Sunday, January 15, 2017

What You Envision, Guides

It was a simple and yet comfortable office as we sat down together that afternoon in the early 90’s.

“Geery,” he commented. “I know rural healthcare in the midwest is not fancy, but we need a vision. We are dying for a vision.”

We sat quietly for a couple of moments and then he said to me, “We need to become the Embassy Suites of healthcare in our community. We need to deliver individualized service, personalized care, and exceptional medicine.”

I smiled because the birth of a vision is always special. The next afternoon he shared this vision with the executive team and many people agreed. They shared their thoughts about the best hotels they visited and how the quality of the service was critical. They talked about what the words “individualized”, “personalized” and “exceptional” meant to them. With time, coaching and guidance, people became engaged, and the vision grew and evolved.

The second of The Core Four Actions states “What you envision, guides.” When we review the dictionary definition for the word, “envision”, we find the following meanings: “to picture”, “to form in the mind”, “to exercise the powers of judgment, conception, or inference”, and “to have in the mind or call to mind a thought.” When reading these definitions, I am reminded of a quote by Marcus Buckingham about leadership. As he wrote in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005: “You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity.  To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you.”

I also am reminded of something that William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions, Da Capo Press, 2003, pointed out. During transitions, he noted, people need the following:
- The Purpose: the answer to the question “why?”
- The Picture: the look and feel when we reach the goal
- The Plan: the step-by step goals of how we are going to get to the above picture
- The Part: clarity about our role in the process

When confronted with the challenges and complexity of strategic change, we as leaders need to generate a picture which will guide us. A good vision, according to Dan Cohen in his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide: Tools and Tactics for Leading Change in Your Organization, Harvard Business School Press, 2005, offers a compelling, motivating picture of the future and serves several important purposes. First, it clarifies the general direction of change by providing a kind of motion picture - a living, dynamic illustration - of the behaviors required for success at all levels. Second, it helps identify the behaviors that must be encouraged as well as those that must be eliminated. Third, a good vision helps pinpoint key performance measures, and motivates people.

Neeli Bendapudi, professor, and Venkat Bendpadudi, senior lecturer at The Ohio State University’s Fischer College of Business in their article “How to Use Language that Employees Get”, in the September 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, write: “In our research on executives who have instilled a great sense of purpose in others, introduced powerful brands, or managed successfully in turbulent times, we’ve found that they often use terms and metaphors that resonate with their employees.” This is the essence of a great vision and the second of the The Core Four Action.  When you build a great vision, it resonates with all involved. They not only hear it. They also feel it. When planning for change, it is important to build a vision that people can utilize.

The difficulty is that many leaders approach the process like a chess master rather than a gardener. As General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell write in their book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World, Portfolio/Penguin, 2015: “The temptation to lead as a chess master, controlling each move of the organization, must give way to an approach as a gardener, enabling rather than directing. A gardening approach to leadership is anything but passive. The leader acts as an “Eyes-On, Hands-Off” enabler who creates and maintains an ecosystem in which the organization operates.”

As we grow the right kind of working environment within a company, we also create the opportunity for a vision to not only be heard, but also, over time and with consistent good role modeling by leaders, owned and understood by those who have to execute it. The key is create a vision that moves from being “a vision” to being “our vision.”  

This sounds simple but it is not easy. The first step is create a high degree of trust within the organization. The second, and also important, step is to create a vision worth following.

This week, step back from the day to day rush and envision a better future. Then, begin the journey of sharing it with others. With their insights and clarity, you have the potential to create something that all of us will own and execute during the coming years. 

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Future Is Now

Many people do not recognize that the strategic level decisions we make in the first and second quarter of 2017 will impact their company for the next 3 - 5 years. While some operational leaders think getting something done is the key to success, strategic leaders think more about plotting the course to the future, recognizing that today’s decisions have the strong possibility of becoming tomorrow’s standard operating procedures. Therefore, these strategic leaders focus more on the preparation for making a decision than on simply making the decision.

Decision-making is off seen as the act of making up one’s mind, but in reality, the best leaders know that decision-making is a four part process. First, the best leaders prepare to make a decision. They do this by determining the salient factors to take into consideration, doing an analysis of causality, and figuring out the correct decision architecture to deploy. Once this information is in place, they will make a decision. However, the best leaders are quick to point out that making a decision is not the same as executing a decision. Finally, the best leaders routinely evaluate strategic level decisions to make sure the desired outcome or solution is still the correct one.

Our challenge in 2017 is to train more leaders to make better strategic and operational decisions. One way to do this is to sign them up for the 2017 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Through a challenging, interactive curriculum which blends lectures, selected readings, small and large group discussions, and how to skill-building exercises, participants in this four part leadership training gain critical knowledge and skills which improve their ability to lead people to generate short and long term success.

