One of the most well-read leadership books published during the past 15 years is “Immunity to Change” by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey of Harvard University. The subtitle gives clues about the book’s content: “How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization.”

Many leaders seem “immune” to change – it can be very challenging for them to overcome that tendency with self-awareness and emotional availability to their teammates and colleagues. The best way to achieve this goal is by adapting our leadership mindsets.

There are a variety of actions we can take to shift our mindsets. We can:

-Stop overcommitting and saying “yes” to way too many things

-Pause to compare where we are now vs. where we want to be

-Surface our unchallenged assumptions

– Come from a place of curiosity in conversations and meetings

-Listen deeply and question our beliefs

-Ask ourselves if we are too committed to “being right”

-Eliminate our tendency to gossip – then role model that new behavior for our teammates

-Keep asking big-picture “what” questions rather than “why” questions that can close off discussion

-Identify our deeply held leadership assumptions that we typically do not question

We can challenge these deep beliefs by pausing to name them. We can write them down. We can discuss them with our mentors. Only by looking in the mirror at these often long-held beliefs can we develop the willingness to change them over time.

In coaching, we call this process moving a belief from subject to object. When we are able to do this, our beliefs are no longer hidden in our subconscious. As Kagen and Lahey explain, this means shifting what we view as part of our identity – “Subject: I am permanent or unchanging in this way or this controls me” – to something that is not part of our identity – “Object – I have flexibility or am fluid or I can control it.”

The co-authors explain this kind of shift as part of adult development theory, or vertical development. They explain that transformation is different from learning new information or skills, as all leaders must do.

Only when we are aware of our hidden assumptions or beliefs and are willing to examine and challenge them can we really grow into the next stage of adult development.

I recently wrote here about my aversion to conflict when I was a young leader. I carried around assumptions about what might occur if I confronted people or situations. My unchallenged beliefs were “My teammates won’t like me” or “They will get angry with me” or “This will mess up things in the office” or “I will feel terrible.” These were hidden assumptions that guided my leadership behavior in a subconscious manner.

Thanks to mirror-looking prompted by psychotherapy and journaling, I was able to test my underlying assumptions. I went from subject – “I will not be liked” – to object – and to reflect on it – “Is it really true that my team members will not like me?”

Over time, as I tested out my new behavior, I realized that my teammates actually respected me for confronting conflict in our office. They admitted to me that my previous behavior had frustrated them and hurt our office effectiveness.

This approach of shifting subject to object parallels psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s old admonition to pause in the gap between stimulus and response and then change the ending – or our response. As Frankl reminded his students and readers, “In that gap between stimulus and response lies the ultimate human freedom – to choose our response.”

We can replace limiting beliefs that may have stalled our leadership journey with empowering beliefs by literally reprogramming our mindsets. Just because we have carried around untested assumptions for many years does not mean we cannot begin testing those assumptions – starting tomorrow!

What are you waiting for?

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