Monday, February 19, 2018

Teamwork is Not Collaboration

In the trough of chaos, too many people think teamwork and collaboration are the same thing. The problem is that most leaders focus on team work. They rally a group of people together and charge the hill, i.e. try to solve a specific problem. With enough focus and group effort, they will solve just about any problem. The difficulty is that in the trough of of chaos solving a singular problem does not always take into consideration that solving a problem within one part of the company may cause problems to rise up in other areas of the company.

When I teach people about how to move through the trough of chaos, I remind them that team work is an intra-group activity and the collaboration is an inter-group activity. The best leaders focus on both. 

Clearly, everyone wants a team to be a high functioning team with good levels of trust, dialogue, focus and the ability to hold each other accountable for collective results. This takes time and effort to build. It also takes routine maintenance to sustain.

Yet for a company to be successful as it moves through interesting times and a trough of chaos, we also need exceptional collaboration. This work also takes time, and lots and lots of communication. Typically, leaders rush to the team work side of the equation rather than investing time to build bridges between teams. This is more time intensive work, but if done correctly, it can be a valuable competitive advantage. 

Over the course of my career, I have witnessed some amazing levels of collaboration between teams. I have seen leaders build these bridges and develop inter-team relationships. The secret that I have been able to discern in this process is the development of two things, namely a common language and a shared sense of mission. While this sounds so simplistic and basic, it is rarely done well. The best leaders and companies that I have worked with invest years in building that common language. They understand that effective communication is the first step to collaboration. They also understand that having everyone understand the mission of the company keeps us all focused in the right direction.

This week, keep building common language and spend lots and lots of time unpacking and discussing the meaning of the company’s mission statement. Then good team work and good collaboration will start to take place.

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Daily Struggle

Right now, leaders at all levels are struggling. Change, that once used to be a linear process, is now dynamic and continuous at both the operational and strategic levels. Information, that used to be presented in an organized manner with concise summaries, is now overwhelming all involved so that no one is sure what is what anymore. Finally, culture, that once used to be defined by the company alone, is now being influenced by internal and external stakeholders who all want it to be favorable to themselves alone. And leaders stand in the midst of this swirling dervish of events, people, and information feeling frustrated and confused, hoping there is a path forward.

The answers may not be quick or easy. The work of leaders at this time period is difficult and complex but there are solutions, which with dedication, focus and clarity can generate new beginnings and solid steps forward. The best leaders understand that they need to slow down and step back from the pell mell rush to the future and understand that the current state of their organization is a reflection of past strategic choices. Leaders recognize that an organization’s history, it’s current culture and whether or not the work is meaningful for those who are most present to the moment of truth, i.e. the time and place where the goods or services become real and are utilized by the customer or clients, can impact now and the future.

As a result, we as leaders need time and space to reflect, think deeply and to reorganize our thoughts before moving forward. These spaces can, at times, seem few and far between in the midst of our daily schedule, filled with back to back meetings.

And yet, there is a place where exceptional leaders gather. It is the Spring 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. Here, all involved catch their breath, pause and take stock. They reconnect with the bigger picture and they reconnect with their organization’s strategic nexus. The Spring Roundtable is a time for renewal, and a time for new insights, fresh ideas and perspectives. It is a place where we realize that we are all in this together and we all have pieces of the puzzle and insights to share.

This year, the Spring ’18 Roundtable will take place on April 4-5, 2018 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ankeny, Iowa, which is just north of Des Moines, Iowa.  The agenda for this event is as follows:

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

- 8:30 am - Arrival & Visiting Time

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - What is the connection between organizational history, culture and meaningful work within successful organizations?

- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders improve thinking and relating throughout an entire organization?

- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch & Networking 

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm How do leaders help themselves and others to learn better?

- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break

- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - What is the importance of caring within successful organizations?

- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday: April 5, 2018

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders be both bold and brave during difficult times?

