My Hidden Commitments: Processing on Immunity to Change

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My fears are raw material for generating my deepest hidden competing commitments.  They are what thwart most of the meaningful change I wish to make.  I do not merely have these fears; over time I sensibly, even artfully, create deep justifications in order to protect myself from them.  As a result, these fears become so deep seated and illusive that no matter how hard I try – they always stand mightily in the way of meaningful change.

Vulnerability is among the most powerful tools available to confront my hidden fears – but deep vulnerability is terrifying to me.  As a result I protect myself from it.  I even defend my actions in order to stand apart from it.

I tell myself that this is logical.  Doesn’t everyone want to protect themselves from what terrifies them?  I have no interest in standing on the edge of what I view as my own personal abyss of anxiety and danger.  I am fully committed to keeping myself comfortably far away from that – far enough that I don’t even have to be aware of the abyss I’ve unconsciously created.

This logic compels me to stay deeply chained to my hidden commitments.  As I do that they continue to serve me well.  They keep me far away from the abyss.  And over time they become so imbedded in my behavior that I don’t even realize they are there.

I don’t even realize that they are the very thing that is standing between me and meaningful change.

NOTE:  I offer this self-reflection, giving credit to Kegan and Lahey’s Immunity to Change research.

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Lessons On Culture from Elementary School

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My wife is an elementary school principal.  She has been doing this for years and has, in my estimation, done a remarkable job at taking a challenging environment and making it into a culture where learning, encouragement and support can take place.  She guides a school that provides 100% free breakfast and lunch for all of its kids.  In her hallways poverty is the rule – not the exception.  And along with poverty comes a myriad of other challenges that spring from young lives touched by trauma – of which poverty is only one.  All of these stories are walking into her school every morning – some with manageable challenges — others with more unmanageable ones.  In tow with each child are family systems that are diverse and sometimes untenable.  And to her and her team is given the challenge – teach our kids.

With school starting I asked about her protocol for getting the year started right.  She told me that part of the formula for a great school year is the work of creating the vision and boundaries that will inform the school culture for the upcoming year.  When I asked her how this was done she said that every staff member in her school is strongly encouraged to give the first two weeks of school to teaching the culture.

Before any significant work is done with reading, writing and arithmetic – before any projects are assigned – before any tests are given – before any significant academia is undertaken – culture is taught.

Culture is the platform upon which all other meaningful things are accomplished.  I heard one writer say that culture is like unto the computer operations language of a computer.  Once that language is in place an unlimited amount of apps and programs can be written on top of it.  But without it – confusion reigns.  Why?  Because the culture defines the language and boundaries of how life is to be lived.

When I probed further about the culture work at school my wife went further to say that the day after every vacation or extended holiday culture retraining is always necessary.  When kids are out of the routine – upon returning there has to be a reinforcement of the culture fundamentals.

When I first heard this I thought – wow, that feels like a long time to not be teaching the things that will help them on the “test”.  But she assured me – if you don’t take the time to build and keep reinforcing the culture you will pay the price the entire year.  Simply put, either the leader makes clear how we will do our work together or everyone else will be jockeying to make it their way.  This includes every staff member, every student and every parent.  Without a clear culture the system suffers.

Imagine the time lost in an environment where the culture is not clear.  It’s a never ending drain of lost time and effort.  In environments like this the entire system has at least two jobs.  Not only are they trying to teach the curriculum (get the obvious job done) but they are trying to figure out how to create the environment to do it in when everyone has their own opinion about not only what learning should look like – but whether they even want to be a part of any constructive learning.

Early in my life I believed that culture should be assumed.  Teachers should just know how to do that.  Children should just know that they are there to learn.  Parents should just be supportive of the work of learning.

I laugh when I think of that now.

If I’ve learned anything in my years of navigating this life it’s that culture should never – never be assumed.  When the challenges get tough – really tough — how we do it is as important as what we are doing.  Taking the time to define and clarify culture is not the work nobody has time for – it is the non-negotiable for actually being able to be productive.

Culture matters – everywhere.

People Development: Jet Engine vs. Prop Plane

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A LOGICAL QUESTION:

People development in business is so pricey and time consuming.  Why would I waste my precious time and resources on such a fluffy undertaking?

CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:

If the challenges your business faces are largely technical ones, there exist a number of workable paths to success, and every one of them may be an easier climb than the path of the DDO.*  But  (Ron) Heifetz says that the most common mistake organizations and their leaders make is to try meeting adaptive challenges with technical means.  What if, in a VUCA** environment, companies’ challenges are predominantly adaptive?  If that’s true, then most companies – whether or not they are initially enthusiastic about people development – will need to consider the path that may best equip them to meet adaptive challenges.  This is what we believe the DDO to be:  the jet engine culture for meeting adaptive challenges when most organizations are still flying a prop plane.

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SOURCE:  An Everyone Culture, Keegan and Lahey, p. 200.

*DDO – Deliberately Developmental Organization – An organization that invests significantly in the development of its people.  DDO’s, as a part of their business plan, take on the work of helping individuals expand their ability to not only process their work and world more effectively but expand their capacity to manage challenging circumstances so as to encourage positive change.

**VUCA – Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous – often used by the American Military to describe extreme conditions in unstable countries.  Can also apply to the condition of communities and companies.