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The Leadership Series: Why is Change So Hard? – Sherri Hilton MAL, CEC, PCC

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The Leadership Series

by Sherri Hilton  MAL, CEC, PCC

Recently I began coaching a leader who is, by all accounts, very “successful” technically in her career but has been struggling to make some changes on a more personal level that she says are very important to her. In our initial conversation, one of her first comments to me was “Why is this SO hard?. It’s what I want. I know why it’s important to me. But I just can’t seem to stick with what I say I am committed to doing.”

And there’s The Conflict. The Big Tension. The Disbelief.  The disappointment that emerges when the rational, compelling and often urgent reasons to change bump up against our inner and often unexamined world of our beliefs, values, assumptions and mindset.

So why is change so hard? Shouldn’t it be somewhat manageable if we decide what we want and then plan some actions to make it happen?

In reality, change is not that easy. In their ground breaking research and subsequent book, Immunity To Change, Harvard professors Robert Keeghan and Lisa Lahey, dug deeply into why people and organizations are so change resistant and many individual and collective change efforts fall flat.  If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.  Their research showed that most efforts to improve ourselves do not examine or take in to account the “bigger dynamics at play” and we typically go from “what do I want to change” to a solution without taking the time to understand and explore our limiting beliefs, assumptions, and mindset around potential change. Without that understanding, no new learning will actually take place, period! And ultimately, deep transformational change does not take place.

One now very famous example from a well-known medical study illustrates this  “immunity to change” that most of us have. Cardiac doctors told their highest at-risk patients their chances of death from a heart attack would be almost certain if they did not make changes to their personal lives – exercise, diet, etc.  After this dire ultimatum was delivered, only one in seven was actually able to make the changes suggested by their doctor!  Clearly the other six didn’t want to die and the reasons to make the changes were urgent and incredibly compelling. The patients understood what to do. But still they didn’t do what was needed. While most of us would agree that urgent change would have been required, when faced with the reality of change, shockingly, most did not make the necessary changes. This illustrates how we tend to get in our own way even when it makes logical sense to change.

As a leadership coach, I’m very fortunate to have opportunities to work with amazing leaders across the United States and Canada who are motivated, passionate and deeply committed to their work, their teams and to making a difference in their organizations. That said,  I have also observed many times when people want to change and nothing really happens. It is rarely a question of their will,  desire or commitment to change. Rather it’s a lack of awareness of what they really believe and how their assumptions, their values and their mindsets  are often unexamined, self-limiting and preventing real change from occurring.

As human beings, we are actually wired to resist change. It’s natural. So when things feel uncomfortable or there is a tension for us, we strive to return ourselves to the status quo and get back to normal as fast as possible.  When we find ourselves resisting change or not being able to follow through on the actions to change, we are actually remaining unaware of and yet aligned to our deeply held beliefs and mindsets that prevent us from allowing real transformational change to happen.

So the next time you,  your team or your organization are thinking about changing anything, begin with an exploration of the individual and/or collective underlying beliefs, values, assumptions, and mindsets to help you “see” what is truly happening under the surface, what could limit your capacity to change and the beliefs and assumptions that could get in your way.  Choose to be curious in examining your own beliefs and assumptions. Be courageous in calling them out, interrogate your current reality, explore other ways of “being” and “doing” and ultimately elevate your level of consciousness. That is the only way to create meaningful, lasting and transformational change, both personally and professionally.

About Sherri Hilton


Sherri Hilton is the Manager of Leadership with a North American based energy company and also a private leadership coach for leaders in both the United States and Canada.

Sherri has a proven track record of helping leaders achieve personal excellence, build strong relationships with others and positively impact and contribute to the success of their organizations.  As an experienced and highly skilled executive coach, Sherri has worked successfully worked with senior and high potential leaders, business owners/entrepreneurs  in a wide range of industries and professions including energy, finance, legal, healthcare and construction to name a few.

She has more than 20 years of experience in individual and group coaching, leadership development, advanced facilitation and public speaking.


Sherri has both a Masters degree in Leadership and a Graduate Certificate in Executive Coaching from Royal Roads University and holds a PCC level of accreditation through the global International Coach Federation (ICF), in which she is an active member. She is also certified in a number of leadership development assessments and tools, including Emotional Intelligence 360, The Leadership Circle 360, MBTI, Korn Ferry Voices 360 and Personality Dimensions.

Join Sherri at on Linkedin at Sherri Hilton Linkedin



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