Let Go to Go Forward

I was thrilled to be invited back to partner once again with a US/Japanese joint venture steel mill that I helped start-up in the early 1990s.  As their union-management leadership team informed me, many of the “old timers” who started up the place with me are retiring, and they want to ensure that the very unique – and highly successful – team-based work culture lives on for the next generation.  We’re working together to re-energize the culture and mentor the new recruits to continue to be world-class into the next many decades.

During one of my recent meetings at the plant, a furnace operator was sharing his perspective on the root cause of some of the problems with the work culture, and why there is a gap between our initial vision and current reality.  His passion was palpable in how he talked about the people and the founding work culture ideals.  He talked about how one of the former plant managers had damaged the system, taking away resources, and trying to revert to a more autocratic, top-down managerial approach.

That plant manager has not worked in the steel mill for over five years!

What leapt to my mind was the old story about the two Buddhist monks:

A young monk and his older mentor were walking in the woods.  They came across a fast-running river.  A woman was standing on the side of the river, and could not cross it.  The old monk carried her across, set her down on the other side, and the two monks continued on their journey.

Later that night the young monk, who had been visibly disturbed since the encounter with the woman, exclaimed to his mentor, “we’re monks – so are forbidden to touch women – how could you do so?!” To which the old monk replied, “I let her go hours ago – but you are still carrying the weight of her on your back!”

Similarly, the furnace operator was carrying around the weight of the former plant manager.  What he was doing, fundamentally, was being burdened by a weight that had been shed years ago.  He was giving away his power to this other person, who had moved on long ago.

When we talk about moving through change – from “current to future state” – so often we point to some variant of Lewin’s classic model:

First we are to unfreeze – to let go of something from the past.  Often, the focus is on letting go of something that has been perceived as good, something valuable, something that has worked well for us.  We are advised to acknowledge and even grieve the loss.

However, taking charge of change is also often about “letting go” of the negative – of our lingering grievances and resentments.  Holding on to old wounds – and blaming others who inflicted those wounds – disempowers us to move forward proactively and positively.  At some point we need to “stop admiring the problem” and focus on solutions!

This is a lesson I’ve learned – and had to relearn – many times in my professional and personal life.  This incident caused me to ask myself these questions, which might benefit you as well – try them out and send me an email to let me know:

 What would be to your advantage to let go of to move forward?

 Who in your current life or past might you be giving away your power to?

 What are you holding on to that’s preventing positive progress – reflect on potentially limiting beliefs, limiting behaviors, limiting habits, outmoded ways of thinking or acting or relating to others that are no longer serving you – or those you were meant to serve?

Let go to get going!

Positive Feedback is the Biggest Source of Motivation

Here’s a question for you:
Do you NEED positive feedback to do a great job at work?  

Like you need oxygen and water?

Now, let me ask the question in a slightly different way:
When you RECEIVE positive feedback, does it make a difference?

Inspire you to do even better, make you feel valued?

In my experience, about a quarter of us really need atta-boys/girls – it provides us sustenance we crave.  However, when I ask the second question to clients, virtually every hand gets raised – when we receive acknowledgment, it makes a powerful impact.

Yet, what percentage of people report receiving ANY positive feedback in the workplace?  Less than 5% of us receive a pat-on-the-back in any given week.

If it makes such a difference, why don’t we do it, frequently and consistently?  Here are the top reasons I hear:

•  “Good work is a job requirement – I only recognize outstanding performance.”

•  “Top performers are self-motivated – they know they are doing a great job.”

•  “We’re business people – we don’t do that touchy-feely stuff.”


Positive feedback is the biggest source of motivation that leaders at all levels are leaving on the table.  It’s easy.  It’s free.  It makes both the giver and receiver feel great.  Especially in times of significant change and challenge, recognizing people for their contributions helps keep people engaged, committed, and shows you care.

Here are some simple hints for giving thanks that will be appreciated by almost everyone you lead:

•  When you see it, say it!  Don’t let good work go unnoticed.  What gets noticed, gets repeated.

•  Make it specific!  Saying “great job,” while nice to hear, can sound empty.  Saying “I really appreciated the great job you did putting together the communications plan for our new IT upgrade – it was very inclusive, thorough, and creative – thank you” lets the receiver know you know that what they are doing matters.

