Ep 80: Why is Change So Hard? (with Lisa Lahey)

by Joan Garry

Nonprofits want to change the world in ways large and small. And yet, when it comes to bringing change into our own orgs, it’s really hard!


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Nonprofits want to change the world in ways large and small. That’s what we’re all about. It’s why so many of us joined the sector.

And yet, when it comes to bringing change into our own organizations, it’s really hard!

To grow the capacity to affect self change, or introduce sustainable change in one’s organization, it’s imperative that we should recognize our natural immunity to change, the language we use, and how the resulting discourse can develop highly functioning teams.

My guest, Lisa Lahey, has, along with her partner Robert Kegan, been studying change for decades and is here to offer you tools you can use to introduce change and make sure it lasts.

Lahey claims there are three forces of nature that can impact our ability to develop, grow and transcend the status quo.

In a dynamic world where transition is often needed, (think leadership transition, new E.D., transforming your board, making changes to the roles and responsibilities in your organization) the ability to become a leader who is aware not only of what they say but how they say it will go a long way toward ensuring change is possible.

About Lisa Lahey

Lisa Lahey is Co-director of Minds At Work, a consulting firm serving businesses and institutions around the world, and faculty at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

She teaches in executive development programs at Harvard University and Notre Dame, and she is regularly asked to present her work throughout the world, most recently in China, Kazakhstan, and New Zealand. Her seminal books, How The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work (2001), and Immunity to Change (2009) have been published in many languages. Lisa has been on the faculty of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Conference, and had her work featured in the Harvard Business Review, The New York Times Sunday Business Section, Oprah Magazine and Fast Company.

Lahey and long-time collaborator Robert Kegan are credited with a breakthrough discovery of a hidden dynamic, the “immunity to change,” which impedes personal and organizational transformation. Her work helps people to close the gap between their good intentions and behaviors. This work is now being used by executives, senior teams and individuals in business, governmental, and educational organizations in the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia. Lahey and Kegan recently received the Gislason Award for exceptional contributions to organizational leadership, joining past recipients Warren Bennis, Peter Senge, and Edgar Schein.

For the past several years, Lisa has served as a trusted advisor and executive coach to leaders in the private and public sectors worldwide. A passionate pianist and hiker, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.

In this episode

  • How to recognize certain “defaults” that lower the likelihood of miscommunication
  • What does entropy have to do with organizations and how can it be mitigated?
  • Why is change so hard?
  • What is a language leader?
  • The effect of your inner dialogue on how you communicate outwards
  • Are we aware of how we talk?
  • The danger of limiting assumptions
  • The language of complaint and commitment
  • How is constructive or deconstructive criticism implicit in communication?