Archive for category Personal Relationships

Adaptive Leadership: Leading and parenting allows failure

To be a successful parent you have to be an adaptive leader. Teaching and training up leaders requires a level of patience, wisdom, and humility that many successful leaders find challenging. Its one thing to lead, make decisions, and take responsibility. It is an entirely different thing to coach and develop leaders on the ideals and principles that you use to make your decisions. This isn’t a “right” or “wrong” paradigm. It is just another way of being.  Adaptive Leadership requires a whole different level of vulnerability and openness to mentor and guide a young child as a parent or develop an employee as manager. It involves a choice..a choice to be a coach and teacher and actively participate in the development of those around you.

This level of vulnerability is not so much limited by ego, but really limited by a perspective. These perspectives usually show up when you are working with parents and leaders to get more involved. Specifically, to be involved emotionally and spiritually with another human being in an intimate relationship regarding their development. It could be a number of reasons, but I’ve found a couple of deep seeded perspectives that seem most prevalent.

  1. Failure is not equated with leading. Leading is associated with succeeding! The idea is seeded that leading has no room for failure…in anything. And especially not a big old fat stinker of a failure that involves a financial loss, misjudgment of character, and failure to live up to expectations (of themselves and others).
  2. Parents and leaders find difficulty in being vulnerable and reliving their own mistakes. Its not something you share with a child let alone a direct report…right? Wrong! It takes intuition to know how vulnerable you need to be and know when it is appropriate to engage with others in learning from your experiences. In some strange transference we become intolerant of failure in others because we really can’t stand it in our own self.

Truth is…all leaders and parents fail at some point in their careers and parenting efforts. Click here for the popular chronicle of failure and success in a famous leader. My most powerful moments as a parent have dramatic similarities with my defining moments as a successful leader and people manager. It involves my ability and/or willingness to admit my own shortcomings and mistakes during those teachable moments. Equally important are the times I allowed my children and direct reports to make their own mistakes…I bit my tongue and kept my trap shut.

Fundamentally, leadership skills are not different from those skills required to parent. Your children are in constant transition and growth, both physically and mentally. This environment of transition demands that you are constantly adapting as a leader/parent. You don’t interact with your eight year old like you did when they were a two year old. When you have several employees and/or offspring at different stages you have to be able to adapt to each personality and situation and do it seamlessly.

You are being watched  and observed. How you deal with failure is as important as how you deal with success. No doubt parents, through experience, can save their children from many stupid mistakes. However, in saving the child from experiencing the struggle of failing you may cripple their ability to learn and grow. In the same way, as a leader you see that a key lesson learned for one individual may be the foundation used to build a career or life upon.

  1. Why not create opportunities for your new leaders to make decisions and learn critical skills and lessons?
  2. Do you let them make that decision could cost them their career?
  3. Are you focused on perfection or excellence?

As I have written in earlier posts, the one constant is your core values. That is why being consistent and adaptive as a leadership go hand in hand. Look at these next development points for leaders and see the direct parallels to successful parenting of children.

  1. Set a good foundation early in the process of “on boarding” new employees or new people leaders,
  2. reinforce the foundation and standards by rewards and encouragement,
  3. and prepare new leaders by allowing them to benefit by learning from the results of their own decisions.

Adaptive work involves intuition and tapping into that as a you make decisions. Intuition is very spiritual and unexplainable.

Here are some parting thoughts…

  • Being vulnerable and open sets the best example.
  • Faith in your ability to lead and adapt is a huge contribution to develop leaders with the proper perspective.
  • Value your intuition as a strong guide to build intuitive leaders.
  • Intuition is the most unexplained leadership tool.
  • Intuition scares many corporate systems because it has no roots in controlled systematic approaches.

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Adaptive Leadership: Acquiring perspective and knowledge

The number of transitions we go through in our personal and professional lives is accelerating exponentially. The skill/attribute of managing and leading individuals or systems through transition is adaptive work. It is intuitively about perspective and knowledge. The problem on the knowledge side is that information (what there is to know) is growing exponentially. We have great tools and search engines that allow us to acquire information, but it may be lacking validation or incomplete at best. This ability to “know” is growing increasingly more difficult. Which seems counter intuitive with all the technology we have available.

