Ditch the Fad-Surfing, Model the Universal Truths!

Ditch-the-Fad-Surfing-Model-the-Universal-TruthsChange is hard. Continuous change is draining. Leading change is hardest of all. Leaders have to deal with a double-whammy. They have to make sense of change for themselves, while simultaneously helping others to navigate its choppy waters. And there are no magic bullets, despite what the book titles tell you. At best you can make the change less painful or shorter in duration, or ensure that the pain is less deep and disabling.

Yet so many organizations and, by implication, leaders, stubbornly adhere to the ‘magic bullet’ theory. I spent many years at one of the big 4 consulting firms. We used a phrase there about magic bullets that has stuck with me. We called it fad-surfing, and in retrospect we were pretty cynical about peddling it.

You know what I mean? Last year we went Lean, because Results Based Accountability hadn’t quite stuck the year before, and Kaizen of two years ago was too “Eastern” for our people. This year we have discovered Appreciative Inquiry and we are planning a big roll out, because we are convinced this is the tool that is finally right for our organization…

Now my purpose is not to disparage the tools – each of the ones mentioned have hugely positive potential as change vehicles. And for leadership teams that need to make a difference, quickly, I can see their seductive effect. But it won’t happen unless leaders realize that change happens in our hearts, and hearts drive behavior.

Tools and processes in themselves are necessary but insufficient conditions for effective change. People out there are change-weary, cynical and jaundiced. They have been sold the “next big thing” that will make the difference many times before. And they don’t believe it!

A leading UK leadership expert, Keith Grint, used a phrase that resonated with me. These magic bullets create a BOHICA effect: “Bend over, here it comes again!”

Many of the fads that leaders love to surf are genuinely based on good theory and practice. It’s not the tools that cause the problem, but the leader mind-set. Fad-surfers’ see the tool as the answer. But people are always the answer, never tools –and people change from their heart.

The heart to heart process is the foundation of good change the world over. Process too often wins out over humanity, and lazy application of cosmetic tinkering (looks good on the action plans) seems more seductive than the hard graft of building and nurturing positive, mutually challenging relationships.

So here’s my plea. Alongside the tools, in fact before the tools, let’s breed leaders who practice some of the fundamental, universal truths about people and change. Here are a few of mine to kick off the debate; you will surely have some of your own:

“People believe what you do, not what you say.” – Translation, we look our leaders in the eye and ask, “Do I believe in this person?” We don’t ask, “Do I like the look of this tool?” We want authentic connection that we can believe in, not the latest version of the truth.

“What you give is what you get.” – Translation, treat people as units of production and that is what they will become. Treat people as vessels of potential and over time they will reward your faith.

“People change from the heart outwards” – Translation, engage in heart to heart dialogue, do not rely on top down process roll-outs. Light small bonfires of change by example and join them together rather than trying to impose the exhortation to sign up to your latest fad. That’s what the cynics are expecting – and they are cynical with good reason.

“If you are selling hammers, you will only look for nails.” – Translation, teach people about aspirational change, not how to re-order their world to meet specific project objectives. When they believe you, they will repay your faith many times over by finding and sharing better ways to make their world a happier, healthier and more effective place.

Challenge others to take personal responsibility by doing so yourself.” ~ David Hain Tweet this

“Good practice is contagious – but so is bad practice!” – Translation, undertake regular review at ground level, look people in the eye and ask for feedback, listen deeply to what they say and adjust plans in response. Human beings respond deeply to authenticity, and we can spot the absence of it a mile off! Have the courage to role model change and the honesty to accept feedback when it’s not inspiring others.

“Challenge others to take personal responsibility by doing so yourself.” – Translation, we get inspired by others who can see in us what we are often blind to in ourselves. Not through false positives based on seductive models. Genuine encouragement to fulfill our potential is far sexier than the latest big thing. Leaders need to seek partners in aspiration, not converts to a tool or process.

If more leaders approached change with these principles in mind rather than a promoting programme based, fad surfing mind-set, people will make a real and sustainable difference in their place of work. Maybe one day we will finally see “the last of the BOHICANS”!

About David Hain

#People and #Change consultant, 20 years experience in #Organisation #Development. #Executive #coach. Very experienced #facilitator and #team #developer.


  1. What a wonderful post. Love this line David: “change happens in our hearts, and hearts drive behavior”. One I will add to your great list of timeless wisdom: If you want something to change, start with yourself.

