Posts Tagged Small Business

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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Adaptive Leadership: Staying in the FLOW

Staying in the flow of change and not avoiding or fighting it creates a dynamic opportunity for an adaptive leader. It is dynamic because… if you don’t stay in the flow of change–change will take you somewhere and likely to a place you don’t want to go. By staying engaged in the flow you learn what it truly means to be adaptive and begin to predict and speculate about change. All business systems have processes and ideally each process should have clear goals or outcomes defined. Its always comes back to “core purpose” to inform why we would adjust and change.

In order for us to measure progress towards results and adjust purposefully…we need feedback. So the key point for Adaptive Leaders is to make sure you are in the flow of as much feedback as you can get. When feedback is not a part of the system loop it leaves the entire system at a competitive disadvantage and at risk for failure. Marriages and families suffer from the same painful lack of good clear feedback that will give a person clarity about “what is” really going on and nothing less than complete candor.

It is hard as a leader to get feedback on our blind spots. Well, let’s say its hard to get really great feedback…period.  And it gets even harder as you get higher in an organization or if you are the owner. Why? Because whether we like it or not people are fearful of reprisal and not many of us are raised up to give candid feedback…even when it matters a great deal. How many blog posts and articles have painted the picture of how key leaders failed their constituents and customers? Too many to count and it is explained in hindsight many times as…they just didn’t see “it” coming.

Absent of feedback, the scene becomes more of a mad scientist approach that then leads to a mess of poor results and catastrophic impact to employees. An Adaptive Leader has to always make sure that they are seeking the feedback or information that could change a decision or the trajectory of a business. Many businesses that fail don’t have to and could avoid much of the trauma inflicted because of harsh corrections. I call it “whipsawing” an organization. Whatever you call it, it ain’t gentle. These types of corrections to a business system can’t be avoided in crisis, but that’s actually the point. Not every situation needs to be a crisis if you have a finger on the pulse of what is going on.

Can you set yourself up for more success? Heck yes! Especially if you are in charge of leading the system. You better have a say in what’s important and insert yourself in conversations that matter most. Here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself to see if you are “staying in the flow”.

  • As a leader do I participate in the designing and development of processes for feedback?
  • Do your feedback mechanisms with your direct reports create or maintain a high level of awareness needed to make decisions?
  • Do you engage a coach and confidant that challenges you with straight talk and investigates your perspectives?
  • What can you do to encourage candor and a culture of feedback?
  • How do you close the loop after you receive feedback? What does acting upon it look like?

Adaptive leaders understand (and respond to) change and are always moving with change. So much has been written about change and change management. However, much of what is written has been around managing change and not leading it. Even more pertinent to the concept of flow is the understanding of transition. Transition is essentially what it takes to move between change(s). Leading transition is different than managing change. Leading transitions requires keeping goals and values as the vanguard for why we transform ourselves to new ways of taking action and stay in the flow.

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Adaptive Leadership: Risk, Relevance, and Relationship

I want to challenge Adaptive Leaders to start with OUTCOMES and NOT RISK. Risk doesn’t have much to do with breakthrough decision making. When a decision needs to be made, making an assessment of risk is often the most prudent approach. It also greatly limits learning and can eliminate the many possibilities of success that otherwise are never considered. You do nothing differently and you get the same result…and yes…that is the definition of leadership insanity.

Risk stops leaders from making or keeping a commitment. We may stop short of something extraordinary for us that would seem…just to risky. Adaptive leadership is not just seeking relevance with risk or reward. It is about a relationship that treats each decision, individual, or team in a different way. Risk may never  be a relevant part of your decision making as a leader after you read this post.

Adaptive leaders know about commitment and understand what exactly they are committed to—right now in this moment—and over time. It is the balance of risk, the relevance to your values, and the relationship with a leader’s sense of commitment that creates breakthroughs. It is important to know, as a leader, that each person, situation, and team is unique to the breakthrough they seek. It is difficult to breakthrough without a relationship and relevance to values. 

What would it look like to be a goal maker instead of a risk taker? Adaptive Leadership certainly includes prudent decision making to minimize risk and maximize reward. This conversation is intentionally focused on getting crystal clear on how leaders can think differently about risk adversity and re-frame their entire view of risk. 

The bottom line on being an Adaptive Leader is not about going about “willy nilly” as a leader. It is the ability to ask yourself (and others) clarifying questions at strategic moments. The following types of questions are examples of clarifying questions.

  • What is the outcome I’m seeking? (This may seem to simple, but really powerful!)
  • What is most important and/or most essential at this very time in my life or this business chapter?
  • How can I get the clarity needed to make powerful decisions relevant to my values and goals ?

Adaptive leaders seek relevance rather than risk. Whatever you do to build a strong sense of clarity is critical. Being clear about the decisions you must make, want to make, or could make. Clarity becomes “job one” and a highly valued activity.  This takes a strong relationship with great coaches, mentors, and the embodiment of your personal values. Effective leaders stay in relationship with and connected to their values…all the time.

The most trying and difficult decisions can become amazingly clear to a value driven leader. This relevance to our values sets us back squarely on center for making sound grounded decisions. These important decisions are value based and goal driven. NOT driven by fear or unexamined goals. Clarity becomes the basis you can anchor to when making seemingly small or even life changing decisions.  Especially when making decisions that you have no experiential basis from which to ground your assessments. Thinking strategically with others becomes important if you are going to be able to understand the whole system.

Risk is not relevant in areas where we become extraordinary and work for creation of our future in new ways. The concept of risk is frequently made from an assessment based on what we stand to lose. It seems reasonable to say risky decisions have potential to cost you or create loss.

  • Should I or shouldn’t I?
  • What’s a person to do?
  • How could I ever give up that paycheck?
  • If I “fire” that customer where will the business come from? 

Value based decisions have the potential to create more abundance. You see beyond the paycheck and how spending more time with customers aligned with your values and goals will grow business results, not reduce them.

 

Adaptive leaders simultaneously see the current trajectory of results (and/or output) matched against the desired results (output). Then they declare a destination and make adjustments with courage and conviction. They have faith and believe in the outcome. If they don’t, who will follow and why would you follow them? Pretty simple really when we look at it that way.

Life is strategic. Almost all decisions we make are connected to the flow of our existence and purpose. You can make your goal to minimize risk…OR…live from a framework of commitment and values. The “knowing” of the values and purpose that define those decisions needing to be made becomes essential. There are few risky “life threatening” decisions but all decisions can threaten the life you want to live and work you want to accomplish. Living towards your desired outcomes is exactly related to the old metaphor of “Playing To Win” and NOT “Playing to Lose”.

Next time…Go with the FLOW of Change.

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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: 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: 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: 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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