Unlocking Change: The Black Door Awaits…

During a turbulent desert war in the Middle East, a spy was captured and sentenced to death by a general of the Persian Army. The general had adopted a strange custom in such cases. He permitted the condemned person to make a choice. The prisoner could either face the firing squad or pass through the Black Door.

As the moment of execution drew near, the general ordered the spy to be brought before him to receive the doomed man’s answer. “What will it be? The firing squad or the Black Door?”

It was not an easy decision. The prisoner hesitated, but made it known that he preferred the firing squad to the unknown horrors that lay beyond the black door. Not long after, a volley of shots announced that the prisoner’s wishes had been granted.

The general turned to his lieutenant and said, “You see how it is. People prefer the known to the unknown way. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet I gave him his choice.”

Of course, the lieutenant wondered, “What lies beyond the Black Door?”

“Freedom,” replied the general, “but I’ve only known a few people brave enough to take it.”

How true! People fear the uncertainties of change. The slightest suggestion that things won’t stay the same at work, at home, or in our country can cause panic.

Nonetheless, it may very well be your job to help lead your coworkers, your customers, or your family members through the Black Door of change.

Of course, if you’re going to lead someone, you must understand something. You must understand how change works so you can get yourself and others through it with a lot more success and a lot less stress. Start with these insights.

► 1. Change is never a neutral experience.

Change always triggers some very strong emotional reactions.

Some very strong emotions. Nothing neutral. Some people welcome change, feeling such things as excitement, joy and challenge. Still others feel uncomfortable, angry, or resentful.

The key thing to remember is that all these emotional reactions are normal.

Allow them, and don’t short-circuit the change process by getting upset with people’s reactions. Don’t tell them to “suck it up, live with it, and get on with it.” All that does is force people to stuff their feelings and force them into point #2.

► 2. When people don’t talk about their reactions to change, those reactions emerge as unhealthy behaviors.

In other words, your people’s reactions will always come out one way or another.

Take a beach ball, for example. If you were to hold the ball below the surface of a swimming pool, it would take some effort, but you could do it for a little while. After a bit, your hands would weaken, the ball would slip from your grasp and shoot to the surface and into the air.

But notice what happens. The ball never comes straight up. It always comes out at an angle; it comes out sideways.

The same thing happens when people don’t talk about the changes and the feelings they are going through. Their reactions come out sideways, showing up as four sets of unhealthy behaviors that will sabotage an effective change process.

  • Physical: You’ll notice more headaches, muscle tension, and a host of other illnesses among your people.
  • Psychological: You’ll also notice an abnormal fear of change, where people catastrophize and talk about the worst possible outcome. Some folks will try to anesthetize their fears by increasing their eating, drinking, smoking, or sleeping.
  • Interpersonal: You’ll hear more blaming and more negative comments about those vague people known as “they” or “them.” You’ll see more conflict, the formation of cliques, and the distancing of some relationships.
  • Organizational: Symptoms can even become characteristic of your entire organization. It may start with griping at one job site, but it may grow into a demoralized workforce that is just going through the motions, saying such things as “I’ve just got three more years and I’m outta here.”

One of the things people love about my Journey-to-the-Extraordinary experience is that it not only changes them but also teaches them how to bring about positive change.

Casey Dunker from Shiloh’s Hope writes,

“I LOVED the Journey-to-the-Extraordinary. In fact, it was amazing!! It has changed my life for the better, most definitely, and if you offer the program in this area again, I’m coming again with my husband.

“In particular, based on the communication techniques you showed us, the communication with my husband has become more open, and we’re getting back to where we used to be … which is great. So THANK YOU for everything!”


I encourage you to enroll in my only open-to-the-public Journey offering in 2024, which will be virtually presented on October 3-4. And if you register now, you save 40% on the tuition.

Let me tell you from experience. As a business owner and a leadership coach, you must prevent as many of those unhealthy change behaviors as possible. You do that by following point #3.

► 3. Change must be processed.

Effective change leaders encourage their employees, coworkers, customers, family members, or whomever they are leading to talk about their reactions to change.

The problem is, it takes time to process change reactions. Every place I speak, I discover organizations trying to make changes, introduce new products, reorganize, and restructure. All these people and companies are into the forms of change, but very few are creating forums where people can talk about change.

Some organizations and leaders tell me all that talking would take too much time. I simply say you’re going to take time, whether you like it or not. You’re going to take time now … talking about the changes … or you’re going to spend time later … coping with the resulting unhealthy behaviors.

Other groups and managers tell me they can’t afford the processing time. I say, “You can’t afford not to.” If you don’t want to pay for the processing time now, then you’ll pay for it later, when your overstressed people become underproductive. And you’ll pay for it later when people leave.

If you’re not willing to take time to process the changes, then you’re going to be stuck with unhealthy behaviors. There are no other possibilities.

Final Thought: Well-led change brings growth, learning, and profitability. You can lead people through the Black Door of change using the three insights we’ve just discussed.