You don’t need to lose a limb to transform……..lessons learned from rock ‘n’​ roll!

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Rick Allen, the much-admired drummer for British rock band Def Leppard had a life changing moment in the Yorkshire Dales on New Year’s Eve 1984. After finishing a World Tour celebrating 7 million copies in album sales that year, his Corvette left the road at speed. He was catapulted through the windscreen, except for his left arm which was severed at the shoulder by the force of the impact and the seatbelt.

Absolutely tragic, he almost died. Attempts to re-attach his arm failed. He would live the rest of his life without his left arm.

Fast forward 35 years, Rick Allen still plays drums for Def Leppard, they have gone on to sell in excess of 100 million records, have sell-out tours all over the world, been inducted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, and belong to an elite list of artists to have 2 Diamond Selling records (that’s 10 million units each – they’re in good company, think Bruce Springsteen, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles).

So how did Rick transform himself and his workplace with such spectacular results? And, what can we learn from it?

The first thing Rick received (other than expert medical attention) was support from his bandmates. Joe, Rick, Phil & Steve supported him wholeheartedly, whatever it took, they were behind him.

A few days after the operation Rick was sitting in his wheelchair wondering how on earth he would be able to get behind a drum-kit and tour the world again. He looked down at his feet that were resting on the footplates of the wheelchair. He tapped out a rhythm, he can still play! Then, the epiphany! “If I could get my left leg to do what my left arm did, this could work”. He innovated his approach to drumming, designed (with technical assistance) a set-up, where electronic drum sounds could be produced by pedals triggered using his left foot. He practiced, failed, iterated but was determined to succeed.

Then one day during the recording sessions for the Hysteria album, he invited the band in to hear him play along to “Moby Dick”, the Led Zeppelin song with complex drum patterns. The band were blown away, he’d found a way, he broke-through. And unbeknownst to him, revolutionised electronics in drumming the world over in the process. Transformation!

Transformation is an oft-discussed sometimes overplayed term in the world of work. Workplaces will always evolve, industries will change, technology will always supersede and us humans try and keep up and transform ourselves. But do we have it the right way around?

Change can be scary, and it can be exhilarating. To change and transform requires effort, commitment and a little sacrifice, Rick Allen will attest to that. In the world of work, whether moving into a new role within your organisation or to a new job with a new firm, change is inevitable, fear is present, the system will ask much from you. The opportunity therefore is how can we as individuals self-determine our own transformations for long term employability and good health?

Self-determination theory is a valuable psychological concept. It refers to people’s ability to manage their own life and determine the choices they make. It further suggests that people are motivated to grow and change when three psychological needs have been met. They are; competence, connection and autonomy.

In Rick’s story, he had to grow and change significantly, this drove his behaviour and all three needs were met. For competence, he needed to gain mastery of his new skill (one armed drumming). For connection, he needed a sense of belonging (his bandmates provided that in spades) and for autonomy he needed a sense of control, for which he took direct action that resulted in real change (a successful career as a one-armed rock drummer).

In the world of work, self-determination is important. Leading organisations continue to try and create conducive environments to help employee’s belong, but don’t leave it all up to your employer! Owning your own career and acting upon what’s important to you requires more than mere motivation and is a lifelong endeavour. It requires a commitment to take your skill (competence), your unique personal association with an organisation (connection) and control of your own goals and more importantly, behaviours (autonomy) to grow, change and transform.

How satisfied are you currently? Is there something missing? If so, what needs to change for you to transform?

About Roger:

Roger is the Director – Executive Services for Balance Executive specialising in Senior Technology appointments & Principal Consultant at Balance Consulting Services.  He is also a practising Master’s qualified Executive Coach with Converge Consulting and coaches some of Australia’s leading executive teams.


Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2017). Self-determination theory: Basic psychological needs in motivation, development, and wellness. New York: Guilford Publishing.

Deci, E. L.; Vansteenkiste, M. (2004). “Self-determination theory and basic need satisfaction: Understanding human development in positive psychology”. Ricerche di Psichologia27: 17–34.