•  Make it personal!  Saying “I really appreciate….” or “it really helps me out when you…” reinforces your relationship, teamwork and partnership.  People connect with people first, and organizational engagement follows.

Change Intelligent leaders also customize their expressions of gratitude to the preferences of others.  People with different styles resonate best with different ways of saying “thanks”:

•  Coaches (high Heart style) value feedback that focuses on how they have helped and involved others through a change process; Drivers (high Head and Hands style) like to hear how they have pushed the change over the finish line and achieved daunting objectives.

•  Champions (high Heart and Head style) thrive on public applause and demonstrative praise; Executers (high Hands style) appreciate quieter forms of recognition focusing on their competent, planful, and structured approach.

•  Visionaries (high Head style) enjoy feedback that acknowledges their inventive inspiration towards exciting new horizons; Facilitators (high Hands and Heart style) like to know that they have done a good job supporting people through difficulties on the ground level and fostering team success.

Try to make a practice of sharing positive feedback with your team is one of the most leveraging behaviors you can develop to keep people engaged and motivated during the often long and taxing journey of change.

Empathy: How it Can Help You Become a Better Change Leader

“I thought I came here today to learn more about myself, in order to help me do my job to manage change. What I really learned was empathy for other people, which will help me partner with others to lead change.”

This revelation was shared by a Change Intelligence (CQ) workshop participant, and one that I’ve heard many times from many others.  The definition of CQ is the awareness of one’s change leader style, and the ability to adapt one’s style to be optimally effective across people and situations.  As a person builds awareness of their own style, they naturally become aware of other styles of leading change.  The Heart-oriented change leader gets exposed to Head-oriented change leaders, increasing their awareness of the need to make progress toward the goal while taking care of the people. Head-oriented change leaders get exposed to Hands-oriented change leaders, increasing awareness of process and tactics in addition to vision and strategy.

At times, due to how we are hard-wired as humans, “different” can be perceived as “bad” – in the same way that “change” can be perceived as “threat” when we first encounter it – no matter how pro-diversity or change-friendly we might be deep down inside.  What I’ve often observed, in myself and others, is that once we become aware of other styles, we can initially judge them negatively.  For example, I am a high-Heart-and-Head change leader – the Champion change leader style.  Early in my career, I looked down on high-Hands Executors, criticizing them as “plodding” and “pessimistic.”

However, over time, particularly once I realized that some of my early change projects were veering off-track because of a lack of focus on the details, I began to see the value of efficient planning.  What I once perceived as plodding I began to appreciate as keeping a firm handle on activities, deliverables, issues and risks, so nothing got dropped out.  What I once perceived as pessimistic I began to appreciate as a realistic appraisal of resource requirements and timing targets.

I’ve seen such a realization occur time and again in the change leaders I coach – no matter their industry, functional expertise, or hierarchical level.  I refer to this as the “judging to valuing ladder” as we transition from being an “aware” to an “evolved” change leader:

What happens when people step up the ladder is that they begin to empathize with a much wider array of people than they may have in the past.  They begin to understand the journeys others have been on, and appreciate that they are honestly trying to do the best they can capitalizing on their strengths.  That is a huge mental shift, because so often, to the “unenlightened change leader,” the strengths of other styles can seem very frustrating and even detrimental – like my initial judgment of planning as plodding and realism as pessimism.

When we are able to “get out of our heads” (or “hearts” or “hands” or whatever our dominant style may be), magic happens.  As the old saying goes, “it’s amazing how when we change, others change too.”  When we look at people with new eyes – with respect and gratitude – it’s a palpable gift to them.  We “show up” very differently to them as well.  At the top of the judging to valuing ladder, the door to new possibilities for partnership opens.

To put these insights into practice right now, I invite you to ask yourself:

Is there someone you are working with who you find frustrating?  Looking at them through the lens of empathy, could they be honestly trying to do the right thing, but just in a very different way than you would?  Might they possibly be leveraging strengths that they genuinely believe will lead to successful outcomes, but those strengths may not be ones you value?