Adaptive leaders are learners at their core. As a leader they focus on what they “need” to know. They fundamentally understand they can’t know it all. Staying anchored in your core values as a leader is essential. Core values are something we can know and discern with the help of others.  It is vital to spend contemplative time thinking about what is important now “at this time in my life or this stage of the business”. The word “adaptive” in this context would imply changing in some way that allows you to survive and thrive based on what you value most at this time in your life.

There is a common story amongst many leaders that change is difficult. This is not the case in reality. In fact, we humans are pretty good at adapting and changing as needed. When we value something and we want it badly we are pretty good at doing what it takes to obtain it. However, if we perceive that change is uncomfortable we will try to make our environment (and people around us) adapt to OUR reality. It is a our perspective about security that interferes with our natural skills of adaptation. If we see life and work as fluid and full of possibilities we tend to make necessary adjustments with energy and willingness.

Let’s look at the basics of acquiring perspective. You need to involve others in your discovery. We can narrow our search down by first understanding situational aspects. This core skill involves strategic thinking. Strategic thinking is not the same thing as planning. Thinking strategically involves gaining perspective through a disciplined approach to situational moments in time. Then once you gain perspective you can make a better decisions about a plan.

Core questions are:

  • What is really going on here?
  • What does it mean?
  • What could or should we do about it?

Pretty simple questions that will generate a ton of conversation. Is this just a blip or trend? How significant is it? What are the possible actions or solutions?

The most important thing is who you involve in these questions. Adaptive leadership always involves interaction and engagement with others in meaningful conversation. Surround yourself with good thinkers and invest in relationships. Look for situational mentors and coaches to help guide you through paradigm shifts. Also, look for those things and people that you should pay close attention to as leading indicators. You need to be on the offensive and yet still ask where are the “land mines” in the path to success that could derail or destroy your success.

Fundamental principles, values, and those common structural concepts of leadership hold true in all situations. For example, skill of listening, practicing straight talk and constructive feedback add effectiveness to adaptive leaders getting the information they need. Remember too, it is the situation that builds the experience which adults draw upon so heavily to make decisions. Over time confidence and comfort in not having all the answers grows and opens up a whole new level of possibilities for discovery of critical insights.

You need to learn faster than you ever have and you need to unlearn faster.  A core skill of an adaptive leader is to be proactive.  Not being stagnant or static…developing an understanding of transitions in a way that you can begin the new acquisition of skills and knowledge prior to when you will need them.  Leading in today’s environment of ever increasing transition in work and personal life…you need to adopt new perspectives and knowledge faster. Letting go of old ways of thinking and doing things intentionally when necessary is a learned behavior. Doing both faster than the competition is the competitive edge in this next chapter of leadership.

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Adaptive Leadership: Giving Feedback you don’t want to, but need to.

Effective leadership (like coaching) is about creating awareness for others. Helping them see something that will create value for them. Feedback has become a term that most leaders and their subordinates have confused with “coaching”. Giving Feedback is not coaching. Feedback is an invaluable tool and skill that when used correctly can literally change the trajectory of a person or business. And it should always come with implicit or explicit permission and trust from the person receiving it.

Feedback is the means to an end and not the end itself. Just because you deliver some feedback or information to another doesn’t mean that action will follow. Great feedback can help the other person know how your perspective is grounded in observation and data. Data is not necessarily truth and that becomes a real part of where the breakdown in feedback begins. If you treat it as truth to be bestowed rather than information to inform the other person’s awareness then you have taken their power away right from the start.

It is important you have the relationship and the awareness of the goals and values of the other person in mind. This becomes very important because it establishes relevance and power for what you have to say. You are grounded in their aspirations and abilities. You know their dreams and can see how giving them a “snapshot” or reflection could advance their agenda first. The goal is to help them see what their choices are and not telling them what to make of it. They own the interpretation and decisions.

You must trust that people, when supported in a conversation, can make a decision. Trusting another person to take responsibility for their own decisions is not easily done by a majority of corporate managers and leaders. I know this to be true because I have years of experience working in this environment and working with adults in these systems. Managers and leaders must be adaptive in nature to the situation. Effective feedback in its truest value is relevant to situational and aspirational points in a person’s life and career moments.