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application

- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

The price is $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day. Here is the link to the registration form:

I hope you will give yourself permission this spring to pause, step back and recharge with a room full of dedicated and thoughtful people, all seeking insights and new perspectives. It will be an exciting time, where we can struggle a little less and gain renewed perspectives of how to move forward in an effective manner.

See you at the Spring ’18 Roundtable!

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Goal Setting and Decision-making are Interconnected

When working through the trough of chaos in the midst of interesting times, everyone is setting goals and trying to get them accomplished. Some days there are spectacular results and other days we are mediocre at best. So what is a leader to do?

First, set SMART goals, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. This sounds easy, but it is not easy. Most of the time when I get called in as a consultant to figure out why things are not working right within a group or a company, the problem is with the goals. They are not written clearly or are so broad that doing anything will result in “success.” In situations like this, the goals are accomplished but nothing actually got done or changed.

One small secret to successful goal setting is to create planned short term wins. Remembering the research of John Kotter in his book, Leading Change, short term wins build confidence and clarity for longer term outcomes. They also help you as the leader deal with the common problem of complacency where everyone is comfortable with a dysfunctional level of status quo rather than doing the true work of in-depth change management and execution.

The other problem with goal setting is that it is directly connected to decision-making. Most leaders think that decision-making is the singular act of making a decision. The best leaders understand that it is a four part process of preparing to make a decision, making a decision, executing a decision, and then evaluating the decision to see if it worked out effectively. This four step decision-making framework could also be translated into a four step model for setting goals, i.e. preparing to set goals, setting goals, executing the goals that are set, and finally evaluating the goals that have been set.
For us here today, the intersection between goal setting and decision-making revolves around the idea that the goal of setting a goal and making the right decisions is not just to get something done. The goal of these two steps is to build shared commitment and shared advocacy for future goals and future decisions. Anyone can get something done. The best leaders want you to get it done and in the end feel like you have accomplished something worth doing. This level of ownership and confidence of the process and the outcome helps you, the leader and the company take on the inevitable next round of problems.

This week, review the goals that you are working on this quarter. Are they SMART goals? If not, rewrite them so they are more focused and actionable. Next, ask your direct reports how they are using goals as they make important decisions. This line of inquiry will be helpful for you and for them. Remember goal setting and decision-making are interconnected.

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

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Problem with Problems

During interesting times and when working through a trough of chaos, leaders spend a vast amount of time and energy dealing with problems. Big problems and little problems, tactical problems and strategic problems, technical problems and adaptive problems, complex problems and complicated problems.  Every day more problems show up. They just keep coming and coming.

While many leaders focus on solving problems and fixing problems, great leaders in the trough of chaos do something else which changes the whole situation. They figure out how to sell the problem.

The problem with problems is that leaders can end up being the hub of all solutions. Everyone has a problem. And everyone brings the problem to the leader. The leader solves the problem. The people learn that this works. Bring a problem to the leader and the leader will solve it. 

So, what does everyone do? They bring all the problems to the leader and wait for him or her to solve them.  What at first glance is a solution now becomes a problem. No one solves their own problems. They just bring them to the leader and wait.

Here is where selling the problem is the solution. Rather than the leader becoming the hub for all problem solving, the leader needs to be a bridge builder, connecting competent groups of people who can figure out how to solve the problems themselves.

Selling the problems means that one knows how to place the problem within the larger context of what is happening within the company and within the environment that surrounds the company. It means that a person in a leadership position understands and can explain the strategic direction of the company as well as the core values of the company. Connecting the strategic direction of the company to the problem provides a reason why we need to address the issues that are causing the problem. Explaining how the core values come into play provides a set of guidelines about how to solve the problem. It is the combination, strategy and core values, that will make a difference.

Everyone is busy when they are in the trough of chaos. Most are just trying to cope with all of the work that needs to get done. When an exceptional leader sells the problems rather than simply fixing it themselves, they build capacity, clarity and confidence in the organization which is very helpful as people move through the trough of chaos and on to a new level of personal and organizational performance.

