Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown, and this is Dare to Lead. Oh, my God, we’re going to get about as close as I’m ever going to get to having like a podcast public therapy session. I am talking with the amazing Lisa Lahey. She is a Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty member who has built a body of work to help learners and leaders overcome the innate human aversion to change. Now, I don’t like to think of myself as someone who’s averse to change. But holy shit, am I averse to change. There’s this whole “immunity to change” theory about how change happens, why it’s so hard. And I thought we were going to academically discuss it. But then she takes me on this personal journey of trying to change something in my life that I desperately want to change, but just seemingly cannot change no matter how hard I’ve tried for the last couple of years. It’s almost as bad as giving up caffeine free Diet Coke. It’s probably even worse because now I don’t know it’s about the same but I’m glad you’re here. It’s going to be so personal and vulnerable and if you work with me, don’t listen, because it’s going to be very awkward.
BB: All right, so before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Lahey. Lisa, again, Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty member. Lisa and her long, long time collaborator Robert Kegan are credited with a breakthrough discovery of the “immunity to change,” a dynamic which impedes personal and organizational transformation. Her work helps people to close the gap between their good, I’m laughing because I got a big gap, to close the gap between their good intentions and behaviors. We’re going to work it. I’m going to work the program with her guiding me through on something that’s really real and vulnerable and hard. Lisa is also the founder of Minds at Work, a coaching and consulting firm serving businesses and institutions around the world. She’s on the faculty at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She’s an expert in adult development and an experienced educator and executive coach. If you’re a coach, this will be a masterclass in coaching for you. She works with leaders and leadership teams in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. She currently leads and teaches the Personal Mastery Program in Harvard’s Education Leadership, Organizations, and Entrepreneurship Program.
BB: It’s a degree designed to advance equity, access, agency, and excellence in education. Her passion for adult education, women’s development, diversity and inclusion, and care for the aged have earned her special attention from the healthcare, nonprofit, and education sectors. She’s got many books, including Immunity to Change from Harvard Business Press. We will link to all of her books. She’s also a passionate pianist and a nature lover. She’s got two married sons and lives in Cambridge with her husband, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Let’s go. Buckle yourself in and watch me. God, Barrett just said squirm. That’s probably a good one. Watch me squirm.
Lisa Lahey: You look great.
BB: Oh, my God.
LL: You’re just beaming. You look great.
BB: I’m so excited to talk to you. I’m like a kid in a candy store.
LL: Here we are, mutual admiration society.
BB: Oh, I mean, I’m grateful for that. And I have to tell you, I’m just going to be completely honest with you. I want your guidance, personally and professionally around change, just to be honest with you. And I’ve read you, I’ve read your work, I’ve read your books, but I want to dig in for me and for all of the Dare to Lead listeners. Can you walk us through why we all want to transform and no one wants to change?
LL: [laughter]Oh, that’s such an interesting question. We all want to transform.
BB: But I don’t want to change. I’ll give you an example. Just right now, my sister’s in the room and she said, “I’m going to grab a drink. Do you want something for the podcast?” And I said, “I’m giving up sugar-free drinks. I’m only trying to have one caffeine-free diet Coke a day, but you know what? Screw it. I’m going to have it right now.” I know that this is probably bad for me.
BB: What is the deal?
LL: Well, I would say that the wish to transform is the pull, the aspiration. It’s the carrot for us. And I think that’s a beautiful thing and we are filled with those. And I think the reality is that we are also filled with a whole set of other motivations that are not so noble or we’re not so conscious about. And that the reality is that most of the time, unless we become aware of those unconscious other motivators, they are in control of us and we are kind of at their mercy. So even though we can have very wise wishes and intentions for our aspirations, if we don’t get this other piece into the equation of what else is going on simultaneously, we will remain kind of stuck or we might inch our way, make a little bit of progress and then kind of back to go.
BB: So this is really interesting to me because I do a lot of change work in organizations and the desire, the commitment to change is solid. It’s real. It’s not bullshit. I mean sometimes it is and sometimes it’s just like this is… We’re supposed to be changing this. But I go into some organizations where if you put these people on a group lie detector, the change aspiration is a hundred percent real.