For more information on this in-depth training and how to register for the 2017 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

When one steps back from the busy day to day operations, it is abundantly clear that the future is now. Our goal then is to create a high degree of clarity about who we are, where we are going, and how we are going to get there. With this level of clarity, we can not only plan for the future but also create it. I look forward to your participation in the 2017 From Vision to Action Leadership Training where being prepared is the foundation for short and long term success.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, January 9, 2017

What You Feed, Grows

It was a hot summer day as the senior team and I gathered for another meeting in the strategic planning process. As we walked into the corporate board room, the CEO took me aside and said, “I’d liked to make some opening remarks. You don’t mind do you?”

My response was “No. This is your team and your planning process. Feel free to set the tone for the meeting.”

Once we all were seated, the CEO started the meeting with a passionate call to arms. As he explained, “We are getting sucked into operations, systems and problems at the micro level. We are so focused on fixing everything that we have forgotten the customer. We are not concerned about their service experience as much as we are concerned about our own welfare. We need to stop focusing so much on fixing everything and instead ask ourselves the most important question of all, namely ‘What kind of organization do we want to become in 2-3 years?’  If we do not answer this question, then we will have everything fixed but, alas, have no customers. It is time to stop letting the tactics trump the strategic.”

I smiled as his words came pouring out. I agreed 100% with his analysis. In this organization, operational leadership was trumping strategic leadership. Furthermore, an operational focus at the senior team level was trumping strategic thinking and action by the top people. They were, in essence suffering from strategic blindness.

This has become a common problem in many organizations recently. Complexity is creating strategic blindness, i.e. the leaders within the organization do not see their strategy as a whole organization. They see bits and pieces of the strategy as it relates to them, but they do not comprehend it as whole. 

Furthermore, another problem continues to take place. Some leaders think that having a strategy is the same as executing a strategic plan. When people in leadership positions look at the parts and do not see “the whole”, the result is fragmentation and a general disorientation amongst all employees. When leaders think having a strategy is executing a strategy, there is a complete break down within the organization’s ability to synchronize it’s action and deliver a unified course of action.

When I encounter these kinds of problems, I always ask The Core Four Questions, namely “Who will lead?”, “Where is the vision and who has it?”, “What pace do you want to go?”, and “What should not be lost during the journey?”. The answers to these questions will point out whether or not the organization is caught in a pattern of institutional decline as described in Jim Collins’ book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009. They also will determine the path to recovery.

Once I have explored The Core Four Questions, I often have to instruct or coach those involved to utilize The Core Four Actions.  They are as follows:

- What you feed, grows.
- What you envision, guides.
- What you steward, endures.
- What you provide, activates and energizes.

The first of The Core Four Actions is “What you feed, grows.”  Based on my early adventures when I first moved to Iowa many decades ago, this phrase is a popular one amongst those I have worked with over the years. The challenge is that many people focus on the word “grow” but do not comprehend the key word “feed”.  When we turn to the dictionary for clarity, we learn that the word “feed” is defined by the following definitions: to give food to, to give as food, to furnish something essential to the development, sustenance, maintenance, or operation of, and to become nourished. 

When we take these definitions and think of them as leaders, we learn some important information. The first definition states “to give food to.” Here, executives need to build capacity, collaboration and commitment. They can do this by re-recruiting their best people and recruiting new people who are already in alignment with the new strategy and have a track record of implementing successful organizational change. 

In a time period where worry abounds, anxiety rises, and instability reigns, people are more divided than united. Employees everywhere are looking for clarity, order and direction. Clear and consistent information about what is happening and where we are going is vital. The key for leaders who are planning for change is to communicate more to their people rather than less.

Second, when we follow the “What you feed, grows” line of action, then we need to give as food things that build awareness and understanding. At this time period, we need to over-communicate a tremendous amount of historical perspective so people understand what is happening now, but also why it is happening. The present is a complete reflection of strategic choices made five to seven years ago. In essence, we are who we are by the choices we make and the path we have chosen to get to those choices.

At the same time, the best leaders understand that exceptional companies do not loose touch with the customer and their shareholders. When we provide constant support and a well defined and executable strategy, we have the potential to shape cultural values and standards, align culture and strategy, and define what is and what is not important within the organization. We also define what needs to be monitored and understood outside the organization. In short, when confronted with complexity, we need to not loose focus on the whole.

This week, sit down by yourself and ask the most important question: “What am I feeding in my organization? Fear or clarity? Focus or control? Second, sit down with your team and help them regain perspective and see the whole picture.  Review with them what has happened in the past that has lead you and the organization to this point. Then, help them see how your current strategy is positioning the company for the future. If we seek to overcome strategic blindness, then we must feed strategic clarity. Growth is then the outcome.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Spring 2017 Roundtable - Early Bird Special!

With the arrival of the New Year, now is the time for us to turn our attention to the Spring 2017 Roundtable! 

