Adaptive Leadership:Responsibility for the future

Culture in an organization is a direct product of the conversations leaders are having or holding within their organizations. Or said another way the culture of an organization is nurtured or destroyed by the conversations of its leaders. If you want more accountability with in your organization than you must be in a relationship of responsibility. You can create a powerful conversation and then let your actions follow in complete reflection of your words.

So many leaders just struggle with owning the results their people produce. The all to common thinking of some managers and owners is..”It is their (the employee) fault that they didn’t make the numbers or fulfill on a commitment”. Then the usual conversation is that you can’t find good help these days. Somehow to these leaders its just doesn’t seem like being a leader if you aren’t blaming or fixing others instead of leading them.

Adaptive leaders are engaged with teams and individuals in ways that produce actions and conversations about success and goals. The real work to be done is working on yourself. I recently have asked the following questions of some of my clients:

“How can you lead your organization (or family) to be prepared for the future you want for them?

“Given some of the circumstances and difficulty you know will likely play out; will you take it personally if those you lead are not prepared to perform?”

In other words, when “that future” shows up and the skills, knowledge, or abilities are insufficient…will you feel like you let others down? Quite often I see leaders blame others or tough circumstances as the reason for a lack of results. In one sense this may be true, leaders can’t control everything. However, they can take responsibility for the system they directly impact as a leader or owner.

Extraordinary leaders never place blame on anyone for the lack of results. Sounds harsh, but I did say “extraordinary”. If you take responsibility for everything then you never have to worry about being accountable. You just are accountable and you expect it of others as well. If your constituents don’t have the skills and perspective they need to “show up” prepared for a future…will you take personal responsibility when they don’t succeed?

  • Essential to Adaptive Leadership is creating awareness for the future and a vision.
  • Helping your team and organization know clearly what is expected of them is what responsible leaders do.
  • Helping others make good choices and trusting them to do so with your support is also essential.
  • When we don’t trust others to act on our behalf or even their own…what does that mean?
  • Usually we don’t trust ourselves and we have a lack of ownership of our own problems.
  • Reinforcing a culture of being responsible comes from your adaptive nature as a leader.
  • 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.

In absence of responsibility the poison of “entitlement” seeps into our lives and holds us captive to inaction and blaming others for all our problems. Its not powerful and it is the biggest challenge facing our society today. We can be extraordinary and powerful beyond what we imagine when we engage ourselves and others in a shared vision and clear pathway. Take responsibility for everything. Its the simplest and most adaptive way to lead.

©2011 The Heartwood Group, LLC


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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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Checking In? Yes, where the heck am I?

How often do you go right to your hotel room without first stopping to check in at the main desk? You don’t, you need to stop and give some information about yourself and confirm you have a reservation. Your hotel attendant may even ask you what business you are in town for so that they can match your needs during your stay. Checking in is good because it lets us know we are in the right place and have the right rates and correct length of stay.

Okay, how does a check in relate to your business or you as a leader? If you run your own business or lead a team of sales professionals you should practice regular “check ins” throughout your business cycle. These should take place collectively as a group and individually. You have to step off the trail for a while and check your map and get a pulse on the climate and surroundings. It’s a pause, a time out.

Baseball is a favorite sport for me and I’m a season ticket holder for St. Louis Cardinals. Tony LaRussa has managed in over 5000 games. Only 2 other managers have managed more games. He still takes strategic timeouts to check in with players, especially pitchers, during the heat of a game. Why? Is it for the team or for him or the individual?

The answer could be yes for all three. The “CHECK IN” isn’t for others in your team as much as it is for you. Often times a manager needs to make sure that what they are seeing play out is being correctly interpreted or assessed by them. They may check in with others on the team for more perspective. The one thing that can render a check in useless is lack of straight talk and authentic answers.

Let’s go back to Tony and the Cardinals. He gets the word…”my arm is fine”, the pitcher stays in and throws a ball up and over the plate and the batter jacks one out over the fence. Was that trip to the mound a wasted leader moment? Maybe or maybe not—it really depends on how authentic the conversation was that took place, for all parties. I think it is part of the dynamics of the game that makes it so strategic and interesting.

In fact, every time I meet with clients or a business team we do a form of a check in to make sure we are connected and ready to do authentic work together. It isn’t just about a list of activities to date. It is more about where is the energy in the moment. Are we both ready to be in a coaching/development relationship? Where’s the momentum or not for the client?