LL: It’s sincere. Absolutely. So, I think that actually what you’re getting to is often a kind of mistaken sense we have that if we are unable to make the change we want to, that the intention must not be very sincere. And all the work that I do is very much to help show people that is not what’s actually going on. You can have very sincere intentions, right? And at the exact same time you can have a whole other set of unseen forces that are just as real, but because they’re not seen, we’re not in a position where we can actively make choices about it. So that’s what takes us over. And that will be always the default.
BB: I’m working through one of your books right now and I’m doing my own graph and I’m doing my own math.
BB: Hard as hell.
BB: Like you really can’t bluff.
LL: Well, good for you. I’m glad you’re not because you know you could take it at whatever level you want to take it. And I would say that’s part of the invitation to create an “immunity to change” map is to invite people to be taking a next step with wherever they are. And the process itself takes you where you are and it helps you to normalize that all those things that you do that work against yourself are coming out of a really rich and well-earned place in your life. And if you’re ready to take a look at that, great. If you don’t, you can ride the surface and then begin to imagine, “Oh, okay, I kind of get this or I’m not ready for it.” Or you get it and you’re really ready for it and you jump two feet in and everything in between.
BB: That’s really helpful to know. Okay. So, start from the beginning. So, I’ve already got Mind-blower number one, which is if the change is not happening, it’s because you don’t want it enough. That is a myth.
LL: Absolutely. Right.
BB: You know that everybody believes that, right?
LL: Well, let me just say I think motivation does matter and if you don’t want it, it ain’t going to happen. But it’s not sufficient.
BB: Oh, wait.
LL: And I think that’s key.
BB: Wait, wanting it really bad is not sufficient enough?
LL: Correct. But you have to want it. So, I want to say both of those things. Yes, you need to want to make the change. And, but just wanting to make the change, even if it’s sincere in every single way and you can think of all the things that are going to be better for you and for others and so on. And you can think about all the ways that you will be less burdened and you go through a whole exercise around like my core motivations. I’m with it. I’m ready to go, right? And that’s great. But it is not enough because it doesn’t actually take into account what I was earlier describing as these unseen motivations that are there nonetheless and will be working at cross purposes. And if you don’t get to see the unseen, they will continue to keep working at cross purposes.
BB: You know what this reminds me of? It’s hard when I apply it to myself because I’m like, “You just don’t want it enough. You just don’t want it enough.” And I’m like, “God, that’s not true. I don’t want anything more in the world than some of the things I want to change.”
BB: But you know what this reminds me of? And I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. It reminds me of change or die.
LL: Ah, yeah.
BB: Can you tell us about that?
LL: The change or die is a reference in my mind, which, tell me if this is what you’re thinking, to the research that was done where you’ve got seriously at-risk heart patients being told by their doctor that they are going to die if they do not make changes. And there you have it. You would hope people in that situation have very high motivation to change, right? Because it’s pretty clear their doctors are telling them, this is it. You have to say yes to this or it’s the end. And what a lot of the change literature would say is that would be a ripe condition for people to make the change. Very high motivation. It’s clear what the behavior changes that’s needed. It’s very clear, right? Stop smoking, lose weight. Whatever it is, it’s clear behavior changes and you’ve got high incentives. But the stats on that are less than one person is actually able to make the change. And on the one hand, you could look at the; “Oh, isn’t that wonderful? One person made the change.” But the reality is far more people were unable to make the change. And it’s easy to fall into an ungenerous way of interpreting what was happening for those six people and say they just didn’t care about themselves or they… There’s a lot of bad things we can say about these people.
BB: Well, let’s say it because I think, not because we usually judge others, unless sometimes we do, but a lot of times we’re the six out of seven that don’t change. I would say not smart enough, not disciplined enough, not enough willpower.
LL: Right. Lazy.
BB: Lazy. Oh, I hate that word.
LL: Yeah, yeah.
BB: But I would probably say those things.
