African American coachee working with an ITC-trained coach

Understanding the Immunity to Change Model and the Role of Coaches

November 15, 2023

Posted by BOLDLY

In the ever-evolving world of professional development, individuals and organisations continually seek ways to adapt, improve, and grow. Yet, despite their best intentions and efforts, many professionals find themselves caught in a cycle of resistance and career stagnation. The Immunity to Change model, developed by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, provides a powerful framework for understanding the hidden barriers that often impede personal and professional growth. In this blog post, we will explore the Immunity to Change model and delve into the crucial role coaches play in helping professionals break through these barriers.

Understanding the Immunity to Change Model

The Immunity to Change model was introduced in the early 2000s by Kegan and Lahey, both of whom are prominent Harvard University professors and researchers in the field of adult development and psychology. The primary source that introduced and detailed the Immunity to Change model is the book "Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization," published in 2009. The book provides a comprehensive explanation of the model and its application in personal and organisational development. The model gained significant traction in the field of leadership development and coaching. Many leadership development programs and coaches have incorporated an Immunity to Change map or framework into their practices to help individuals and organisations achieve personal and professional growth.

The Immunity to Change (ITC) model is rooted in the idea that change is not only about adopting new behaviours or habits but also about overcoming the deeply ingrained mental and emotional barriers that prevent us from doing so. These barriers, often referred to as "immunity," are the protective mechanisms our minds have developed to keep us safe and comfortable.

Coach creating a coaching plan using the ITC model

Here are the core principles of the ITC model:

  • Hidden Commitments: At the heart of the Immunity to Change model are our hidden commitments, the subconscious beliefs and fears that hold us back. These commitments often conflict with our stated goals and desires, creating an inner resistance to change.
  • Competing Commitments: Hidden commitments are often in conflict with our stated goals. In this dynamic, our hidden commitments act as counterweights, making it challenging to change even when we genuinely want to.
  • Big Assumptions: Our hidden commitments are based on deeply held assumptions about the world and our place in it. These assumptions shape our beliefs and behaviour, often without our conscious awareness.
  • Tests and Experiments: The ITC model encourages professionals to design and conduct immunity to change assessments and experiments to challenge and revise their hidden commitments and big assumptions. Coaches play a pivotal role in guiding individuals through this process.

The Role of Coaches in the Immunity to Change Model

Coaches are integral in helping professionals navigate the Immunity to Change model and break free from their self-imposed limitations. Here's a closer look at the actions coaches take to assist individuals in their personal and professional growth:

  • ● Creating a Safe Space: Coaches provide a non-judgmental, confidential, and supportive environment where professionals can openly explore their hidden commitments, fears, and assumptions. This safe space encourages self-reflection and vulnerability.
  • ● Uncovering Hidden Commitments: Coaches assist individuals in identifying their hidden commitments and understanding how these commitments are impeding their progress. This often involves deep self-inquiry, reflection, and dialogue.
  • ● Challenging Assumptions: Coaches help professionals question their big assumptions by guiding them through a structured process of designing experiments and tests that challenge these long-held beliefs. This process encourages individuals to confront their fears and assumptions head-on.
  • ● Building Self-Awareness: Coaches support their clients in developing a greater level of self-awareness about their own thinking patterns, biases, and mental barriers. This self-awareness is a critical step toward personal growth and change.
  • ● Providing Accountability: Coaches hold professionals accountable for the actions they commit to taking as a result of their experiments. This accountability ensures that individuals follow through with their plans and continue to challenge their immunity to change.
  • ● Encouraging Iteration: The process of overcoming immunity to change is not linear. Coaches help individuals iterate on their experiments and make adjustments as they learn more about their hidden commitments and assumptions. This adaptive approach is key to sustainable change.
Active coaching session using the Immunity to Change model

The Immunity to Change model is a profound tool for personal and professional development, shedding light on the hidden barriers that often keep us stuck in unproductive patterns. Coaches play a vital role in guiding individuals through this transformative process, helping them confront their hidden commitments and challenge their limiting assumptions. With the support of a skilled coach, professionals can break free from the grip of their immunity to change, unlock their true potential, and achieve their goals. As we continue to navigate the complexities of the modern world, understanding and addressing our immunity to change is more important than ever in our pursuit of personal and professional growth. Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey continue to engage in research and writing related to adult development and the Immunity to Change model, ensuring its relevance and applicability to current challenges and contexts.

For those ready to challenge their personal barriers and foster significant change, BOLDLY's on-demand coaching provides immediate, expert support. Our coaches are adept at navigating the Immunity to Change model, facilitating profound professional development. To explore how our coaching can unlock your or your team's potential, reach out at for a personalised coaching experience that addresses your team’s growth trajectory.