On April 5 - 6, 2017, we will gather at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ankeny, Iowa for the Spring 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. Here is the agenda for your review:

Wednesday: April 5, 2017
- 8:30 am - Arrival & Visiting Time
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders position an organization successfully for the future?
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders move from being a functional leader to an enterprise level leader?
- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch & Networking 
- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do leaders help people keep moving along the collaboration continuum?
- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do leaders get coaching and employee development to become routine and systematic?
- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday: April 6, 2017
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders prevent burnout?
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Starting today through Friday, January 27, I am offering an “early bird” registration price for the Spring 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

If you sign up during this time period, and submit payment before 1/27/17, the price will be $ 275.00 for the two days and $ 175.00 for a single day. Here is the link to the registration form:

 Please write “early bird special” on it when you send it to me by mail or fax (# 319 - 643 - 2185).

After 1/27/17, the registration price will be $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day.

I hope you will reserve April 5 - 6 on your calendar, and e-mail me today about whether or not you and your team are coming. Then, when the first daffodils are just starting to bloom, all we will need to do is meet at the Spring 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

Thinking ahead and looking forward to seeing you in April!

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, January 2, 2017

What Great Leaders Know And Do

For over thirty years, I have spent countless hours meeting with large and small groups of people. Some days I have keynoted conferences with over one thousand people in attendance. Other days I have visited with ten people around a conference. Often, I have been profoundly moved during a one to one executive coaching session. And in each of these large and small gatherings or during private one to one sessions, I have listened and learned a great deal.

While there are three primary ways of learning, namely doers, analyzers and watchers, I am often hired to be a watcher, someone who comes in, steps back and sees the bigger picture of what is going on. From my vantage point, I often can notice the invisible obvious and share my observations and perspectives with the CEO or other senior executives.

In this space, I am an ally and a confidant, i.e. someone who listens to understand rather than to respond. I come to each group prepared to share, but more importantly I also am prepared to learn and to relearn about what is most important. Over time, I can often see a pattern of what is getting in the way and what misalignments need to be corrected.

But along this life long journey of watching, I have been given a profound gift, namely the opportunity to witness great leaders at work. Sometimes, it has been with large groups and other days it is small groups. What ever the context, the good ones are able to do four things extremely well, namely grow their organization, help others envision a better future, steward key people and resources, and finally activate and energize key people and systems so that the organization will endure once they leave.

This winter into spring I want to share with you what I have learned from my journey of working with great leaders. Some of the lessons may seem pretty simple but I guarantee you they are not easy. Other lessons may be both complicated and complex. Still, as a whole, they are worth pursuing because in the end, everyone wants to work for a great leader and, if given the chance, to be a great leader.

This week, I want you to begin thinking about what are the characteristics of great leaders who you would be willing to follow. Write them down and we can compare lists over the course of the coming weeks.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, December 26, 2016

Preparing For The New Year

As we come to the end of 2016 and begin to actively focus on 2017, I want to share with you these comments by Elaine Brown who gave the Alumni Lecture on May 13, 1988 at Westminster Choir College. As she shared:

“What we fear in the world is not the evil in it, nor even the evil in ourselves; far more fearful is the good in ourselves, that good being so demanding that we are scared to dare our full capacity. 

We are afraid of our potential vulnerability. 

We very often forget that if our being is right, our doing will take care of itself. 

It is always easier to pull in our horns; to play it safe. In other words, not to climb out on a limb. It is always easier to stay where we are, to bury ourselves in our ongoing lives. 

We know better, but we forget to remember that life needs to expand over and over.” 

I hope that during the coming new year that each of us will be willing to embrace the good in ourselves and to share it with others. At this time period, we need people who are willing to climb out on the limb and risk doing good in a world that favors doing nothing or maintaining the status quo.

Life needs to expand and we need to be the leaders who support this expansion and embrace the opportunities that come with it. We need to be leaders, who by embracing the good, can then role model and assist others to experience and embrace the joy of living each day in a meaningful way within the context of a supportive and loving community.

I look forward to working with each of you in the new year, and am profoundly grateful for the opportunities to be of service and support this past year.

Thank-you, and see you next year!

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Time To Remember & To Celebrate

With the arrival of the Winter Solstice on Wednesday, and Christmas this coming weekend, I step away from work and think about my late father-in-law, a man who was born on the farm where he lived for 94 years before his passing away earlier this year. Often, when we would visit around the holidays, he would share with me that on the morning of the Spring or Winter Solstice, he liked to go outside and watch the sunrise and later the sun set. He knew exactly where to look for each event given his deep connection to living on the same piece of land his entire life. Trees would grow and some would fall. Barns would be built and others would be taken down. Horses transitioned to tractors. The party line phone in the house transitioned to cell phones. But through it all, each winter and spring the sun would rise and the sun would set in the exact same pot.

He and I often talked about finding continuity in the midst of all the changes that happens in one’s life. And I realized recently, that for him and for my mother-in-law, the most powerful line of continuity was the creation of a loving family environment where everyone was welcomed and everyone was accepted just as they were. No judgements, no criticism - just unconditional love.

My hope for you and your family is that you can find or build that this week and for years to come. The sun will rise and the sun will set each day, but the love of family and community has the potential to transform the world.

During this holiday season, I hope you can discover in your heart the peace and love that transcends all things and embraces all things.

Many blessings to you and yours this week.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257