Do Obligations Compete? 
What is Immunity to Change?

Yesterday, I was coaching a very gifted and talented leader who, across all four domains, has strengths that are a perfect fit for where the organization has been over the last eighteen months. This leader delivered high performance and had success with their charge during these eighteen months. Now, the organizational needs have shifted because of this great success.

The challenge now is how to best use this leader’s strengths for what is needed in moving forward. As happens with many of the leaders I coach, with success comes expanded responsibilities. And, with these expanded responsibilities this leader finds they no longer have the capacity to ‘do it all’ alone. The big question now is how to empower the team to assume many of the tasks they had been doing over the past eighteen months.

So, to find the solution, this leader took a deep dive into expanding their strengths knowledge. First, asking and answering the question – in this position, what is needed now? Then, identifying the strengths of the people on the team and to whom they will delegate the many tasks that need tending.

We don't set out to fail, so why is change so hard? The answer – competing commitments. Click To Tweet


Competing Commitments,Immunity to Change,Strengths,Weaknesses,StrengthsFinder,Leadership Coach,Diana Gabriel

It doesn’t matter whether your goal is to lose five pounds, 50 pounds, become a better leader, read more or have more fun. New Year’s resolutions and other goals are difficult to keep beyond the first month. Many of the people I coach come to me in January with goals and resolutions to work on some area of self-improvement. Some succeed and some limp along. We need to face it – change is just plain hard.

But, why? Why is change so hard?

Because the brain is complex. No matter how sincerely we want to break a habit, we have an inherent immunity to change. The book, Immunity to Change, Harvard Business School Press 2009, addresses this. We are physiologically “lured” into doing what we have always done, no matter how strong our intentions. The “lure” is the well formed habitual way of thinking, behaving and responding. And yet, some people still do succeed. Why is this? We have all heard or seen the success stories.

You cannot fix an adaptive problem with a technical solution. A diet, for example, is a technical solution to being overweight: To lose weight, eat less and exercise more. But the problem is more complex. Unless you change your mindset (an adaptive solution), you will not sustain new habits.

Einstein said that how you formulate a problem is just as critical as how you solve it. According to Ron Heifetz, author and leadership expert, one of the biggest mistakes executives and leaders make is applying a technical solution to an adaptive problem. It does not matter how much you change what you do. If you do not intentionally shift the way you think, you will automatically or unconsciously revert to doing things as you have always habitually done them.

Why would any honest, intelligent human being say they are committed to doing one thing and then do the opposite? For that matter, why do we set goals and let them slide? Why is it so hard to “walk our talk”? After all, no one feels good after a relapse. We do not set out to intentionally fail.

The answer lies in a concept called competing commitments. Once we understand and accept that we often have conflicting desires, it’s easier to find workarounds that help us meet our goals. Additionally, when you acquire a deep knowledge and understanding of your strengths you can call forth your top strengths to help you keep your commitments. Just as most people’s top strengths are different the solution to meeting your goals are different as well. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to being successful with the commitments you make.

So when you set out to achieve change, write down your goal. Then, next to it, write down all the things you do (or do not do) that are contrary to accomplishing this goal. Then focus on how you have been successful in the past in accomplishing goals. What strengths have you used to achieving that success?

On the surface it appears that there are our competing commitments. Until you take a close look at these, you are more likely to go back to your habitual ways.

I am interested to know what has worked for you? What strengths do you have that make you successful in accomplishing your goals? Contact me or let’s connect on LinkedIn.


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