    • Hi Susan
      Thank you so much for your comment and I really appreciate the addition you made to the universal truths. I completely agree with it! Coming from someone so wise, I really appreciate it.

      Thank you so much!

      Warm wishes


  2. Wonderful article David – I found myself re-reading it and seeing wisdom with new eyes on each reading. I love what you believe about how leaders can best adapt, model and lead change. At UQ Power we believe very similar things – read more here http://www.uqpower.com.au/we-believe

    • Thanks you so much Heidi, you have made my day! Loved the web site, particularly the way you put the values up-front. Have also liked your Facebook page.

      Let’s keep in touch!

      Warm wishes


  3. ali shan says:

    What we actually see there is always more to it that we either don’t see or don’t want to see. On the surface it seems very easy to bring about the desired change but sunami underneath it is always there to give us a shock. I commend you thought of change that it begins inside out. Inside out approach is the most appropriate approach one should choose to take when dealing with the subject of change.

    Thanks for sharing the truth.


  4. David ~ fantastic article, which really made me smile … and wince! As a reformed fad-surfer myself from the early days of my consultancy career, the points you made resonated completely! Now I seek to fully embrace authenticity, recognising the frailty of my humanity, and the likelihood that this will cause me to ‘stray’!

    However, there is no magic solution and Grint, who I really enjoy, has got it spot on with the ‘BOHICA’ effect! One further thought I had concerns your opening remark about the leadership ‘double whammy’. I’d suggest it is a ‘triple whammy’! Leaders have to make sense of the change, help others navigate its choppy waters … and do their day job! This is where strong personal and professional values, authenticity, integrity and resilience really come to the fore! Thank you for both the reminder … and the sharing!

    • Hi John

      Thanks as always for your positive comments, your encouragement and support means a lot! And you are dead right about the triple whammy! I think great principles really do cross the boundaries of all 3 whams!!

      Cheers, David

  5. David, on the money as always! I especially love ‘change happens in our hearts, and hearts drive behavior.’ Without this, even the most ground-breaking interventions will just crumble. They will not be sustainable, as all it takes is a flimsy excuse and the system is changed, most often at a heavy cost.

  6. Hello David Hain,
    Great post. Thanks for sharing. I like this statement: “Challenge others to take personal responsibility by doing so yourself.” It supports Mahatma Gandhi’s – “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

    Kind regards,
    Ogwo David.

    • Thanks for your feedback, I’m glad you liked the article. And I completely agree that Gandhi not only ‘got it’ but truly ‘lived it’ – a wonderful example for us all to follow!

      It’s really nice to have made your acquaintance through this wonderful initiative, Ogwo David.

      Warm wishes


  7. Well articulated challenges and opportunities with change, David. Change does not to happen from within as it is what will drive the outward actions and words, and this is what others will see and grab a hold of. Great principles and thoughts you offered here! Thanks, Jon

  8. “People change from the heart outwards.” This spoke to me. I learned recently about the Law of Correspondence and how the outer world is simply a reflection of your inner world. I truly believe that success is in the heart so that’s where you should start.

  9. Very courageous of you David to tell the truth about all those magic bullets so straightforward. They are indeed only tools and change can only start with the appropriate mindset of the leader as you say. One of my favorite expressions is “You reap what you sow”. Translation: Everything that happens is a result of your own actions.

    Thank you for sharing your fundamental truths to breed leaders and let us continue to spread them so that in the future we will no longer have BOHICANS.

    Warm regards,


    • Thanks Joan. It really is all about mindset and role models at the top. It’s so easy as a leader to throw budget at a problem without making any connection to your own behaviour.

      I appreciate your feedback.


  10. Hi David. Thank you for this great reminder that true leadership begins within … and that bandaids upon bandaids will not heal the wounds. We have all seen fads go awry. And the worst part is, those “receivers” of these fad tools become more cynical as time goes on. I agree that many of these tools and processes are quite useful – and effective … used in the appropriate manner. But as you point out, they are only tools. It is the person behind the tool who will determine its effective use.

    All the best,


    • Thanks Susan, and the cynicism you point out is in my view the most insidious enemy of change in organisations that I have come across. And frankly, you can’t blame people for being cynical. In the NHS in the UK there has been at least one major top down change programme for the last 15 years. I wonder if the first one ever got finished, or whether the original symptoms are still ongoing?

      I appreciate your feedback.


  11. Mike Cowan says:

    Great article Thank you for sharing


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