Archive for July, 2011

Adaptive Leaders: Decision making and Problem solving

There is one constant in leadership and that is decision making or problem solving.

  • Careers are built upon the timely and risky decisions a leader (or team of leaders) make.
  • Careers are destroyed or derailed based on timely and risky decisions a leader (or team of leaders) makes.
  • And to complicate things even further, the above statements are true for the decision that a leader doesn’t make.

Perspective to make optimal decisions comes through the process of co-creation of potential scenarios and a preferred future with other professionals and those in their circle of influence. If the decisions that leaders make are often critically important and risky with high stakes; how does a leader make better decisions? Often there isn’t all the time or forward indication desired to make these important choices in a timely fashion and minimize the risk of making the wrong choices. Get all the perspective you can is the key.

Perspective comes through co-creation of a scenario and future with other leaders and those in their circle of influence. This is where a leader needs a sounding board made up of people they can engage quickly and gain some necessary insight. It is times like these that enlisting a professional business coach can pay huge dividends. Co-creation is not only effective, but a very sustainable problem solving method.

Adaptive leaders are not perfect…they are agile. It is during challenging times in life and business that we are faced with some seemingly impossible decisions or choices. Will this decision jeopardize my business in the short or long term? Do I stay with this career or do I throw “caution to the wind” and do the riskier thing? The point I want to get a across is that some decisions are not going to easily be “killed” by an answer. You don’t know until you move on a commitment as to what the true end result will be.

Sometimes there is a “right or wrong” answer that seems clear…only to find out later…you would like a “do over”…a second chance. I like the metaphor of a submarine and when you are under cover below the surface. You only have so many chances to get it right (decisions are your torpedoes in this case).  You had better make sure to “raise the periscope” before firing your torpedoes and do your very best to take it all in before you fire off all your assets.

Learning from tough decisions and failure can be the catalyst for your next chapter of personal and professional success. Regardless of the cost, a leader must redeem some value even if it is a tough, costly lesson. Adaptive leaders will make a bad choice and learn from it. They are resilient and abundantly confident. Their confidence lies in their ability to learn and less about “getting it right”.

Leaders need time to have reflection. This seems so intuitive and yet I find many business owners and leaders are so busy with business that they don’t have time to think. If you could only get a 5 minutes a day it is worth it to just stop and think. Being successful is more about learning and executing and less about being the brightest and richest. Slow down to speed up…it just may make you faster…and a better decision maker.

Next post….here’s a teaser.

  • Culture in an organization is what it is because of leadership conversations. Or said another way the culture of an organization is nurtured or destroyed by the conversations of its leaders.

©2011 The Heartwood Group, LLC


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Adaptive Leaders: Finding some purchase

Finding some purchase…

Growing up on a farm and being a farmer instilled a keen awareness or trust for thinking intuitively. I watched my dad work and do things from a very young age. My learning took place by being observant in how he went about fixing things and solving problems. I would ask questions and sometimes his answer would be, “Just sit and watch son…pay attention and you will learn”. I was curious about how did he know what to do? It fascinated me regarding all the things he “just knew”. When he died I lost a wealth of “knowing” and source of wisdom.

In fact, when problems would come up after he was gone I would catch myself thinking I’ll just call Dad…then realizing he was gone. This happens to us at work and in our communities as well. We have a great mentor or manager and they get promoted or leave the company. Our next door neighbor had every tool you needed and always helped you out when you needed it most…then you move away or they do. It really stinks when you lose your “go to” person or network at work or you move to another community and have no connections.

  • How do you adapt to the new realities in your workplace or communicate?
  • Do you find someone to complain to or seek someone new to collaborate with on something?
  • Do you seek out more information to understand what’s going on or feel hurt for being left  in the dark?
  • Are you relying on popular opinion or well understood values to base your decisions on?