Is there someone you are working with who you are trying to influence in a positive direction, but not getting traction?  Consider that perhaps you have been communicating with them in a way that works for you, but not in a way that they can truly “hear.”  For example, as a high-Heart-and-Head Champion change leader, I tend to get excited by the “what” and “who” of change – that is, the exciting new vision and engaging with people to get there with urgency.  To connect with high-Hand Executer change leaders, I need to incorporate “how” messages.  If I don’t, then they will be stuck ruminating about “how are we going to make this work,” and often view me as a “cheerleader” not a “champion,” because I have not helped them see the path from current to future state, which is what they need to know to connect with my message.

Is there a change initiative you are leading in which you are stuck and not achieving the results you aspire to?  Study the strengths of change leader styles that are not your own, ones that are less typical or even uncomfortable for you.  Can you try out one or more of these strengths, flexing some new muscles in areas you have traditionally been weak, or under-valued?  Is there a colleague you can reach-out to who is strong in critical aspects of the change process that you are not as skilled at, or just do not enjoy?

Daniel Goleman, who popularized “Emotional Intelligence” or “EQ” (which encourages us to hone our capacity to understand and manage our own emotions) has in more recent times developed the concept of “Social Intelligence,” to empower us to forge effective relationships with others.  In his words, “self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”

The first step in building Change Intelligence, or CQ, is in fact to look within, and become aware of own change leader style.  However, the true gold is when we can then build on this understanding to empathize with others, and adapt our style accordingly.  Thinking about all the tumult in our workplaces and our world, it can seem “scary out there.”  So many people are living and working in fear.  By developing and displaying empathy, we can not only help others and ourselves rise above that fear, but we also vastly increase the probability of successful partnerships and sustainable change.

North Carolina, Ready to Learn Your CQ Style?

horseworkshop

Will you be in or near Charlotte, NC on Tuesday, October 7th? I am excited to be partnering with the Synergistic Coach, Gerri Steadman when she hosts her “Learning Through Horses” workshop.

Though the workshop itself is private, there will be a free reception that is open to the public from 5:30-7:30pm. At the reception, I will be talking about the Change Intelligence System as well as sharing an exercise that will show you how to find your personal Change Quotient style.

Afterwards, there will be a Q&A session as well as a complimentary meet and greet and light refreshments. Don’t forget to bring your copy of Change Intelligence to have it signed! RSVP your intention: http://ht.ly/S04yY

To find out about the workshop please visit the Synergistic Coach website here.

Reactions to Change

When people encounter any kind of change, they typically progress through a series of phases. There are several frameworks that help clarify human reaction to change, but the one I use in this post—and in chapter 15 of Change Intelligence—is adapted to CQ and based on the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who studied human reactions to death and dying. She discovered that not everyone, but many people, progressed through a similar set of thoughts, perceptions, and experiences. This model can be applied to understanding the human reaction to change, since most people initially perceive change as a threat, a danger—something to be feared.

Coping with change is a process that moves people from a focus on the past to a focus on the future, and from a focus on what’s happening in their external environment to a focus on what’s happening inside themselves. When they first learn of an impending change, particularly a significant one, many people go into denial. Next comes resistance, or at least what looks and feels like resistance to change leaders. If the resistance is effectively managed, people move to the exploration stage, testing the new direction. Finally, commitment occurs.

Understanding these reactions to change can help you predict them and can help you deploy effective approaches to addressing them. Doing so is fundamental to your ability to lead through any major change project.

The Denial Phase
Denial is a normal psychological defense mechanism. And when it comes to organizational change, it’s an understandable reaction, given the “program of the year” phenomenon and the discomfort that accompanies any major alteration in our work lives. Denial is a coping skill that enables us to protect ourselves. It helps us navigate all the new information we’re constantly bombarded with in modern life.

As a leader, how do you know when your people are in the denial stage? You’ll know when they say things like, “It’s no big deal” or, “It won’t affect us” or, “We’ll outlive this new manager and the changes he’s trying to make, just like the last guy corporate tried to shove down our throats.” People may avoid you, the change leader, just as they may avoid any exposure to the change process. Some go into withdrawal, seeming to hide out. Others may appear numb, confused, or off balance.

The Resistance Phase
In physics, resistance is defined as “a force that tends to oppose or retard motion.” During the resistance stage, it can appear that people are actively working in opposition to the change. However, in biology, resistance is defined as “the capacity of an organism to protect itself from harm.” One of the core themes of the CQ System is that what often seems to be resistance in others is really a symptom of us as change leaders not giving people what they need to “get” it, “want” it, or “do” it.

