[Video] Are Your Leaders “Addicted to the Status Quo?”


If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that the practice of “Motivational Interviewing” has been a big interest of mine for a few years. Although this method comes from the clinical practice of addiction counseling, there are many applications in the workplace.

This page (via MarkGraban.com) has a lot of resources and information collected. See past blog posts and three podcasts with practitioners of this approach.

This week on the Lean Enterprise Institute's “The Lean Post” site, former Toyota leader Ron Oslin is asked about Motivational Interviewing and how leaders might be “addicted to the status quo” (a phrase Ron has trademarked).

Addiction doesn't just mean clinging to bad or selfish behaviors. One clinical definition of addiction is when people keep doing something even though they know it's harmful (like smoking or playing with your smartphone during meetings).

An addict might want to change, but they also have reasons not to. This puts them in a state called “ambivalence” or they're on both sides of the fence, as they say.

Motiviational Interviewing is a method that helps a person articulate their own motivations for change, which increases the odds they will actually change.

This isn't about making people follow your lead. Motivational Interviewing is not used to manipulate somebody into following your path. There are times when we can ethically apply Motivational Interviewing in the workplace when there are aligned goals and needs.

For example, if a nurse manager is struggling with going to do daily “gemba walks,” the manager might say “I know I should do them, but I have trouble making time,” there's an opportunity to ask questions and use other conversational methods that get her talking more about WHY she should do this. Instead of lecturing her that she should do it (which she already knows), you can have an empathetic conversation about change.

If the nurse manager thinks gemba walks are a complete waste of time, you might not use Motivational Interviewing to “convince” her or “get her on the bus.”

Motivational Interviewing is a great way to help somebody who wants to change, but is stuck.

As I commented on the LEI site:

This is great stuff and I love Ron's work in this area. I've taken Ron's full-day workshop on Motivational Interviewing. I've read the books Motivational Interviewing and Motivational Interviewing for Leadership, which I recommend strongly.

The one thing that cannot be emphasized enough to leaders and change agents… the MI methodology is NOT intended to be used to make people go along with your change.

As the summary says:

“convinced themselves to change, based on their own values and interests.”

The Motivational Interviewing for Leadership book emphasizes it's unethical to use these methods when it's pushing something that's not in the interests of the person you're helping. Ron understands this of course… and I want to make sure that's clear to others.

That said, we can find enough win/win situations in the workplace where employee interests are aligned with the organization.

Also, I recommend Ron's LEI webinar on this topic.

And as Ron says in the video, it's more about “helping someone change” rather than “making them change.”

Here are more resources and previous posts on this topic:

You Can't Force Anyone to Change Their Minds or Actions

More on “Motivational Interviewing” as a Method for Workplace Change Leadership

When “Resistance to Change” Is Really Something Very Different

My Talk in Vegas: Leadership Lessons from Statistics and Psychology

Podcast #292 – The Co-Authors of “Motivational Interviewing for Leadership”

Podcast #306 – Mark D. Valenti, Motivational Interviewing and Health System Improvement

Telling Dentists or Patients What to Do or Evoking Reasons for Change?

When Being Right is the Wrong Strategy for Change

Change: Desire, Ability, Reason, Need, and Commitment (or That DARNCAT)

What do you think about this? Do you see leaders who are seemingly addicted to their old way of doing things? What can we do to help them help themselves?

What do you think? Please scroll down (or click) to post a comment. Or please share the post with your thoughts on LinkedIn – and follow me or connect with me there.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Regardless of MIs merits, I think it is both incorrect and inappropriate to characterize leader’s preference for the status quo as an addiction. Addiction is too narrow an understanding of a problem that is much more expansive in scope. The problem transcends leaders themselves and is perpetual. Leaders’ preference for the status quo is rooted in social, economic, political, philosophical, moral, legal, and historical traditions. Over time, these traditions have been constructed into interlocking systems that ensure continuation of the power and privileges associated with leadership. The core assumption associated with MI is that leaders have a choice — to be addicted to the status quo, or not. MI does not acknowledge that such a choice may not exist, or that the choice may only be available to a very small number of leaders. In my view, MI applied to leaders is yet another way to try and convince leaders to adopt Lean, one that again ignores the traditions and interlocking structural systems that favor leaders’ interests.

    • Nobody in the MI field says addiction is a “choice,” Bob. And it’s about helping, not convincing. You’re creating a straw man argument.

      Is MI a cure all? Of course not. But it can help leaders who want to change but are struggling to do so.

      • I am not talking about the MI field (clinical addition to drugs, etc.). I am talking about MI narrowly applied to leaders in the context of Lean, which, in my view, there is a mistaken assumption that a choice is available to business leaders. If I am incorrect on this point regarding choice, so be it. But that does not change the fact that the problem, understood as addiction, transcends people and is characteristic of the leadership position itself — which is a structural problem rooted in social, economic, political, philosophical, moral, legal, and historical traditions. I don’t see how MI addresses that. Is not guided self-persuasion a form of (or result in) convincing (or strengthening) one’s commitment to change?

        • If an executive doesn’t have any commitment to change… if they don’t even have any weak desire to change, then M.I. isn’t going to be useful (and it wouldn’t be ethical to try to use M.I.).

          • If one separates the person (leader) from the institution of leadership and its common requirements, then it is easier to see that it is not a question of executive commitment to change.


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