Change definitely can  impact our work,  family, and our sense of community. When we’ve lost our source of information is doesn’t feel good. No Dad, co-worker, or old neighbor to consult and now you need to learn on your own, find a new mentor. Finding a new mentor can be  as frustrating as it is rewarding. Its difficult, especially when there are so many willing to offer opinions and ideas without regard for the impact it might have. Maybe its time to begin to trust your own intuition like your mentor role modeled it for you.

There are seasons of life and moments when things becomes confusing…and overwhelming for many individuals to rely on their own intuition. It is a challenge to gather your own perspective and make your own decisions. Who am I to make a big decision? Look at all pundits espousing views on talk shows, their own blogs, and tweets that may or may not be giving sound advice. You want that to be your beacon of destiny? (I know…I’m blogging and you should test everything I’m saying!) Trust your intuition! I am annoyed by the following precursory statements that are made habitually on talk radio and TV.  “Well, the fact is–or–The fact of the matter is…”.  What’s really the matter is most of the time its not fact and it doesn’t matter.

Like my Dad said to me…”Just be still–watch..observe”.  He really was helping me develop by ability to think intuitively about what is going on. Dad was coaching me to think for myself. If you have never trusted your intuition as source of information to make decisions it may feel a little…well unsophisticated or weird. That’s because its a little unsophisticated and weird at times.

Let me share a simple example. While farming I rarely met a piece of machinery that gave up its wounded/broken part freely “sans” skinned knuckles or a few harsh words. Oh, and things never breakdown when you aren’t using them so it never happens at a convenient time. And usually the part is in some inconvenient nearly impossible place to get to as well. You are in a hurry to get it fixed.

Consistently you had to soak things in WD40 or CRC to break rust’s fiendish grip on a nut, bolt, or broken bearing. By using some quick penetrating oil as part of the process you knew “intuitively” it would put the odds of a timely and successful repair in your favor; this just became intuition that was usually rewarded by the result you wanted. You had to be patient, let it soak in the “magic juice” and go do another task and come back a little later…it was quick penetrating oil, but not in 3 seconds.

Even with what my father called “magic juice” fully applied. Sometimes, things just got tight and nothing but shear brawn would loosen it. Enter my lesson of “purchase”. That seems like an old fashioned statement or concept now. Getting a better purchase on something in this context isn’t about a great buy on clothes. Its about gaining more leverage on something or getting a better grasp on a tool. Sometimes simply adding a length of pipe on the end of a wrench gave you the edge you needed.

Many business owners  struggle to gain a “purchase” (means a stronger grip combined with leverage) on what is really going on around them in work and life. I learned the meaning and the value of gaining more “purchase” from my Dad who lived and died a farmer. I’m a big guy with a lot strength and he showed me time and again he could out do me as a little German man, 40 years my elder. Use your brain and not your brawn may not have been invented by my Dad,  but he sure followed it as a maxim.

Now, I’m not going to tell you his hands didn’t bare the scars of hard-work or mistakes made from time to time. They were gnarled and vice-grip strong well into his late 70’s. He followed his intuition to wear leather gloves his whole life and it protected his hands many times. However, over time he adapted to new tools. We got a cutting torch to he at the broken piece or nuts that held it on. This was a great way to expand the item enough to loosen it or drive it off a shaft more easily. And sometimes your intuition told you that, you might as well cut it off with the torch first thing and run to town for a new part. In the end you just knew it was the best thing to do…even if it was going to take a little more time and money.

My dad was an adaptive leader, he loved new technology and cherished new farming methods, even though he grew up farming with horses and did so early in is marriage to my mom. Dad was a learner.  Here’s a poem I wrote about my dad… Bud (Weir) Uhlenberg.

