies and society and connections of information. And as adults, we can change, as you’ve outlined our mental complexity, it is possible for us to evolve, which is yes, which is fantastic news. But to do this, we have to evolve our mental frameworks and develop new, more complex way of dealing with the world.

Lisa Lahey : Yes, so it’s a word that what I would say is a slight amendment to what you’re saying at the end there, which is what you’re describing is what development is, which is the greater complexity, but how do I actually develop? Because yes, adults can develop, but it is not a given. And this is what takes us to what kind of an environment or context is required in order to incubate development. We haven’t really talked that much about that. But…

William Laitinen : Ok let’s, let’s go there.

Lisa Lahey : …it is very important combination of you need to have support, and you need to have challenge. And we see that the, like the Immunity to Change approach, itself can highlight the challenge you experience. But if you are doing this, like in a context where your environment says, Yes, we support you learning. And yes, we support that everybody has got a developmental edge. And we want to really encourage everybody to do that. And to shift a little bit to the most recent work that we’ve written about in our deliberately developmental book and everyone culture, those cultures actually requiring everybody to develop like you can’t be a part of them and stay if you are not signing up to actually be open yourself to being developed to cure ongoing development and to being a resource to your fellow others around you, the everyone around you to their development. So, it’s a very, I just want to underscore it’s not an automatic sort of thing, because we can keep finding ourselves in environments where our meaning making system just gets reified. And, and that’s how it is.

William Laitinen : Yeah, I that’s actually a really, really important point to correct me on because I actually find, I think it was actually Josh Waitzkin is an interesting thinker on learning and said that a lot of coaches are very high on support, but quite low on challenge. And yeah, it’s very important, actually, to be kind of both is you’ve got to be able to support the people you’re coaching, you’ve also gonna be have to challenge them to change and maybe the sort of kernel of what you’ve said there about this, you’ll have a supportive environment, also a challenging environments, because otherwise you right, maybe there’s gonna be no tension and in needing to grow, needing to push forward.

Lisa Lahey : Right. Otherwise, we’re you know, if it’s all support, and no challenge, it’s like a nice warm bath. It feels good. It’s very relaxing. But there you have it…

William Laitinen : Yeah, yep.

Lisa Lahey : …who wants to get out of a nice warm bath?

William Laitinen : Yeah, who wants to, yeah absolutely, absolutely. I completely understand that. Wonderful. And I think at the heart of this, I also hear from you that the feedback is very important, because feedback helps you fill in a lot the columns of the system you’ve just outlined. And in organizations being in a feedback culture where you can absorb that as a challenge to who you are, and what you’re doing where you are, but in a positive way, and then transpose that into a new level of mental complexity, a new type of self-authoring.

Lisa Lahey : Yeah.

William Laitinen : I’m aware of time. So, I just want to just quickly summarize all, Yes, we’ll meet these new challenges that we are gonna experience fear, right fear we talked about, we perceive new dangers. And but we got to have courage. Because courage is very important in then actually overcoming these change objectives. Right. And I think you put it in the book that there is no significant change that really happens without courage. Maybe I paraphrase that correctly. I’m not sure but and then this leads us on to like your system, which is the Immunity to Change x-ray, you do this system, which can help you uncover, and this goes into four points, right. So, you have your visible commitments through improving goals. So, then the instance it may be that, you know, you’re the sort of you want to change something, then you have, what you’re doing or not doing that is stopping your column one commitments from happening. Then you have the third commitment, which is the hidden competing commitments, and these are our blind spots. Which really make you feel uncomfortable when they’re uncovered? These are sort of worry points. And you highlight those really well that being the Rainmaker and such with, with a partner. And then we have the fourth component, which is the big assumptions. And this is like the hardwiring that we’re having, right? This is the way that we understand the world.

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : And I think this was here where I heard from you that we are subjected influenced to these big assumptions often, and they act…

Lisa Lahey : Exactly.

William Laitinen : …upon us without us knowing. But through your system is X-ray system, you can these big assumptions then can become object to our understanding, and thus, we can understand them, and we can change them. What I love about the things that you’ve done in this book, Lisa, and yourself and Robert is given a system which anybody can use to uncover some quite uncomfortable thoughts, some uncomfortable systems, but within that, the I’ll come back to it, is such a beautiful opportunity to grow and develop and change. And yes, thank you for doing this. It’s really fantastic.

Lisa Lahey : My pleasure.

William Laitinen : So, sort of finishing up, as any of your thinking changed since you wrote the book?