As a leader, how do you know when your people are in the Resistance stage? Resistance can take many forms, but it usually doesn’t require a doctorate in psychology to pick up on even subtle forms of opposition to the change. In the Resistance stage, participation is the most variable. Some become angry, and conflicts may abound. Others withdraw and seem helpless. People may grieve for what they fear will be lost—whether it’s security, status, skills, or social relationships. Some may become passive-aggressive, seeming to comply but then quietly resisting. Others may engage in overt sabotage.

The Exploration Phase
After the pain of the Resistance stage, the Exploration stage can feel like a welcome relief. Finally, people transition from working against the change to moving toward it. You hear people say things like, “Let’s try it!” Some cautiously stick their big toe in the water, while others jump right into the deep end.

Regardless of their pace of exploration, people finally seem to understand the change and display a more positive attitude toward it. Acceptance increases. Instead of feeling controlled, people experience a sense of autonomy. They begin to experiment with the change, look for creative alternatives, and unleash fresh energy.

Yet, unleashing energy can lead to challenging dynamics in the Exploration stage. People are still testing—they are still novices with respect to the new way of doing things. That can result in a period of chaos and confusion. People craft an abundance of ideas, but the very abundance can overwhelm them.

The Commitment Phase
The Commitment phase is the Holy Grail of any change initiative. Now people are “on board” and have “bought in,” and groups are “aligned” and “integrated.” People support the change through their words and their actions. Behaviors are in sync with long-range change goals, and short-term objectives that aren’t consistent with change are subordinated. Management actively invests resources to sustain the change. Cooperation and teamwork abound. People say, “We did it!” and experience the satisfaction that comes with accomplishing a challenging goal.

However, the change leader’s role isn’t over. In the Commitment phase, change leaders can deploy a variety of tactics to sustain the change and keep people moving forward.

Teams and organizations, like individuals, also go through similar stages. Collections of people often pass through the denial, resistance, exploration, and commitment phases in sync. As change leaders, it’s essential that we diagnose and deal with these dynamics at the team and organizational level as well.

And, particularly during significant changes, or when multiple changes are occurring at once, progress through the phases may not be linear. Instead, people may move from denial, to resistance, and then back to denial because they just can’t believe that yet another change is happening. They might say, “See! They switched gears again. Nothing will really change. It’s business as usual.”

It’s frighteningly easy for people to revert to the denial phase, or to stay stuck in resistance, and that’s one reason why it’s so critical for change leaders to be armed with a knowledge of CQ and all the supplementary models and methods covered in the last two chapters of Change Intelligence.

Different change leader styles (blends of Heart, Head, and Hands) display different strengths as support people through each phase of change reactions. They also have different blind spots, and would do well to deploy different tools to help them more effectively lead their people at each step in the journey.

The more tools in your toolkit, the better equipped you are to give people what they need and to help everyone—including yourself—get where they want to go.

 

Deploying the Right Change Management Tools

Is there a difference between change leadership and change management? My answer is a resounding “Yes!” Change intelligence (CQ) is about diagnosing and developing your capacity to lead change—in other words, it’s about change leadership. Change management, on the other hand, is a set of techniques that you, the change leader, can apply to a change process. As change leaders, we pick and choose the change management approaches and techniques to bring to bear on a change situation. CQ will help you as a change leader identify which change management tools you tend to gravitate toward based on your style—and which you may tend to overuse or, conversely, overlook.

The change management tools you select should be based on not only your personal leadership style but also the phase of the “change lifecycle” your team is in. From the early 1900s when Kurt Lewin introduced his unfreezing-moving-refreezing description of the change process, many models have been offered to help us understand this change lifecycle. Most are variations on a similar theme. First you plan, then you do, then you sustain. Then, you start planning the next change. This list offers the major activities that occur at each stage in the change lifecycle.

Plan

• Create vision

• Determine readiness

• Craft plan

 

Do

• Communicate

• Train

• Modify processes

Sustain

• Adapt systems

• Ensure integration

• Examine lessons learned

Change leaders have a variety of tools at their disposal, any of which they can bring to bear during the stages of the change lifecycle. If you stay mindful of the combination of your change leader style and the dynamics of the various stages, you’ll be able to select the tools to help you meet critical change challenges, especially those you may be apt to overlook, downplay, or avoid. For a full list of the best tools to the various types of change leaders can use in the different phases of the change lifecycle, check out chapter 14 of Change Intelligence.