The process of checking in helps the client and I get a grasp on what they are experiencing. They may be in a maelstrom of activity personally or professionally leading up to a quieter space of reflection and planning. Or it may be the beginning of a rut that is growing deeper and longer. Much like a baseball manager gets a handle on how his pitcher is doing “in the moment”.

Shifting from “doing” mode to a mode of “being” in the moment takes a lot of personal awareness every day. Intentional pauses or check ins can be a great technology for a leader. It is a process that forces you to attend to time spent thinking and assessing. Too simple…right?  Just pausing and reflecting is almost too easy. If it was easy why don’t more of us do it more often?

So there are longer time horizons to take stock of as well and not just in the moment of a hectic day. As a leader/owner you need to create a forum for checking in. Leaders and owners of our own businesses can get into protracted periods of very focused and mindful work—that—if not followed by some real, felt, and meaningful downtime can lead us to burn out, being unprepared for the future when it arrives, and a smothered human spirit.

Here are 3 key areas to consider as a simple, but deep powerful check in for leaders and entrepreneurs with your team or organization.


  • What likely industry and market scenarios have you built your business “go to market” plan from to achieve success? And are they still valid?
  • What are the current needs in the industry and customer base that you are seeking to engage and provide profitable solutions?
  • How does [Company Name] define success for the owners and stakeholders?  For its constituents and associates? And most importantly its customers?
  • How would you as an owner(s) rate your current success based on your original objectives?
    • 1 = We fell far short and are unsure of the future
    • 2 = We are short of target, but working to adjust
    • 3 = We met or are just meeting our expectations
    • 4 = Our offer is off to a great start and we are ahead of plan
    • 5 = We are wildly surprised at the demand for our offer
    • 6=Huh?


  • Relationships: How we are working together as a team of business owners?
  • Structure: How is the organization of decisions and implementations working?  How well is the work getting done?
  • Accountability and Performance: Do the team members (owners, partners, and leaders) deliver the necessary growth and contribution to results?


  • What industry and global trends will impact us and our customers that we can control or influence with our actions?
  • What would tell us we need to invest in new offers?
  • How will you keep [Company Name] a healthy and growing business?
  • Do we need new milestones for the next journey to our vision?

I hope these three key areas will be useful at your next “check in”. Take an intentional pause, hard work is rarely the problem with leaders and entrepreneurs. Taking a productive pause will let you know where the heck you really are.

©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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Are you a Sustainable Leader?

Are you going through people in your business like a parent goes through napkins wiping up a two year old with an ice cream cone on a hot day at the St. Louis Zoo? It’s usually the best that leave first, especially in today’s economic climate. Wondering where all the employee candidates for your business or department are going to come from in the foreseeable future? That is another problem that plagues unsustainable leadership. Their business doesn’t attract candidates to them. Sustainable leaders have a line up and list of people just waiting in the wings.

Sustainability is so diversely defined that we tend to think about just the environment and natural resources.  We should be thinking about sustainable human resources and capital as leaders and owners of a business. You can’t begin to have a “sustainable” business without creating a leadership environment that encourages and nourishes people in their development. Leaders that sustain their people attract others to work for them. It often is the “mystery” thing that people are seduced by, but just can’t describe. Its really simple and essentially costs your business nothing.

There is an epidemic in organizations of treating adults like children. Leaders have become increasingly afraid of letting people take risks and make mistakes. In addition to lack of risk taking there is an unwillingness to have meaningful conversations with others that really demonstrate your sincerity and caring as a leader. This unsustainable leadership shows up in putting off tough conversations or talking behind peoples back to others. It allows the unsustainable  disease of entitlement to poison a workforce. People begin to think they are owed something and make it okay not to deliver on numbers or take off from work early.

AND equally as bad unsustainable leaders justify everything as…I could have but…I wanted to but…IF ONLY…  When a SUSTAINABLE LEADER steps up you feel it, you sense it, and you live for it. We are longing for the support and challenge of a mature adult who has taken charge of their own future. Not a fiercely  independent leader, but a leader fiercely dependent on tapping into the collective human spirit and energy of those individuals around them. They build a narrative that is compelling and is embodied in the character of each and every person.

You see—sustainable leaders BUILD SUSTAINABLE leaders. I think God knew that the human spirit was the one thing that truly is sustainable and limitless. It is the energy that can recreate itself exponentially when it is unleashed by your leadership. Do it….I dare you today to be more than you ever dreamed possible as a leader. To be more human and authentic then ever before.

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