LL: Yeah. And the lazy one is a very big thing; I think that comes up for people is a lot of the self-talk of people who want to be taking better care of their bodies that I just don’t have what it takes to do this. I just, you know, I guess it’s the flip side of the not having enough discipline. But I think all of those are such ungenerous interpretations because mostly we have one model of change that we all rely on. And that model of change basically is the willpower or the New Year’s resolution model of change. And you know, the two go hand in hand. It’s just that one happens at the beginning of January, but that is very much a willpower kind of a model. And because that is the main way, we all think change happens, we understandably go about trying to make the change using the best of what we know. And sometimes that can work. And so, I would say that’s probably why for that one person they are able to make the change. But for the other people who weren’t able to make the change, it’s because there was something more complex going on for them that they did need to access, and that particular change model doesn’t give you any kind of purview or perch on what is also going on inside of you.
BB: So walk us through what you’ve learned. Give us an alternative.
LL: Yes. So, it starts with the same want and wish to change. And there’s clarity, I want to change X. The way we go about really enabling people to make change is then to just say, let’s be honest with ourselves and take a moment of doing a self-inventory of all the ways we work against ourselves relative to that goal. And let’s be clear, this is not to blame you or shame you. This is just to face what is.
BB: So, let me stop you there. And I want you to ask that question again. What is the question?
LL: The question is, what are the things you do and don’t do that work against that goal you just named for yourself?
BB: Okay. So, I know just because I’m doing this work right now, this is a hard question.
LL: It’s hard because, say more.
BB: You know, I think about this in the context of leadership and organizational development, but I find that your work has extraordinary application in personal life as well. Do you agree?
LL: Absolutely. Absolutely. And thankfully.
BB: Yeah, thankfully. So maybe we can work an example.
BB: Would that be okay?
BB: Let’s work a work and maybe we’ll kind of simultaneously work a work one and a personal one. So, clarity about what I want to change. I want to get more disciplined with my team around regular meetings.
LL: Okay. Okay, great. And can we take a moment to connect with why is that important to you?
BB: Because I know, intellectually, that the key to freedom is discipline and routine. I know that in order to not get pecked to death, if I set a time where people can expect it, we follow through on it, and there’s time available for us to meet, that will collapse the need for a hundred emails and Slack messages that feel overwhelming and out of control and not efficient. It would be much more efficient to have predictable, regularly scheduled meetings.
LL: Great. So, I hear in what you just said, your life will be easier.
LL: There’ll be more of a it’s going to come together. We will make this happen now. It doesn’t get all pieced out and stressed out. So that’s one thing. And you’re also saying that when we can meet in person, something is going to be able to happen. You’re trusting that?
BB: Yes, I think life would be easier. I think the work product will be better.
BB: And it will have a great ripple effect for the larger team. We will be a fully functioning part of a larger system and be able to deliver on that.
LL: Beautiful. That’s great. So, lots of different levels at which you got goodies going on there, and that’s great to be connected with your motivation. And it sounds like this is, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but if you were to give this a rating on a 1-5 scale, 1 being not very important and 5 being extremely, what would you say this is?
BB: I’ll ask you this question because I don’t know. We are definitely not going to be able to get to where we need to go without it. We will fail without it.
LL: That’s big.
LL: Wow. Okay. I mean, again, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but that sounds like it’s extremely important if you want to succeed.
BB: Yeah, for sure. If we want to succeed, it’s a irreducible requirement.
LL: Okay. So, I’ll turn it back to you if you were to say on a…
LL: 1-5. Okay. 5.
BB: Yeah, it’s a 5.
LL: Okay. So, get with that with yourself. This is your goal. You want to be more disciplined in meeting with your team, more disciplined in setting up the meetings and being in the meetings. And these are all your reasons why it’s extremely important. Okay, great. I want to say one thing to you before I head to the next column, because I just want to make this clear to other people why that’s a really good goal. The features of what you’ve said are really rich because you have identified what’s in your control. This is about you being more disciplined around these meetings. And you’re not asking the team to be better performing like, “Oh, I have this great goal. Let them be better… Do better.” You see what is in your hand and it’s, if I could be more disciplined in having these meetings, we’re on. It’s all going to be good. So that’s really important because it implicates you.
BB: Yes, as opposed to saying my goal is to have a higher performing team.
