When You’re Stuck in the Weeds


A long time ago I worked for a guy who was something of a leadership junkie. Every time he got back from a conference or read a new book, we would brace ourselves for what we referred to as his new flavour-of-the-week management theory.

Inspired by his enthusiasm, we would initially adopt a gung-ho approach to implementing some new thinking or strategy.

Without fail, it would ultimately die a slow death and we would then hold our collective breath waiting for the next great new idea to be sent our way.

In hindsight, it has become clearer that when my old boss attempted change, it was never really about strategy, structure, culture or the system. His desire, and ultimately that of all leaders, was more about trying to change people’s behaviour.

It follows that if we can figure out how to change behaviour, chances are we would always be able to implement the change needed to achieve our personal dreams and desires – lose weight, quit smoking, go back to school, get fit.  Not only that, changing behaviour would also be important for all organizations and businesses competing in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing environment, or in making our vision of safe, healthy, and vibrant communities a reality.

Given that it’s January and many are thinking about the upcoming year, my boss of long ago might appreciate knowing I found one book that greatly impacted my approach to change and how it can best be supported. It’s not a new one but for me it was a jaw dropper of a book entitled ‘Change or Die’ by Alan Deutschman.

So, what is it that sets Deutschman’s theory of change apart from other approaches?

It began for him as an article he wrote for a magazine that was prompted by statistics from the American health care industry.

He learned that despite conventional wisdom suggesting people change when there is a crisis – they typically don’t.

He cites the example of cardiac patients for whom it was indeed a case of ‘change or die’. In their case it meant that even after critical and expensive by-pass surgery, they would still need to change diet, decrease stress, and increase exercise.

Even knowing they were facing the ultimate crisis and could die if they didn’t change, an astonishing nine out of ten simply were not able to change.

Indeed, it is estimated that upwards of 25% of all healthcare costs could be reduced or even eliminated if we could figure out how to get people to implement lifestyle changes.

Learning that, Deutschman instead began to focus on what he could learn from the cardiac patients as well as others in different situations who had been able to change.

This unique approach greatly impacted our participatory action research at the grassroots level of communities. In many cases it served to reinforce our learnings and helped us realize we had intuitively been focusing on those who had been successful in facilitating change and growth. 

What Deutschman learned, and went on to write more about in his book, is that the secret of those who were able to change their behaviour amounted to three keys - they identified with a person, leader, or community. They got to practice that new behaviour, over and over again, thus learning to think as if they had already changed. Doing that, allowed them to reframe their experiences.

The first key speaks to the importance of an emotional relationship with a person, organization, or community that inspires and restores hope. It is not willpower that gets one unstuck, it is a relationship that makes you believe that you can, and are expected, to change.

In essence, the individual or community imparts a belief that you have the ability to change.

Additionally, those involved in this relationship sell you on themselves as your partners, mentors, role models, or source of new knowledge and the specific methods or strategies that they, and now you, need to employ. Not convinced? Just think about any time you’ve changed significantly in the past. Chances are there has been a good teacher, coach, mentor, or group jumpstarting your change by providing guidance, encouragement, and direction to show you the way.

The second key is that this new relationship, which is much more about heart and emotion than facts, helps you learn, practice, and master the new skills, knowledge, and attitudes you need. In essence this speaks to the importance of training and coaching to ensure these new behaviours become automatic.

The third key is about reframing.

Your new relationship helps you learn ways to think about your situation, your life, your organization, and your community. Ultimately, you view the situation in a whole new way that would have been foreign to you before you changed.

So, the three keys to change are three new R’s that are well worth learning - relate, repeat, reframe. All in all, what this could mean for your personal resolutions, those of your organization or business, or your community this year is new hope, new skills, and a new way of thinking that will definitely lift you out of the weeds.

Posted on 01-23-24

Add your Comment here:






Remember my personal information

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Submit the word you see below:

Next entry: Doin’ What Comes Naturally?

Previous entry: There’s Always Chocolate!