Lead Change like a Slinky®

by  Paula Kiger  |  Change Management
Lead Change like a Slinky®

This post is a part of our 2016 Lead Change Group Guest Blogger Series. Today we are pleased to introduce you to Joshua Lee Henry from Advancing the Kingdom to Transform Society.

Go from Sinking to Succeeding in Creating Significant Change for Your Life and Work

Several years ago I led a professional development workshop for the alumni association of my alma mater. The title of my presentation was “Toy Box Leadership” loosely based on the book by the same name, with a subtitle “Leadership Lessons from the Toys You Loved as a Child,” by authors Ron Hunter and Michael Waddell. The workshop was a success. Not necessarily because the leadership concepts and practices I shared were so groundbreaking, but because the toys I used as props had a certain nostalgia about them that everyone could relate with. They made the material memorable and personable.

The toys I discussed, and their accompanying lessons, included the relationship principles evidenced in the connecting together of Legos ®, the attitude adjustments and body language metaphors of Mr. Potato Head ®, and the push-and-pull rhythm of leadership similar to that of a Slinky ®.

Of the content I shared that day, the most powerful revelation I had from my own preparation for the lesson had to do with the Slinky ®. In fact, much of my insight came from another toy-based book called Change is Like a Slinky: 30 Strategies for Promoting and Surviving Change in Your Organization by leadership expert, Dr. Hans Finzel. Hans is a trusted leadership mentor whom I have learned much from. His book The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make is a classic and his follow up, The Top Ten Leadership Commandments, is a wonderful primer for new leaders. Hans even hosts his own podcast called the “Leadership Answer Man,” which I also highly recommend. Not only do Hans and I share a common industry, we also took graduate studies at the same university.

In Hans’s book, Change is Like a Slinky®, he makes the following nine parallels between the two:

  1. You have to take it out of the box to have fun with it
  2. It comes in many styles and colors
  3. Somebody has to launch it on its way
  4. The course it takes once it begins is entirely unpredictable
  5. It routinely gets stuck halfway down the stairs, and has to be relaunched. Repeat as necessary
  6. It is messy, noisy, and chaotic
  7. Before it is launched, it has stored potential energy–when launched, that energy force becomes kinetic energy
  8. You really don’t control it once it begins its journey
  9. It rarely lands where you predict

Anybody with even the slightest amount of experience leading change can certainly identify with these similarities. Biologically ironic to our human nature, most people adamantly resist change. Yet it remains one of the only constants in life. Mark Twain said that “the only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper”. Well as a leader in my own right and father of a five month old, I can attest to the truth in that statement.

Change is so often difficult because it takes us out of our comfort zone. It disrupts the status quo and requires us to take action. But we don’t need to fear change. Change can also offer an enormous amount of benefits, like growth in a career, innovation for the future, and discovering new possibilities in life.

Hans offers these six phases for helping us to handle change in a healthy way:

  1. Accept the need for change
  2. Aim squarely at the future
  3. Anticipate your adversaries and allies
  4. Advance the plan with courage and tenacity
  5. Adjust course as you listen and learn
  6. Align your team as you stay the course of change

Change can be a good thing if we just take the risk to give the Slinky ® a push to get it started. After positive change gets going, the momentum pulls it forward with each step. So much so that you begin to believe that your successful, Slinky ® style change could climb a staircase!


Toy Box Leadership: Leadership Lessons from the Toys You Loved as a Child (2009) by Ron Hunter and Michael Waddell

Change is Like a Slinky: 30 Strategies for Promoting and Surviving Change in Your Organization (2004) by Hans Finzel

The Top Ten Leadership Commandments (2012) by Hans Finzel

The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make (2004) by Hans Finzel

joshua lee henry twoJoshua Lee Henry is the Director of Coaching on Purpose, a biblically-based leadership development consultancy that operates as a “BAM” –business as mission, organization. Coaching on Purpose is also a Zig Ziglar Legacy Certified training program that specializes in teaching ministry principles for the marketplace. He is also a published author, conference speaker, and corporate trainer.

Do you agree change is like a Slinky? I would love to hear your thoughts!

About The Author

Articles By paula-kiger
Paula believes her Twitter bio says it best: Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. She is a communications professional who provides writing, editing and social media services through Big Green Pen. She was the community manager for the Lead Change Group for two years. Paula has a Master’s Degree in Counseling and Human Systems from Florida State University. She is an active advocate for many causes.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  05 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Joshua – great post and some evocative imagery:)

I enjoyed both the description of the Slinky analogy and the leadership phases.

You make a very interesting point, which I must remember, about how using toys, especially ones from a person’s childhood, can increase engagement and enjoyment of learning experiences. I have often used colored markers and poster paper for much the same reasons … adults love to color:)

With regard to the leadership phases, I was struck by the juxtapositioning of numbers four and five. Too often, folks plow ahead on their planned change “with courage and tenacity”, but come up short on being able to “adjust course …”.

Flexibility and the willingness to adjust one’s plans or direction are essential, in my opinion.

Thanks for an interesting and useful post.


John E. Smith  |  05 Feb 2016  |  Reply

PS: to your ending question about change and the Slinky …

In the language of toy metaphors, I experience change as more like either Rock ‘Em, Sock ‘Em Robots or Operation:)

Rock ‘Em … involves banging away at something until you overcome it.

Operation involves the application of very precise movements to achieve the goal.

Of course, while engaged in change, I usually feel most like either a Yo-Yo or Battleship:)


Joshua Lee Henry  |  08 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Thanks for the comments, John.

You’re right, adults do love to color. Your observation about numbers 4 and 5, the ability to courageously advance while also being able to adjust course, reminds me of the proverb “blessed are the flexible for they shall bend and not break”. Though not from Scripture, that adage is no less true.

And I love your change analogies for Rock ‘Em, Sock Em Robots and Operation. It seems that the metaphors for childhood games and leading change are endless. Just think of it, In addition to those I mentioned, and your comments about Yo-Yo and Battleship, you could also add to the mix parallels with “Guess Who”, “Connect the Dots”, and “Clue”.

I appreciate your engagement,

Dave Blum  |  09 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Very cool stuff. I’ve built a whole business around another childhood game model: the treasure hunt. Anything you can do to get people to leave their office hierarchies behind and let their hair down is bound to lead to greater engagement.

Re. adjusting your course, I like the analogy of a missile…which is constantly veering off course but then “course corrects”. Our lives seem to be just like that!

Hans Finzel  |  15 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hey Joshua, I just wanted to say good job on this review of my Slinky book. It is a fun analogy and you have captured well what I was driving at.

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