Applying CQ: Organizations

Both individuals and teams have a change style and level of change intelligence (CQ), and the same is true of every organization. Some companies thrive on change, responding deftly to new economies, technologies, and customer expectations, while others are slow to adapt, and still others fail to change effectively and thus die.

Unfortunately, most companies fall into the latter two categories. Why do most organizations fail to achieve their lofty transformational goals? Often, it’s because one or more of these is the case:

  • Change is not championed by leaders high enough in the organization.
  • The new change is led just the same way the last change was (which probably failed or was less than stellar).
  • There is no consistent approach to change. At best, there are pockets of “strategic planning” or “change management” methodologies sprinkled throughout the organization—perhaps a project management methodology used in IT, or a change management model touted by human resources—but they are not endorsed or deployed company-wide.
  • Leaders are not trained in change leadership. At best, they may have attended a class in change management, but they have had no opportunity to understand or develop their competency as change leaders. When change happens, they’re under fire and have no time for reflection or coaching.
  • Leaders lack awareness about what encourages people to embrace change, making it almost impossible to adapt to the needs of various audiences, lessening the probability that those stakeholders will get in action consistent with the change.
  • Resistance is ignored or perceived as a force to be overcome. The focus is on doing something to the resisters, not with or for them, even when they can potentially provide valuable perspectives. Resistance continues, expands, and ultimately derails the change process.

Sound familiar? When you look at the last change project you were involved in, can you see one or more of these dynamics at work? In isolation or in combination, they are the death knell for over 70 percent of major change initiatives. When these projects fail, the investment is wasted, employee cynicism grows, and loyalty and trust are eroded.

Just as for individuals and teams, an organization’s CQ can grow over time. Individuals can become more powerful change leaders through diagnosing and developing their own CQ, and teams can become more impactful in leading a change initiative through a CQ-based team-building experience. In the same way, the more CQ is infused into an organization—layered up, down, and across it—the more positive, predictable, and pervasive the company’s results will be.

CQ at the organizational level isn’t an add-on program, another task to complete, or another box to check. Rather, it is a model and mindset that empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to fundamentally alter the way they lead any kind of change initiative. When deployed effectively, the CQ approach becomes “how we do change in this organization,” not just an appendage that’s sometimes used and sometimes isn’t. Companies that use the CQ System in this way find that it becomes a common language and a compass that points the way toward promising new outcomes.

Once members of an organization understand that they need to inspire the Heart, engage the Head, and help the Hands in each and every change initiative, they can employ a variety of other tools to heighten their change intelligence. Are executives committed to sponsoring the change? Perhaps a Leadership Alignment tool can help (to inspire the Heart). Are managers aware of the change and informed sufficiently so they can cascade the message to the troops? Perhaps they can utilize communication-planning methodologies (to engage the Head). Are frontline employees trained to use the new technology? Supervisors can deploy a learning plan (to help the Hands). In this way, CQ enables appropriate integration of methodologies from a variety of disciplines, spanning from change management to project planning and beyond.

Without an understanding of CQ, these types of tools are often deployed slavishly, to every project, whether they are needed or not. Or they are not used at all or not at the right time or in the right ways. Knowledge of CQ alerts leaders to when and how these supplemental approaches may make a positive difference. Furthermore, once a common toolkit of methodologies is installed across the system, everyone—from executives to the front line—will be singing off the same sheet of music, so to speak. No longer will helpful tools be used haphazardly; instead, everyone will be working in clearly understood and consistent ways to make the change come to life.

To paraphrase a TV commercial, CQ doesn’t do change, it helps you do change better. The CQ System helps leaders integrate additional tools at the right time in the right way to ensure that everyone is on the same productive path toward real organizational change.

To put the CQ System to work in your company and enhance its ability to lead change, you need to:

  • Start at the top.
  • Develop change leaders at all levels. Provide formal training as well as manager and peer coaching.
  • Cascade down and move across the organization. Plant many seeds.
  • Utilize the CQ methods and tools to develop a consistent language and approach to change.
  • Integrate other change methodologies to develop a system-wide change toolkit.
  • Avoid labeling initiatives as “programs.” Change is constant and ubiquitous. Treat change like a way of life, which it is.
  • Practice courageous conversations. As Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson remind us in their book The One Minute Manager, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Get feedback and feedforward (ala Marshall Goldsmith), from above and below.

