Back From Harvard

I have just arrived home after spending a week at this prestigious university learning about CHANGE. It was surreal wandering the campus feeling the presence of past scholars and mingling with the future leaders of tomorrow. In addition, I had the opportunity to share ideas with 24 other participants that included folks from France, Turkey, the UK, South Africa, Australia, the Netherlands, Canada, and the United States. 

We all came together with the common goal of learning how to help people deal with change particularly in an era of profound economic and environmental interdependence, that is also characterized by accelerating scientific and technological breakthroughs, and an unprecedented level of competitiveness. The pressure for leaders will be to shape the norms, mission, and culture within their organizations, while being influenced as much by external factors as the individual and team capacities within the organization. Not only will people be required to master "technical skills" they will also have to hone their "adaptive capacity/agility" as well.

This programme, entitled Immunity to Change, focused primarily on identifying those adaptive skills and the importance of increasing our mental complexity by looking at our own framework of assumptions, experiences and beliefs - in other words, we must carefully examine the structures we use to create meaning based on what we see and experience. As stated by Dr. Kegan: "Growth in our way of knowing - adapting - involves disturbing this balance, and learning to look at what before looking through."

This is messy work that will require us to use head and heart to find that optimal level of conflict that motivates us to see change as an opportunity rather than  a threat.  One of the most compelling examples provided was that of Christopher Columbus who challenged the belief that the world was flat:

"Christopher Columbus set out to solve a navigational challenge; instead his discovery led to re-imagining the world."

This demonstrates that when one's grasp exceeds one's reach anything is possible! If we are going to help people deal with and embrace change we need to focus as much on changing mindsets as changing behaviours. Leaders also have to understand what motivates people to hold on to the status quo even when they know the world is changing and that refusing to change will inevitably leave them behind. 

Leaders need to ask questions:
1.  What purpose would inspire and sustain a person even when the work gets tough?
2. What outcomes would make the effort and risk worthwhile?
3. What motivates a person to challenge his/her personal beliefs and to "believe before seeing"?

We need to help people reflect on their frameworks, help them generate a diversity of interpretations about what is going on around all of us, and only then help them take action to act on the changes that need to take place. Ultimately, the alignment of purpose, passion, and possibility will sustain people through the change journey. 

Suggested readings:
Immunity to Change - R. Megan, L. Lahey
The Practice of Adaptive Leadership - R. Heifetz, A. Glashow, M. Linsky

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