Whale Done! | Book Review

“One thing we learned quickly was that it doesn’t make much sense to punish a killer whale and then ask a trainer to get in the water with him.” (p. 6)


Ken Blanchard, Thad Lacinak, Chuck Tompkins & Jim Ballard’s short, six chapter, SeaWorld parable centers on redirection, or more simply, focusing on positive behavior. Blanchard retells (p. xiii) how a pact (Chuck would teach Ken about whale training while Ken would teach Chuck about people training) led to the realization both trainers were doing the same things.

The heart of Whale Done reminds one of Goldsmith’s recommended technique in Triggers, as the SeaWorld trainers redirected energy toward a positive outcome (or trigger), rather than focus on what went wrong.

E2L | Energy

When Wes Kingsley (think of Guy Cedric in The Leader’s Compass) asks Dave Yardley, in charge of SeaWorld animal training (p. 4) “How do you trick these animals into performing for you? Do you starve them?” Dave replies with an “Energize2Lead-type,” or E2L answer:

“Shamu wasn’t about to do anything for me or any other trainer until he trusted us.” (pp. 7-8) “That trust and friendship is the basis of everything you just saw in the show.” (p. 9)

Rather than focusing on correcting wrong behavior, SeaWorld trainers ignore mistakes and redirect behavior, placing high priority on recognizing and rewarding tasks correctly performed. This is a great mindset for coaching.

Wes reflects (p. 13) “I think most people don’t accord their fellow humans, let alone their pets and animals, the kind of respect and understanding you’re describing.” Dave then relates positive reinforcement to energy management (p. 14) “If you don’t want to encourage poor behavior, don’t spend a lot of time [energy] on it.”


Via an introduction to Anne Marie Butler, Wes learns ABC’s of Performance (p. 25), or how to utilize Dave’s techniques with people:

A = Activator               Whatever Gets Performance Going
B = Behavior                The Performance That Occurs
C = Consequence         Your Response to the Performance

Key to the ABCs are the 4 Kinds of Consequences (p. 30):

1.   No Response
2.   Negative Response
3.   Redirection
4.   Positive Response

Of the four, redirection is by far the most effective way to address undesired behavior (p. 31). Page thirty-four describes the redirection response, much like our approach to coaching, and the following comparison (pp. 38-39):

GOTcha Response                 Catching people doing things wrong.
WHALE DONE Response       Catching people doing things right.

Anne Marie suggests “If you grew up being GOTcha’d a lot, maybe you’ve tended to perpetuate it with others” (p. 42). Think about that. The authors remind us good management [leadership] is influencing people to do the right thing when you’re not around. (p. 56) Or put another way, “[we] want people to start catching themselves doing things right, and act accordingly.” (p. 56)

A tip combining E2L, motivation, and coaching (p. 59) from Anne Marie:

“Say to them, ‘I know you have been doing a good job on that inventory problem.’ What’s the best way I could recognize your efforts, in the short run and the long run?” Answers to questions like this are ideal for a motivation form.

Similar to hidden E2L Instinctive colors, we are reminded never to assume we know what motivates a person (p. 61). Just like our commitment to feedback in our Personal Leadership Philosophy, the authors suggest making changes, or courageous admissions (pp. 72-73), and asking for constructive criticism.

Further Application

On pages 96-102, Wes relates a WHALE DONE relationship makeover at home, reminding us leadership applies to our personal lives at least as much as at work. Near the end of Chapter Six (pp. 114-115), performance review curves are challenged:

“If you don’t hire people on a performance review curve, why grade them on one?” -- similar to our coaching workshop focus on regular feedback rather than annual reviews.

Wes comes full circle (p. 119) back at work starting team meetings “by catching each other doing things right. Who’d like to go first?” -- a great habit which I shall propose adding to our Family Contract.

This is a terrific book for coaching and a reminder how effective positive reinforcement truly is.

JE | November 2015