When leaders don’t delegate
Leadership Coach, Front of Room Leader and Systemic Change Guide

What is the one big thing, the one behaviour, that if you could change it, would most impact your happiness, your effectiveness, and your relationships to the people around you?

For many leaders who are climbing the ranks, it is the ability to delegate effectively and keep their noses out of the tasks they used to excel at. For others it is people pleasing, the desire to stop telling people what they want to hear. For yet others it is to learn how to deal with conflict instead of avoiding it.

While not everyone will have development goals, everyone does have leadership growth edges. And these places of highest growth potential can pertain to any area of your life where you keep wanting to do one thing, and instead you keep doing quite the opposite.

Let’s go back to the leader who is now expected to help others to accomplish the tasks that they used to do themselves, the tasks that got them a reputation as reliable and competent, as a top player in the office, and ultimately the promotion to their new leadership role.

Learning how to delegate might be a technical challenge for some, but for many it is an adaptive challenge. What’s the difference?

Many challenges can be met by acquiring new skills, say negotiation, delegation, or motivation skills. Those are technical challenges because they can be mastered through acquiring knowledge and practising its application. You learn the technique and off you go.

Sometimes though, learning new skills is not enough to shift from your existing behaviour to the one you want to display. In that case, you might be facing an adaptive challenge: one that requires a mindset shift. 

And you won’t change your mindset just because you really want to or just because someone tells you so. Instead, you’ll have to first do a bit of explorative work into your existing habits, and the beliefs that drive them. Concretely, you will have to uncover the assumptions that drive your existing behaviour, say the assumptions that make you NOT delegate. Once you have uncovered these, you can start designing experiments through which you can test those beliefs.

Uncovering our hidden assumptions are often the hardest step, simply because we all like to jump to solutions quickly. But when you face an adaptive challenge, insights are not enough to create your behaviour change, else you likely would have already learnt how to delegate, have conflict, or voice an unpopular perspective at times. Therefore the testing of the beliefs which drive your behaviour is key to breaking your immunity cycle. Let’s go back to the example of failing to delegate to explore what beliefs those might be:

You could fear to lose your status as an expert who gets stuff done to high standards and in good time. You could believe that people who spend their whole days in meetings are unproductive and disposable, that helping others get stuff done does not count as much as getting stuff done yourself. You could be trapped in any number of other assumptions that have a lot to do with the way you were raised, your belief system, and your life experience.

These beliefs likely have led to behaviours which have gotten you to where you are now. And they are what has you stuck right now. They hold you back from playing your current role well, from supporting those who report to you in delivering high quality work. If you want to thrive in your current position, you need to work on your assumptions and put them to the test, so that a new experience can allow you to grow new beliefs about the value of being a people leader and not a subject matter expert.

Overcoming our ‘Immunity to Change‘ is how adult development experts Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey call the process of analysing and successfully taking on adaptive challenges.

They see immunity to change as an immune system that protects us from danger. In a nutshell, this is what they have found out in decades of research: for every adaptive goal, there is a hidden competing goal which leads to the opposite behaviour than is needed to achieve the adaptive goal.

That’s why you cannot change some of the things that are in your way of becoming a truly effective leader. Rather than focusing on the counter productive behaviours which you want to change, the immunity to change process focuses on uncovering the assumptions which lead you to believe that achieving your development goal would have negative repercussions for you. And this work is in service of shifting mindsets, so you can make the step from the socialised to the self-actualised mind, and from the self-actualised mind to the self-transforming mind.

And ultimately, to become the leader you want to be.

The gist of the immunity to change is this: Only when we can release the anxiety which underpins our resistance to accomplishing our adaptive goal, can we let go of the behaviours which keep us treading water and not moving forward.

Today, approximately 70% of managers are stuck in a socialised mind. This means that they depend on external validation to feel safe. This is dangerous, because the leaders of today need the backbone that allows them to take risks in order to effectively respond to the disruptions of their industries. And that backbone is their mindset.

We look forward to coaching you through your Immunity to Change process.

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