Calling an Audible

I love American Football.  Besides the competitiveness and game itself, there are so many parallels to life and business.

I was reminded of one this last week; the art of the “audible”.

I found myself in a meeting with several senior executives.  My presentation was ready to go.  But then, as I listened to the pre-meeting conversation, tone, and watched the non-verbal cues, I decided to cut my presentation short and eliminate one of the elements.  I called an audible.  Did this work out for me?  Only time will tell.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, an audible is simply changing the play based upon what you are seeing.

Peyton Manning calling an audible. Source: Indystar

If you’ve ever watch a really skilled quarterback, they are amazing at reading what is in front of them and have a knack at making the changes to best deal with the situation to gain the best possible outcome.

The same is true in business.   You should be very familiar with this concept.  You probably do this often instinctively without thinking about it.  Your environment isn’t what you expected, so you adjust.

However, more often than not, we find ourselves calling audibles at times that we didn’t expect or over situations that we didn’t expect.  This makes us reactionary.  We end up having to rely on our gut, experience, knowledge, instinct, luck, and the ability to pull it all together suddenly to make it all work.  Some people are better at this spontaneous activity than others.  And sometimes it works out for us and sometimes it doesn’t.

What if you weren’t so reactive, but rather – proactive?  Would you improve the odds of your audible being successful?

As I mentioned earlier, there is an “art” to the audible.  So, my answer to the above is yes – you can improve your outcome.

What is this art?  If you study great quarterbacks, you’ll notice that they have a few things in common.

  • They are knowledgeable.  Simply put, they know their business.  They have a wealth of information and experience to pull from.  While this serves well in a reactionary mode, it is even more potent when it is used proactively and you are calculated in making adjustments.
  • They are skilled at reading their environment.  They pay close attention.  They notice every detail.  They are anticipatory.  They are aware of everything that is happening around them.  They understand what changes in their environment mean.
  • They have alternative plans.  They have pre-planned and created alternative scenarios.   Based upon specific changes in the environment, they already know what to do differently – and even better – what to tell the team to do differently.

How do you become good at calling an audible?   Certainly, practice will make you better.  Being knowledgeable and having good alternative plans involves knowing your own business, pre-planning, and knowing when to invoke which alternative plan.

Reading your environment though is a skill you have to develop.  Paying attention to what is happening around you is important.  Listening to tone and words.  Watching non-verbal cues (e.g., body language, eye contact, facial expressions).  Understanding what they all mean.

You can hone this skill by being deliberately attentive.  Try it in the next meeting that you attend.  Read your environment.  When you leave the meeting, take a moment to recap.  Was your read correct?  If not, what did you miss? This is a skill that will serve you well beyond just calling the audible.

As you’ve read through this post, you’ve probably thought of a few times where you’ve had to call an audible.  If you tried to count the number of times you do it, you will probably find that you do it more than you would have thought.

Calling audibles is a natural part of business, especially for leaders.  The goal, however, is to become good at it.

How good are you?  What can you do to become better?

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One Response to Calling an Audible

  1. Pingback: Thanks for a Great 2011! « The Leader's Locker

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