Hard Hands

No rings or jewelry just hard and strong

Marred and scarred by farmer work

Bruised and broken

Healed while working

Earth and seed caressed

New born livestock helped into the world

Labored and beloved me

They held me gentle

Combed my hair and tied my tie

Squeezed my limbs with iron grip

Delivered discipline to make me mind

Always, always guiding

Held his “Love” while dancing

Turned a page to read adventure

Felt the faintest walleye bite

Connected to a heart softened by love

Held sacred music to praise his God

Greeted his Savior when he went home

©2011 The Heartwood Group, LLC

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Adaptive Leaders: Using Process and Intuition to Make Decisions

The conversation I want to open up over the next series of posts is about “walking the intuition and thinking tightrope”. I have been thinking about Adaptive Leadership as a concept for some years. Instinctively we would say…”of course leaders need to adapt, if they don’t change it can really impact their success”. At the same time, what if a leader must rise above trendy iterations? Not easy to be instinctively going against the flow of other “lemming leaders” marching into a sea of needless change. That might be called “Adeptive Leadership”.

Adaptive leaders CAN CHANGE…OR NOT. Adaptive leadership is experienced as being anchored to values and purpose, not just throwing things at a wall hoping they stick and hope it will redirect the course of your business or life. Adaptive leaders have a firm, but gentle grip on what they believe to be true and effective. They freely hand over their ideas and beliefs for thorough examination by their constituents.

Leaders need to balance their use of process and intuition. I am a big fan of process and mental models to use as maps for leaders to navigate decision making and personal development. Yet, process alone will not guarantee optimum success in decision making. If you are actively seeking excellence there will be many times you have to “trust your gut” too. It is not something everyone does well and some rely too much on just their gut instincts. Together they become a very potent way to make decisions.

When there are big numbers and organizational success or survival at stake it is very difficult to make decisions with very little information. So, you seek information like it is gold. Adaptive leaders are always seeking the latest and newest perspective to make sound decisions. Sound decisions are based on grounded assessments and well thought through speculation.

I find that the adaptive leader is a great at networking as well. That’s how they get and maintain perspective. For example, I don’t hang out with just like-minded people. In my network are people who hold a wide range of political, social, educational, and religious viewpoints. The list could go on, but you get the picture. I know it seems natural to seek out people who agree with us. I like those that don’t agree with me, respectfully, because iron sharpens iron and I may find a blind-spot I didn’t know I had. This doesn’t mean I haven’t established clear ideals and values for myself.

Opinions based on “feelings” are not good sources of information to assert as truth when making decisions. Especially decisions that impact careers and people’s income. This is very difficult because we are emotional beings. Yet many leaders and managers do this consistently and wonder why they fall short of their goals or can’t get people to follow.

Feelings and intuition are not the same. Intuition comes from a knowing that is born from a multiple sourcing of information. All your attention comes slamming together in the moment and you get some “truth”. The experience of knowing something doesn’t always have a linear path.

It has become increasingly important for leaders to have mental models and processes for how they make decisions and overcome obstacles. These could be called standard practices. It is really important for leaders to be eager learners and observant. Why? Because everyday something changes and unless you have some sustainable process for how you make decisions AND learn how to make great decisions–you will not be able to innovate effectively and change as quickly when it is needed in the future.

Because of greater connectedness in the market place with both customers, suppliers, and more direct feedback; we feel the impact of our decisions as leaders more readily. Problems have become even more protractible and less predictable. Breakdowns happen even with the best of maintenance and due diligence. The game is NOT about avoiding problems. Adaptive leadership is about striving toward the goal. Dealing with difficulties is a skill for sure, but your relationship with wanting to embrace problems and deal with them is a mindset.

Opportunities rarely show up as planned on some strategic plan. More likely when we are not prepared. How do you leverage them to quickly and effective keep moving forward toward you goals? It is paramount to gain purchase or leverage on these potential opportunities. If you don’t then reaching defined goals at the right times becomes extremely difficult if not impossible. Next post I’m going to write about “gaining purchase”. How I learned to think intuitively from working side by side with a little German farmer named Bud. He was my Dad, my friend, my mentor, my fishing buddy, and an adaptive leader of his family.

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