Overcoming "immunity to change"
HGSE Professor Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey
You really want to stay healthy, and you know all about the virtues of vegetables and fiber... why is it so hard to start eating better? Nothing is more important to you than your family and children ... why does making time for them always fall to the bottom of your "to do" list? For educators who have done their research, worked with stakeholders, and created an action plan ... why is it so hard for individuals to implement the plan?
Why is change so difficult, even when everyone and everything is aligned around the goal?
Because, argues Robert Kegan, Meehan Professor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at HGSE, there are other "alignments" going on at the same time we have not been able to see before.
In 2001, Kegan and Lisa Lahey (Associate Director of HGSE's Change Leadership Group) published How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work, which laid out a way of seeing into a previously hidden dynamic that prevents change and preserves the status quo. They called this phenomenon the "immunity to change." Kegan and Lahey's research reveals behaviors through which individuals and groups work against their own change goals. The countervailing tension between two sets of equally sincere motivations drives the "immune system" and sustains the status quo.
Today Kegan and Lahey's insight is being used by businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies around the world. School district leadership teams are using the discovery to reinvent their systems so that more kids can learn. Kegan and Lahey explain the immunity concept – and how to turn barriers into opportunities – in an interview with Dennis Sparks, executive director of the National Staff Development Council.
Read the interview in JSD, a journal of the National Staff Development Council.
Robert Kegan is also codirector of HGSE's Change Leadership Group, which recently published Change Leadership: A practical guide to transforming our schools (Jossey-Bass, 2006).
For more than 25 years, the Harvard Graduate School of Education has offered professional education programs for educational leaders. We are committed to offering programs that make a difference — in the lives of students, in the work of institutions, and in the practice of educators.