The TI team is en route to Boston today, so our friend and non-resident strategist Jeff Schwartz has written a guest post for your enjoyment.
I am reading a very interesting new book by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey called, Seven Languages of Transformation: How The Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work. Kegan and Lahey are two of the leaders of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
They are working on promoting change in educational leadership to produce better results from public schools. They quote a Harvard colleague as saying, “Whenever someone comes to me for help, . . . I listen very hard and ask myself, ‘What does this person really want — and what they do to keep from getting it?'”
A central theory of the book is that it is possible to identify “an unexpected source of boundless energy to bring [the changes we want] into being.” In the authors view, “the possibility of extraordinary change in individuals and organizations” lies becoming aware of and consciously addressing the unconscious or parallel commitments we change agents hold to beliefs, perspectives, and values that incline us “not to change.”
If, as cartoonist Walt Kelly told us years ago, “We has met the enemy . . . and it is us,” then there is good news in this. We ourselves hold the key to making change happen.
But we have to come to see that the key exists, realize that we hold it, be willing to place it in the lock, and turn the key. These can turn out to be mighty big challenges.
I will offer one example — not from the book, but from my own experience with a different nonprofit — that we might consider to understand this premise and how it might work. Organization A says it is committed to expanding its service to the unserved target population of a neighboring area to the place where it now provides the core of its services. That would bring about significant beneficial change in a variety of ways if the desired action were taken.
Organization A’s leader says to herself, “Sure I’d like to do that. I agree with the Board, we should do that.” At the same time, Organization A’s leader says to herself, “I already have a work-life balance issue. I am shortchanging my family. I am short-changing my self by not exercising enough. I am already short-changing my staff. I am already short-changing the people who we are supposed to serve in our existing area of core focus. So I don’t see how we can expand our service area to cover a new group of deserving folks.”
This is not so unconscious as some of the examples that Kegan and Lahey site, but it illustrates how commitments to change can be offset, hindered, etc. by other co-existing commitments — to family, to self, to staff, to current customers — that make honoring a new commitment seem difficult. Unless there is a commitment to work through the process that Kegan and Lahey offer in their book, this kind of inclination not to change frequently frustrates the simultaneously held commitment to bring about change. So how does this apply to CAP? How does it apply to each of us? What are we willing to do to confront these internal barriers to change?
Jeff Schwartz is President and founder of Kela Associates, a “community of practitioners working for social change.” We’re not at all jealous that Jeff now resides on the island of Maui in Hawaii.