July 22, 2005
Vol. 2, No. 29
Published Weekly on Fridays
By Leadership University
A Note from the Founder – Mike R. Jay, Master Business Coach
Leadership & the Paradox of Change
Here’s a very sensitive subject that I deal with
constantly in leadership circles.
Do we change or don’t we?
Here’s a quote from Senge et al and The Dance of Change
to get us started:
“Most efforts to change organizations fail. The sources
of these failures cannot be remedied by more expert
advice, better consultants, or more committed managers.
The sources lie in our most basic ways of thinking. All
growth in nature arises out of an interplay between
reinforcing growth processes and limiting processes. As
Humberto Maturana says, "there is no growth without
inhibition." The same is true for human endeavors,
including our efforts to innovate and design. The
constant push-and-pull between growth and inhibition is
the "dance" of change.”
While the topic of today’s microcast is not
organizational change, the ideas I’m going to share are
applicable to both individual and collective change,
whether it’s internal or external.
My hypothesis is that people change…and they don’t.
Most people have to have it one way or the other, hence
the inability to deal with the Paradox of Change. Over
time I've worked with thousands of individuals, many of
whom have been through longitudinal encounters, with
now more than 400 who have completed numerous
assessments in our leadership development programs.
Essentially people just don’t change.
Can they change their behaviors, can they learn and
adapt to certain extents? Yes. However, fundamentally
they don’t change at the core. As I’ve argued in the
past, we don’t come in with blank slates. We come
pre-wired. Because of the differences in pre-wiring,
some of the pre-wiring becomes hard-wiring rapidly. In
fact, brain research shows us that our brain dies
quickly when neurons are not used and those that are
grow connections quickly. Yet, what causes us to use
some, but not all the available neurons? Basically,
pre-wiring. Gallup research and many others are joining
into this set of principles that we don’t change much
at the core.
Therefore if we do change as I indicate above, which
completes the paradox, what changes?
In my view, we can change to a significant degree
within our pre-wired inductive bias, especially if we
are pre-wired to change. Yes, pre-wired to change. Some
people are pre-wired to change rapidly over the course
of their lives; yet, this change is really not a change
as it already existed in the pre-wiring.
Probably sounds like it to most and that’s why I get so
much feedback on this particular set of principles.
Most of the time negative and for some, it rips their
heart out to even entertain the idea that we don’t
change much except within our inducted or pre-wired
biases. While McClelland’s work reveals that we can
change through very specific change methods, again,
most people just won’t be able to persist through the
makeover and will change to the extent possible in
their inductive bias. Others, who can morph, will not
essentially change, as change was wired in. Jacques'
research of 35 years helps us understand that people
have a developmental or what I’ll call a change
trajectory. Outside of that trajectory, people don’t
Therefore I can say that most people don’t change…as my
play on leadership paradox.
What does this mean for leaders?
I’ll put it simply.
STOP trying to change people. If people can change, it
will emerge anyway. Take the pressure off people to
change and identify appropriate designs where people
can gravitate to areas where their inductive bias can
serve them. There’s just too much transformation taking
place in leadership development today and far too
little design that takes into consideration the Paradox
Interested in learning how to identify your inductive
Join us at LeadU for Mindful Leadership I & II this
fall. It will be an interesting, and eye-opening
>From the desk of Mike R. Jay, Master Business Coach
P.S. Please visit my blog at
http://generati.typepad.com/mrj/ to comment on this and
other articles about leadership.
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