What Chocolate and Peanut Butter Have to Do with Leadership and Navigating Change

Chocolate and peanut butter by themselves are great. And yet, when you combine them, it’s an entirely different experience (think Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups). You might be thinking I’ve completely lost my mind, but bear with me for a moment…

Chocolate = Courage-Building Work

We live and work in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world where disruption continues to be the name of the game. Disruption can bring growth and transformation. And, at the same time, it bumps us up against our own human biology. We are hard-wired to seek out familiarity and comfort. So it’s not surprising that 12+ years of research continues to show that the future demands braver leaders and courageous cultures; to be able to thrive in this VUCA-extreme world, we must find a way to reconcile the gap between what the world demands of us and our own DNA that has us wanting to self-protect.

Enter the incredible work of Brené Brown. When I got to train with her in 2019 to become part of her Certified Dare to Lead Facilitator community, to say I was excited is a massive understatement. The curriculum is transformative in building courage skills so people can show up as braver leaders and create courageous cultures. I’ve learned so much from it personally and am continuously humbled when I see the impact it has on others as well. If we’re going to show up, be our authentic selves and let our sparkle shine, and be able to navigate change and disruption, we have to be willing to step into the arena bravely rather than armored (i.e., in self-protective mode). The Dare to Lead work is also a cornerstone to having inclusive, human workplaces where people feel like they belong.

Make no mistake, by itself, Dare to Lead is powerful.

And here’s what I have noticed…

For many people, no matter how inspired they are or the courage skills they build, there is something deeper at play that prevents them from stepping into the arena – that tells them it isn’t safe to be vulnerable and lean into this work. And most of the time, they don’t even realize that they have these deeply rooted, unconscious competing motivations that are preventing them from being courageous and making progress on goals that are important to them.


Peanut Butter = Immunity to Change Work

Whether we realize it or not, our behaviors are largely driven by our brain’s unconscious programming we formed in the first few years of our life. We downloaded programs we needed to survive by observing people around us; we learned what was acceptable and what wasn’t, when to speak up and when to be quiet and what was right and wrong. These programs make up our meaning-making system that becomes our filter for how we see the world and what we perceive to be safe; and they unconsciously guide our behaviors. The problem is that much of the programming we absorbed is flawed; studies have shown that 70% of the programs we download from others are negative, disempowering and self-sabotaging.

Enter the incredible work of Bob Kegan and Lisa Lahey. They have found that we all have a psychological immune system that forms in the early, formative years of our lives out of an innate need to protect ourselves. Much like our physical immune system works behind-the-scenes to protect us from disease and infection, our psychological immune system does the same thing; it’s working unconsciously to protect us from perceived threats.

What I mean by that is that our brains don’t know the difference between an actual physical threat and a perceived social threat where someone might think poorly of us, judge us or reject us. So we end up spending an enormous amount of unconscious energy hiding our inadequacies, pretending to be something we’re not and overcompensating for feelings and fears of being less than. They call this our Immunity to Change (ITC).

When I was introduced to ITC in 2014, it was transformative. I saw how so much of my flawed, self-limiting childhood stories of not being enough and needing to prove myself were still running the show – even after years of therapy, coaching and self work. So when the opportunity arose in 2017/2018 to train with Bob & Lisa and become a Certified ITC Coach (and subsequently an ITC for Teams facilitator), I was geeky excited. Adding ITC into my coaching was a game changer. I regularly tell them their work is a gift to the world!

After coaching thousands of people through the ITC process, I have come to appreciate our shared humanity and how we all have these underlying hidden assumptions that get in our way. Until we become conscious of them, and then do the work to rewrite new programming, our 10-year-old self will continue to hijack us – despite being motivated or having the best intentions.

Peanut Butter Cups = The Glorious Combination of Courage-Building and Immunity to Change Work 

For several years I have been combining Dare to Lead work with Immunity to Change (ITC) coaching – for individuals and entire teams. Separately, they each make a profound difference. And, what I’ve observed when they are combined is almost magical. So, I about jumped out of my skin when Lisa was a guest on the Dare to Lead podcast recently and real-time walked Brené through the process to identify her own immunity to change around a goal. (if you haven’t yet listened, check out Part 1 and Part 2)

Here you have Brené Brown – the mastermind behind courage-building work becoming conscious of where, how and why she gets in her own way on making progress on goals that are important to her. At one point she said, “I am perpetuating the exact behavior that is depleting me.” Ahh, welcome to being human!

It reminded me why I think one may be incomplete without the other. You see, we may be willing to step into the arena and be vulnerable in some areas but find we can’t in others; and until we address the underlying hidden commitments and assumptions that are keeping us immune to changing, we can only get so far. At the same time, we can do work to overcome our psychological immunity yet still not have the skills to show up courageously as we rewrite our faulty programming.

If we want to build future-ready leaders and equip ourselves and others to navigate the change and disruption that isn’t slowing down anytime soon, we have to look for unlikely pairings. Sometimes a seemingly unlikely pairing can make something even more incredible happen. In the work we do, we always say this isn’t a solo journey; we aren’t meant to go this alone. And we can’t expect to get out of our own way by ourselves; frequently we need the skills and expertise of others to help us break past barriers and get to the next version of us so we can let our sparkle shine.

Something I’m incredible grateful for is being fortunate enough to train and certify with these AMAZING people so I can combine their work to help transform others. I’d love to chat with you on ways we’re combining them to make a difference with all kinds of individuals, teams and organizations.

In the meantime, here are some things I invite you to think about for yourself:

  • Where do you have skills, gifts or training in more than one area that you could experiment with combining to see if, together, they make an even bigger impact?
  • Where are you holding yourself back – and what might open up for you if you stopped letting your 10-year-old self be in the driver’s seat?
  • Where are you perpetuating behavior that is depleting you?
  • Who can you engage to support you?


Stay brave. Stay human. Stay safe. And never dull your sparkle!


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