LL: Exactly. Exactly. Because you’ve now put it on you.
BB: I’m setting a goal over which I have some control.
LL: Yes, it’s all up to you. It’s not just some control.
BB: No, no, it is.
LL: Right. That’s great.
BB: So, I do like the fact that I set a goal. Because I remember when I was setting goals, maybe in graduate school, I remember asking my students to set a goal. And I remember very specifically one person said, “I want my friends from high school to freak out when they see how great I look at our 10-year reunion.”
LL: I love that.
BB: I mean, yeah. And I was like, “Good on you, except you have no control over how they’re going to respond when you walk into your 10-year reunion. And that is a very dangerous goal because this is how we get from goal setting to shame.”
LL: Such a good point. Yes. Because we’re putting our wellbeing in other people’s hands when we have a goal that is oriented towards wanting people to see us in a certain way.
BB: Yeah. That’s such a better way to put it.
BB: I just said, “Oh, that sounds shaming.” Yeah.
LL: I love that. [laughter] Yes.
BB: Okay. So, I’ve got a good goal.
LL: Because it’s on you and it’s very important.
BB: Yes. Okay. Great.
LL: Those are two really crucial dimensions of it. Plus, you’ve stated affirmatively what you want to be doing, which is also a good feature of a powerful goal for some kind of a change thing. It’s not just what you don’t want to do. It’s what you want to be moving towards.
BB: Okay. I don’t like that, but okay.
LL: Okay. You don’t like that.
BB: What am I going to say when I want to give up Diet Coke? I’m not going to say I want to drink more water because I don’t want to drink more water. I want to drink more Diet Coke.
LL: But what you could say is what actually is… If you go to the source of your motivation, what ultimately is that on behalf of?
BB: Health and longevity.
LL: I’m guessing it’s about wanting to make better choices about what you put in your body. And then what happens, which is where we’re going to to head next is when you ask yourself what you were saying you’re finding hard, which is when you ask yourself the question, what am I doing and not doing that works against that goal? You would say, I drink Diet Coke. That works against the goal of being more intentional about what I put into my body.
BB: Okay. All right. Let’s go back then to more discipline, scheduled meetings, make my life easier, work product better, and make better contributions to the larger system that is our organization. It’s a level 5. So my two questions are.
LL: What are you yourself, nobody else, what are you doing and not doing that works against that goal of being more disciplined about meeting with your team?
BB: Mmm, like honestly?
BB: Too bad. Okay. What am I not doing? What am I doing?
LL: That works against it. So for example, it might be I schedule these and then I say I can’t make it.
BB: I do that sometimes.
LL: I’m not attributing that to you, I’m just using it illustratively.
BB: No, I do, I cancel and reschedule too often.
BB: There’s a bigger one though. It’s a deep one.
BB: Because my job is weird because I have a leadership role, but I also am the chief kind of creative person, I feel like any scheduled disciplined time on my calendar is a threat…
LL: Got it.
BB: To my creativity.
LL: Okay. So, I’m going to hold off with that because now you’re getting into what is some of that hidden energy source that is going to be working against your goal.
BB: So, I guess I cancel and reschedule too often.
BB: I try to shift systems, so I don’t have to be in meetings and then I always regret it.
LL: So, help me to see how that works against the being more disciplined meeting with your team.
BB: I say, you know what? I don’t need to be in this meeting. I’ll let y’all handle it. And then there are some barriers that only I can remove and some answers only I can give. So, I shirk.
LL: Okay. Shirk. Yeah. So, the behavior then is I take myself off the list thinking I don’t need to be at that meeting. Is that a fair way to capture what you’re saying?
BB: Yes. It’s a nice way.
LL: Because you are going through a process of saying I don’t need to be there.
BB: Yeah. I do. I take myself off the list and then I question why. Then again, driving everyone in the meeting to come at me one at a time in an individual Slack channel getting what they need.
LL: Which inadvertently feeds the scenario you were describing at the very beginning of a lot more kind of chaotic communications.
BB: Yes, yeah.
LL: So, it has the unintended consequence.