If you regularly revisit these strategies and apply them in your organization, you’ll soon begin to see the benefits of the CQ System across the company: change happens with less resistance and strife, becomes part of the organization’s essence (rather than evaporating after a short period of time and leaving you short on results), and leads to positive outcomes at every level.

Applying CQ in Teams

A fundamental part of understanding CQ is understanding which type of change leader you are—a Coach, a Visionary, an Executer, a Champion, a Driver, a Facilitator, or an Adapter, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. When they learn about these types, most of my clients ask me the same question, and it’s a good one: “What blend of change leader styles is best to have on a team? Is there an ideal team profile?”

In the short term, a particular team profile may be most appropriate to address a specific need. A Driver team (strong on Head and Hands) would be invaluable for a high- intensity, make-it-or-break-it turnaround. A Champion team (favoring Head and Heart capabilities) would be particularly adept at rallying an organization around a radically new vision. A Facilitator team (skilled at Heart and Hands) would be of great assistance in implementing a complex new technology on the front lines.

Just as there is no ideal individual profile, there is ultimately no ideal team profile. Success lies in how aware the team is of its CQ blend and what it does to leverage it. Just as the best change leaders are enlightened by knowledge of their style, their strengths, and their blind spots, so it is for the ideal team.

My longest-standing co-facilitator and I are the opposite styles. I’m a Champion, and he’s an Executer. When we first met, it was like we were speaking two different languages, and I couldn’t get where he was coming from half the time. However, we both trusted and respected each other. As we learned each other’s styles, we began to value and appreciate what each other brought to the table.

Over the years, the two of us have led many change projects together. Invariably, he owns the project plan—and mercifully so! His spreadsheets boast multiple worksheets, many tabs, and an abundance of color. Every i dotted and t crossed. I, on the other hand, tend to take the lead with facilitating project meetings. That said, his more detail-oriented and unemotional style can play better with technically oriented types. We are each a good balance to the other. Clients get the benefit of both our styles, our different perspectives and provocative viewpoints, and our complementary skill sets.

It’s not necessarily that Champions and Executers are natural-born partners; the benefit comes from my co-facilitator and I exploring our own brand of change intelligence and using our awareness of each other’s predispositions and working styles to collaborate effectively.

One caveat as you apply CQ to your team: Be sure that you don’t dump all responsibility on certain individuals because the work seems suited to their CQ style. Don’t assume that just because you’re the Visionary, you’ll always own the strategy. Don’t assume that because you’re the Coach, all the people dynamics fall on your plate. Don’t dump all the minutiae of project planning on the Executer or have the Champion make all the executive presentations. Don’t expect the Facilitator to run every team meeting or the Driver to kick butt and take names when things go awry. That’s stereotyping. We each have a profile, but “profiling” is forbidden!

Teams charged with leading change together can reap great benefits from exploring their collective change intelligence. Here are some questions to spark dialogue and new working agreements for future success.

  1. What is our team’s value to the organization, particularly with respect to leading change?
  2. Is our team operating as effectively as it could be?
  3. If not, why not? Can a deficit of CQ explain any of these reasons?
  4. How can we apply our knowledge of CQ to improve our team’s effectiveness?
  5. How are we leading change effectively? What are the positive things happening in our current change project?
  6. How can the CQ System help us understand the ways we aren’t leading change effectively? What are the negative aspects of our current change project?
  7. Is there a previous change project we can learn from—one we can dissect and interpret in light of what we now know about CQ? Can we create agreements among the team based on these insights and then carry them forth into the future?
  8. What is our team’s overall change leader style? Given that, at what aspects of leading change do we predict our team will excel? What are our team’s strengths?
  9. What aspect of CQ (Heart, Head, or Hands) is our team lowest in? Which team member (or members) provides a complementary perspective that can help the team overcome its blind spots? What contributions can specific team members make to increase the effectiveness and positive impact of the team’s actions?
  10. Taken together, what are action steps for us to build our CQ as a team to lead powerful, positive change?

By the end of this discussion, the team will have reached a consensus on how to improve relationships and roles within the team and will have made new agreements on how best to enhance processes and results.