When we don’t trust someone to find their own answers…what does that mean? It could mean a host of things on the surface. It may be that we don’t understand how powerful it is to let someone “stew in their own juices”. We don’t like to be present during internal conflict or struggle. Let’s get on with it and fix it is often our tactic. Make it better with a bandaid of something less than complete candor. What if the feedback is so difficult that the person might get mad, become emotional, or worse yet lose their sense of identity? What if it questions the very essence of how they see themselves in their work and life?

There might actually some very subtle issues going on with person giving the feedback that you may have not thought about. The following could be a partial list of questions for leaders to contemplate on before holding a conversation.

  • Are you so programmed and gripped by the idea that as a manager and leader that you should have “THE ANSWER”?
  • Is it possible that the outcome is something you may not have any control over?
  • Do you really have grounded information and perspective or is it really just hearsay and opinion based on feelings?
  • What is your real commitment to the “other” that you are about to give feedback to?
  • When you don’t hold the conversation and delay it, what are you waiting for and why are you conflicted?
  • Lastly, do you trust yourself and can you take of ownership the information and your problems?

Again, like in my last post this is all connected to reinforcing a culture of being responsible. You have the opportunity to be a role mode and ambassador for responsibility. When you step up and give feedback in a timely and grounded fashion you are being an Adaptive Leader. Adaptive Leadership doesn’t know what is on the other side of a feedback session and is open to the feedback you might receive in turn. You trust yourself to be who you need to be for that person and to stay anchored in your commitment to them. Regardless if you know the answers.

If you trust someone to be responsible they will act accordingly. It is well worth the risk to allow someone to take your expectations of them and own their pathway to the end result. A key take away on this post on Adaptive Leadership could stated simply by the following sentence. When we don’t trust ourselves we find it very difficult to trust others. Letting go of the result and living in the moment with the process requires a lot of adaptation and courage. It is a choice that is at the core of being an Adaptive Leader.

Vision and trusting the future to unfold for those you lead is not always easy. It is a different way of being for many who have people leadership responsibilities. Your intentions must be born from a clear sense of expectations not only of others, but of you most of all. When you don’t hold difficult or challenging conversations you must question your real commitment to the other person. Feedback really is not about them it is about you. Step in, let go, and let it flow.

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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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A Father as Shepherd and Still Waters

To fathers on Father’s Day. Whether you follow Judeo-Christian principles or not there is a powerful metaphor for all fathers in the 23rd Psalm ? The idea that a father is a Shepherd. You are the Shepherd of your family and children. You need to keep watch over your family, especially in their growing up years. The Psalm is often read at funerals, but it is not a “song for the dead”! It is for the living.

The Psalm speaks of the essence of what a committed father, not just a father God,  should be for his children.  Here is a list of what I see being called out for us as fathers.

  • Leading and Meeting their needs
    • Green Pastures…our children should not want for love, nutrition, and direction. We must insist that they choose a rich environment to become an adult learner and responsible for not only their lives, but those less fortunate.
    • Still Waters…be a place where they can come to gain clarity and depth of being. With so much turmoil in the lives of children and growing up in today’s world…you may be the one place of solace and pause for reflection they get.
    • Restoration of the Soul…to help them heal  when their wounds are spiritual and deeply troubling times come upon them. Who better than a father to be a place of restoration and power.
    • Righteousness…to advocate for living from their values and taking a stand for what is good, right, and not always popular.
  • Protecting, Guiding, and Blessing their lives
    • Walking with them together through the shadowy and darker times. Don’t leave them when it counts most and don’t do it for them.
    • Your children are comforted to know that you have their best interests in mind…even when they don’t! They are comforted by your guiding hand that keeps them from potential harm. Your wisdom is needed and not appreciated sometimes until years later.
    • You must be a calming spirit when times are stressful take time to communicate and be available
    • Blessing your children with the abundance of confidence that can only come from a father who never, ever gives up on his children.
  • Attitude and Choice
    • Role model that you can choose how you will view your life. You can instill in your children that you will seek goodness and mercy regardless of life’s circumstances.
    • How you choose to spend your life and eternity is a powerful example to your children. It is more powerful than words. To dwell in the house of the Lord is a choice we all can make.

I hope you enjoyed a little different spin on this most well known Psalm written by David.  David was a man seeking after God’s heart even after all his shortcomings and accomplishments.

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