LL: But the behavior, let’s just stick with the behavior. So, I have, I cancel and reschedule is one thing you do that works against your important goal. And the second thing is I take myself off the list, the meeting list.
BB: I also over-schedule. I’m not realistic about my time.
LL: Okay. And when you say you over-schedule, do those have to do with these meetings not having to do with your team? So, there’s no real room left for you to meet with your team?
BB: Yes. Yes. Yes.
LL: Okay. All right. So…
BB: So, I don’t prioritize maybe?
LL: Exactly. I don’t prioritize my team meetings, setting team meetings.
BB: This is brutal. Whose idea was it to do this on a podcast? Jesus. Okay. But you know what? It comes up a lot with leaders that I work with. So, I think it’s fair.
LL: Yes. Yes.
BB: And it’s true. So that makes it…
BB: That’s irrelevant if it’s fair or not, it’s true.
LL: And it’s a very Brené thing to do because there you are, you know, you’re just facing into what is, right?
BB: It is. This is.
LL: I love it. I love it. So, we don’t have to go through all the behaviors, but if it seems to you like there’s another one big thing you know you do or don’t do that works against your really important goal, to be more disciplined, is there anything else? Just a quick scan.
BB: Okay. Watch this. Barrett asking.
BB: Is there something… Yeah. Is there something I do or don’t do in this area other than canceling and rescheduling, taking myself off the list, not prioritizing? Is there something else I do?
Barrett Guillen: I feel like you’re setting me up here.
BB: No. I really want to know the feedback.
BG: I think the hardest part is that you hold the connective tissue because people come to you individually and I don’t think that’s on you.
BB: Okay. So what she said is… And it’s interesting because this may be a consequence of this, but I… When it goes from a scheduled disciplined team meeting to 10 people coming to me individually, all of a sudden, the context and connective tissue is lost for the whole organization. And I start to have to hold that, which is why I said we could better contribute to the system as a whole if I had these disciplined meetings.
LL: Got it.
BB: Does that make sense?
LL: Absolutely makes sense. That is a big unintended consequence.
BB: It’s huge.
LL: The behavior I think you’re engaged in, and you tell me if this seems accurate, is that you say yes to the one-offs.
BB: Yes, I do. And it pisses people off. I do. If I had a dollar for every time someone said, “How did this person get this information for you? Are you in an individual Slack channel? We had a meeting on this. Why weren’t you at the meeting?” Oh, like she’s going crazy now. Okay, Barrett, I get it. I hear it. I feel seen. I get it. What was the way you lovingly put it? You go away Barrett. I’m talking to Lisa.
LL: I say yes to the one-offs.
BB: Oh, yes. Yeah, it’s worse than that.
LL: How so?
BB: I perpetuate the one-offs. I set that up.
LL: So, I definitely hear how you’re creating the conditions where people will ask for the one-offs.
BB: Yes. I create the condition for a one-off culture, which is a culture killer.
LL: Yeah. And that’s a way you reinforce.
LL: A problematic dynamic. Yeah.
BB: I just want to say right now by executive order that no one that works here is allowed to listen to this podcast. [laughter] So how are we framing that, Lisa? I create the conditions of the one-offs?
BB: What is it?
LL: Yeah. I think it’s good enough to say, I say yes to the one-offs, and I keep saying yes. That’s the behavior that you’re engaged in. And then what is happening from a dynamics perspective, which doesn’t have to go into your column is people then end up keeping up with the… This is the best way to be in touch with you. And she will say yes. And so, okay, great. Except, of course, they also know it’s unfortunate. This is how it’s happening, but they’re also… It’s a collusion, but that’s a different way of understanding what’s going on. And we’re really just talking about you right now and not the dynamic.
BB: Okay. All right. Well, I do that. Should I add that then I’m resentful about the one-offs?
LL: Does that impact your behavior?
BB: No, it doesn’t change them. I keep doing them.
LL: Okay. So, I would just say we’re trying to stick in the second inquiry here to just the behaviors you engage in. That…
BB: Okay. Great.
LL: And that you don’t engage in. So you’ve got a lot of rich stuff here. So let me just check with you. How does it feel to be coming to and writing down some of these things that you’ve just said about how you work against yourself?
