Leadership Library Review — Retooling on the Run: Real Change for Leaders with No Time

August 2012

Retooling on the Run: Real Change for Leaders with No Time by Stuart Heller & David Sheppard Surrenda (Frog, Ltd., 1994)

What are the big take-aways?

Retooling on the Run is, ultimately, about the physical embodiment of leadership.  Its premise is that our bodies – particularly our habits of posture, muscle and energy – are at the core of our leadership presence.  And we can re-train ourselves to change our habits for maximum leadership effectiveness on the fly or “on the run.”

In the Preface, the authors declare that the saying, “You are the first organization you must master” (page xiii) was the seed for their workbook.  From one section to the next (A New Foundation for Leadership; Deepening Centered Presence; The Inner Game of Change; Getting Unstuck from Your Habits of Feeling; Stalking Versatility; and Pursuing Your Vision), the authors introduce the reader to dozens of deceptively simple exercises – a motion, a stance, a breathing pattern – designed to offer actionable insight.  The point of the workbook is to increase a leader’s awareness of his or her habits of body (which include “self-talk” and emotions) in order to promote greater self-mastery and stronger leadership.

Why did I like it?

I like this book because it distinguishes many unspoken subtleties in human interaction that leaders can harness to advantage.  More than anything else, it expands leaders’ toolkits for reorienting and “centering” themselves in the moment, in very practical ways.  The exercises are quite straightforward (e.g., opening and clenching a fist, sitting and standing, adopting different postures or stances) but yield a lot of information for leaders looking to become more nimble in their behaviors, communication styles and decision-making skills.

I also like it because the body has been traditionally underemphasized as a domain for self-study and self-transformation in leadership, and this trend has largely continued to hold in the nearly twenty years since Retooling was first published.  I agree with the authors that in Western cultures, where the mind-body dichotomy has been so central for so long, the mind has been valorized to such an extent that most of us overlook or discount the physical nature of our presence – and thus deny ourselves access to a huge dimension of our power.  In Retooling, the authors reclaim the importance of the mind-body-feeling connection in leadership.

In what situations would this be useful?

This book is for leaders who are curious about the nature of their presence, and are willing to explore body-centered techniques for becoming more fluid, versatile and masterful.  The authors make a persuasive case that most of us are physically holding back large stores of natural energy and skills that can be – relatively easily – unleashed to boost our leadership effectiveness.  If you suspect that you sometimes “get in your own way” as a leader (and we all do!), Retooling is one self-training program you might consider for leveraging a typically underdeveloped source of power and influence.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

Retooling on the Run would pair well with any martial art, tai chi, yoga, walking meditation or other body-centered practice, by generally helping to guide the reader’s learning about leadership via the physical domain.  It would also pair well with books about body, perception and the brain (e.g., Buddha’s Brain, Flow, and Resonant Leadership, all previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).

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