Periodically, bring the team back together to review its progress, make any necessary course corrections, and celebrate its successes!

Adapters: Capitalizing on Strengths, Shoring Up Weak Spots

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The seventh and final change leader type is the Adapter, relies equally on all three.

Adapters are role models for friendliness to change. When at their best, they emerge as positive, engaging ambassadors for change.

In The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner list the five pillars of great leaders, and one of them is a willingness to “Challenge the Process.” As the change leader style most open to experimentation, Adapters may be naturally inclined to do as Kouzes and Posner recommend and “search for opportunities by seizing the initiative and exercising ‘outsight,’ and experiment and take risks by generating small wins and learning from experience.”

Adapters generally help others do the same as well. Their natural inquisitiveness and change-friendliness increases the probability that they will create an environment in which people can arrive at insights themselves; and when people arrive at their own insights, they’re much more likely to own the change. As David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz write in their article “The Neuroscience of Leadership,” “At a moment of insight, a complex set of new connections [in the brain] is being created. These connections have the potential to enhance our mental resources and overcome the brain’s resistance to change. But to achieve this, given the brain’s limited working memory, we need to make a deliberate effort to hardwire an insight by paying it repeated attention. That is why employees need to ‘own’ any kind of change initiative for it to be successful . . . For insights to be useful, they need to be generated from within, not given to individuals as conclusions.”

Adapters need to remember that flexibility and agreeableness are probably not the legacy they want to leave behind them as business leaders. Yes, great leaders need to consider the input of others and remain open to course corrections during times of change. But they also need to make unpopular decisions and keep moving forward confidently, with their compass pointed toward true north.

I take a closer look at Adapters, along with the other six leadership styles, in Change Intelligence. You may already have a hunch on which type you are, but included in the book is a code to access an assessment that will give you a definitive answer on which of these change leader styles is your own.

Adapters, Part I

We all tend to fit one of seven types of change leader, each of which indicates a different mix of leading with Head, Heart, or Hands. The seventh and final change leader type is the Adapter, who relies equally on all three.

Adapters exist at the crossroads between Head, Heart, and Hands. They have a uniform score on all three dimensions. They can easily employ all three—each as it is needed—without being committed to one; and they relate well to others. But Adapters’ impact as change leaders may actually be lessened because of their lack of a preference for one type. While the capacity to flex one’s approach is generally an asset, at times others can find it difficult to relate to Adapters because of their changeability.

If you are an Adapter, because you are naturally skilled at utilizing all the tools in the change leader toolkit, you connect with a wide variety of stakeholders in the change process and are comfortable experimenting with creative ways to move the process forward. You excel at flexibility, inventiveness, and teamwork.

But people may find you hard to read because of your lack of a dominant change leadership style, and you may sometimes struggle with which path to pursue because of your versatility. Your genuine adaptability coupled with your desire to be part of the group can sometimes cause you to focus too much on compromise—at the expense of advocating for tough stances, at least in the short term. You’re also adept at promoting change behind the scenes, but you would do well to ensure that such behavior is perceived positively by others and not as divisive scheming.

As an Adapter, you excel as a leader because you often:

  • Like to be personally involved and engaged with a wide variety of stakeholders in the change process—you are a very active and vocal change leader
  • Are curious about what others think and feel, are open-minded, and consider the input of others
  • Enjoy playing the role of a devil’s advocate and challenging group assumptions or plans
  • Like to experiment with different ways of doing things, thereby exhibiting flexibility and a willingness to adapt as you learn through the change process
  • Show others that you are willing to compromise in order to overcome resistance or to convince others to take the first step in a new direction

Despite all this, your strengths come with a few shortfalls. Adapters also sometimes:

  • Can be so flexible that it can be difficult for you to determine which behaviors to deploy to reach your goals
  • May at times value reaching an agreement above making a less-popular decision that makes better business sense (at least in the short term)
  • Can be perceived as going around the chain of command when you work “behind the scenes” to achieve your objectives
  • Can become bored by routine and tempted to stir things up to alleviate monotony
  • Can be rigid or inflexible under pressure or when stressed

So while your flexibility as an Adapter can open you up to experimentation and interactivity, you can also be unpredictable and inconsistent. When you have a full understanding of these facets of your leadership style, you can go about maximizing the good and minimizing the weak spots.