BB: I had no idea. And I’m kind of embarrassed by that because like I do leadership and organizational development work, but I never thought about it this way. I never thought… I knew I should be doing these things. I was never aware of how I was working against myself. I was system blaming instead of self-accountable.
LL: Mm-hmm, yes.
BB: What is the face you’re making at me right now? Like, do you hear this a lot?
LL: No, no. Well, I would say most people don’t have the language that you have and the level of understanding of how they’re putting onto other people. When you say system blaming versus basically yourself responsibility here. And I love that that’s what you’re getting out of this so far, which is, yes, I have a goal and I see how I am working against it. You know how we talked about in the forming of the goal, you want to have something you have control over. Well, in this next inquiry, which I’m calling column two, this is also you’re really looking to just turn to yourself because you are the only person you have control over and it’s your behaviors and lack of certain behaviors that you can control, right?
BB: It’s empowering in some weird way too.
LL: Yes. Yes. Right?
LL: So, this is the part that… Of the whole “immunity to change” exercise that can be very firstly, illuminating, and relieving for some people. It can be illuminating because it’s like, you know what? I was so actively busy looking at everybody else’s hand in all of this. I didn’t realize I’m actually doing some things that are working against my goal. So that unto itself does feel empowering because it’s like, “Oh, wow, I have met the enemy. He’s me,” you know, the Pogo quote. So that can be empowering, but it can also be relieving because if I can see how I have a hand in things, I can control that.
BB: Yeah. I’m feeling… I’m having like a holy shit moment.
LL: Say more?
BB: No, just that I am perpetuating the exact behavior that is depleting me.
LL: Yes. Yeah.
BB: Okay. I want to stop here, Lisa. Are you game for another 30 minutes, part two of the podcast?
LL: Of course.
BB: Okay. We’re going to stop here. We’re talking with Lisa Lahey about Immunity to Change. She has been so generous in taking me through the process. This is like, this is like that moment in the swamp where Luke Skywalker is getting to talk directly to Yoda. And really, and then Luke Skywalker feels this really strange energy coming out of this cave. And he turns to Yoda and says, “This feels terrible. What’s in there?” And Yoda says, “Afraid you should be.” And Luke says, “I’m not going in there.” And then Yoda says, “In you must go.” And so, Luke grabs his lightsaber and walks in. And as he’s kind of leaving, Yoda goes, “Weapons you will not need.” And Luke kind of smiles and laughs. And Luke goes into the cave. And of course, he’s in there for two seconds before he sees Darth Vader. And they pull their lightsabers out and they start dueling. And Luke Skywalker cuts off the head of Darth Vader. And the head rolls on the ground and Vader’s mask comes off, but it’s Luke.
LL: I’ve never watched this and what you have just described is such an amazingly concise light shadow description.
BB: It is a light shadow. Oh, yes, because who helped with this scene?
LL: I don’t know. Who?
BB: Joseph Campbell.
BB: Swear to God.
LL: Oh, well, okay. Well, that’s profound, right?
BB: Yeah, it’s like having Carl Jung in a space movie.
LL: I guess, yes.
BB: Okay, so I am in a cave. I said, “I don’t want to go.” And Lisa has said, “Go, you must.” And now we’re going to come back. Stay tuned for part two. Let’s figure out what happens.
BB: Okay, I told y’all that this was going to be real and hard. It gets even harder, I think, in part two, because we get to the part where I was going to say something really negative, but then I can just hear Lisa in my head where I need to learn in the open and look at some of the commitments I have. I was going to call it self-sabotage, but it’s not. Some of the existing un-excavated commitments that I have that are under my awareness that are preventing me from changing. Go to brenebrown.com, look up Dare to Lead podcast and look up the podcast with Lisa and you’ll get links to all of her programs. I’m also going to put the link in. I referenced; I thought it was a TED talk. She should have a TED talk, but she’s got an amazing talk on this process. We’ll put a link to that as well. And thank you for being here.
BB: Part two coming up. Y’all stay awkward, brave and kind. The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden and Tristan McNeil and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and the music is by The Suffers.
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