Lisa Lahey : I would say yes. Probably better said more additive, one of the things I’ve become much more aware of, is how the body and the emotions are part of the immune system, in a way I really had not truly metabolized at an earlier point when I was doing all of this. And it’s interesting, because for years through Minds at Work, we’ve offered workshops for people to learn how to do this Immunity to Change process. And there were always people who would say to me, you know, yes, behavior, yes. But there’s, it’s in your body, like your non-verbals. And I’d be like, yes, that makes sense to me. But I think that the last, I would say, decade of my own learning has been much more about how the body holds so much knowing and trauma. And that we are, there’s so much to learn from tuning into what is actually happening in our bodies and to be noticing things about what’s happening with our like clenching our hands, or the tightness or the constriction in our body. So, I’d say that’s definitely one thing that I’ve become much more just intrigued by an open to and exploring and myself and inviting others to as well, as well as just the way that I’ve been more tuned into how well do you use the word constricted, again, constricted, our environments tend to be around the welcoming of emotions, and how important emotional intelligence is to doing the sort of work. And yet we are often surrounded by more and more of the kind of messages of No, they’re not, they’re not welcome here, they’re not needed. We’re doing just rational work here, and so on. So, I would say those are two really big kind of shifts in what I’ve been paying attention to, as well as taking up these, this these very important questions around how we it’s not an application of how can we apply Immunity to Change to some of these bigger, very sticky challenges around disequities and basic, you know, lack of decency and dignity and treating one another, like humans,

William Laitinen : Yeah, that’s very, very important work to do. And I think we all find ourselves looking at a world seemingly more and more connected, but yet more and more disconnected. And…

Lisa Lahey : Yes

William Laitinen : …and disconnect, on some ways, which I hear in that from our emotions, you’re right, but maybe becoming entrenched more and more in certain feelings and experiences, because we can become so trapped in echo chambers of certain thinking and ways of being. And you’re right, the more that I hope that people can, can see what’s in here in this work, that we can take a step back, and really just question, how we see the world. Are we being kind enough to our neighbors? Are we being kind enough to someone who looks very different to me, who I don’t understand, but that’s okay. And I can spend a bit of time understanding them, because in that process, it doesn’t just help them, but it also helps me and…

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : …a place…

Lisa Lahey : Yes.

William Laitinen : That people can get to the recognition that it’s it can be a bit selfish in being kind to other people. So are there books, I mean, I, one of my the questions I like to finish up with is, are there three books that have influenced you or you’re reading at the moment around the topics you’ve just highlighted? Because I’d love to know where you’re where you’re going with this.

Lisa Lahey : Yeah, great. So, you know, there’s the must reads, with all of what’s going on in the United States now, like How to be an Antiracist Kendi’s book. But the stuff around like body’s work, it’s just fascinating to me to see how that has gotten married to racialized trauma. So, the book, My Grandmother’s Hand, is a way of helping us to look at how our individual and collective nervous systems may be perpetuating systemic oppression. So that’s one book and then Mindful of Race is another one. Thinking about the feelings part of things Marc Brackett’s book Permission to Feel has been very, very helpful, as has been Reverend Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault.

William Laitinen : Wonderful. Lisa, that’s absolutely fantastic. Thank you for sharing that and giving us your time today. And all of the learnings and the great, fantastic work you’ve done. If people are trying to reach you or interested in working with you on change and getting their organization or themselves changing is there is a way that people can reach out, are you, you know, how would they find you?

Lisa Lahey : Absolutely. So, they should contact mindsatwork.com. And that is the home of our Immunity to Change work. And the developmentaledge.com is the home of our deliberately developmental organization work.

William Laitinen : Wonderful. Well, Lisa, again, I can really say this has been a wonderful conversation, a way for me to hear in your own words about this really important the work that you’re doing with Immunity to Change. And so, again, thank you so much for sharing.

Lisa Lahey : Thank you so much, William, and for your wonderful questions and sharing your own personal experiences and being willing to share those in the to talk together about them I really appreciate that.

William Laitinen : My pleasure.

William Laitinen : Well, there you go. What a great conversation. I another huge thank you to Lisa for taking part in the show. It really was an insightful conversation for me. And I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. As always, as part of this community. I truly value the feedback that you could give us particularly as we’re trying to develop and hone the concept for Talent Equals it’s as much about a journey for you as it is about me. So, getting in touch telling us about guests you’d love us to speak with. What you enjoyed what you didn’t. All of that would be welcome. like to say a huge thank you to Cherie Turner, who has been our producer on this episode, and to the entire Exige team who continue to make doing this work possible. Samantha Smart and Fiona Laitinen and I’m eternally grateful for their service in helping Exige be what it is. Well, I wish you a wonderful day, or evening wherever you are. Be well and join us next time on Talent Equals.

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