Posts Tagged Planning

Adaptive Leaders: Change Whisperers

I know with the title I’m right on the edge of taking the Horse Whisperer metaphor one more step beyond its original intent…maybe. But there is no stopping me now. The show Dog Whisperer really reiterated the idea of understanding an animal’s behavior at a deeper level. Cesar Millan has a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of dog behavior. How dogs relate to other dogs and to human interactions. The behavior we see always has some deeper cause and affect and Cesar can make sense of it because he understands normative behaviors. In fact, I love how Cesar does his work as much with the dog owners as the dogs themselves. It’s a little bit of both and not just the dog or just the owner.

I see adaptive leaders as Change Whisperers. They understand change fundamentally and know how it impacts people. To coach and lead people effectively in today’s global environment you need to fundamentally understand change and you need to have a fundamental understanding of human behavior.

There are three core types of change and adaptive leaders must understand these.

    • Continuous change – This is predictive change that creates a “trend line” path for a leader to make proactive moves in a market place or make continuous improvement processes more standard. It is much like knowing that when your tires hit 45,000 miles you should be planning for new tires. It is something you can put in the calendar and follow the reminders.
    • Planned Change – Organized change efforts are varied in their nature based on the organization and situational issues.  Proactive change management is a skill area for adaptive leaders. Knowing how systems or businesses never stay isolated from external factors or closed for vary long; Informs the need for constant attention to what proactive changes do I need to make now to keep individuals and systems in top shape. This is a vital awareness for any leader of any system.
    • Discontinuous change – This is “Tsunami Change”.  You wake up in the morning and things are soon drastically different. This change is unpredictable. Fundamentally we can practice our response to disasters, but there is no definitive way to predict when drastic life and business circumstances will come your way. The ability to practice scenarios is at the heart of the success of adaptive leaders. Compressing the time that it takes to adjust or be in action is key but not necessarily the main creation of leadership value. Leaders who know when to act and when to be patient are invaluable to organizations involved in environments of frequent changes.

I could add one more to make it four in total. The last type of change is uninformed change. Change just for change sake…I’ve seen it happen when leaders are bored and the status quo is not exciting. They have to meddle with success. Sounds stupid and it is. But hey, go watch a few Dog Whisperer shows and you’ll wonder who’s the smart one…the master or the dog? The leader or the follower? It’s not just about being good at changing. You need to understand when to change and how to navigate and guide those most impacted through the change landscape. Adaptive leaders know this and practice it and practice it over and over. It’s called mastery.

Next time we will talk about how we as humans interpret change.


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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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