This week, sit down and define three of your top problems. Then, figure out how they influence or are connected to the current strategic plan. Next, write out how you would sell these problems so that people will come together to fix them rather than simply hand them off to you. In the short run, this will take more time than solving it yourself. But in the long run, you will be making a profound difference for yourself and the company.

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

Monday, January 29, 2018

Lost in the Land of Complexity

Life is not fair. People struggle. People get confused. People get hurt. Even when we do our best, it does not always work out.

Being in a trough of chaos and living in interesting times is a stretch. Some things become very complicated during moments like this. Yet, with enough planning and focus, the outcome is highly predictable. 

On the other hand, some things can become complex with too many unknown variables. There is no predictability and planning for everything still does not accomplish the desired outcome. In short, we struggle and feel defeated. 

But I have witnessed good leaders working with good employees handle the land of complexity and not get lost. Some how in the midst of all of the chaos, unknowns and struggles, they make it through not feeling defeated even if everything did not work out exactly like they wanted it to work.

So, what do these people do? Well, it is not actually a doing thing as much as a having thing. The best have a unique person with whom they can explore their thoughts, their ideas, their feelings and their perspectives. Some times these people are called executive coaches. Other times they call them mentors, older friends, or. I call them “my kitchen table cabinet.” In the end, I don’t really care what they are called. What I care about is what these people offer.

And what these special people offer the best leaders is structured unstructured time, a confidential safety zone for in-depth listening, sharing and reflection. They do not arrive with an agenda but instead come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to explore. The upshot is great clarity and understanding.

This week, find the right person for you. Find someone who you respect and who role models very good listening. Then, invest time to share deeply with them. While life can be a struggle, it is always good to create a place in your life where you can get and maintain perspective. It’s what the best leaders have and value on a regular basis.

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Deer In The Headlights

I live in rural America. Seeing deer is common. Some people think they are cute and others think they are nothing but a problem. What ever your point of view, the last place you want to see deer is in your headlights when you are driving home after a long day at work. The result is that you freak out. They freak out. And it is highly likely that some one or some thing is going to have a very bad day.

During interesting times and in the trough of chaos, people can at times act like deer in the proverbial headlights. They are overwhelmed by all that is happening around them. They are not sure where to go next. They finally bolt and often run into everything that they are trying to avoid, causing problems upon problems for all involved.

But what can leaders do about this?

First, leaders need to recognize that most employees just want to come to work and do their job. And at the end of the day, they want to feel like they have made progress and gotten recognition for a job well done. Most employees are focused on getting stuff done.

Leaders on the other hand are often focused on big questions and the future. They assume the day to day is getting done and hopefully done well. They, on the other hand, are trying to figure out if the business model is sustainable, are the resources arriving at the right times and are we really meeting the needs and expectations of the customers. In essence, they are big picture focused.

Then, after hours of this level of thought and reflection, these strategic leaders meet tactical employees and share. They talk about strategy, trends, the future markets, growth of the company and often the numbers. This broader context is perfectly clear to these leaders.

But for the day to day employees, this is all new territory. They are not aware of the big picture. They zoom in to solve daily problems rather than zoom out to look at the strategic intent of the company. So, when they finally move from being unaware of the bigger picture to being aware of the bigger picture, they naturally become overwhelmed. They start asking powerful questions like “Do I still have a job?” or “Is the company going under and I need to get out now?” This lack of big picture focus is not their fault. It is just not their focus on a daily basis.

The upshot of all of this leader and employee interactions during interesting times and a trough of chaos is deer-in-the-headlights behaviors. It’s normal. It’s what all of us do when we are overwhelmed and can not process what is happening around us. In simple terms, we fight, run away or just stand there in shock. And then someone is going to have a very bad day.

However, I have observed fantastic leaders who avoid this normal stage of the trough of chaos. First, they do not do a big picture data dump on employees. Instead these leaders focus on creating focus and clarity. Second, through routine strategic level dialogues, they explain what is and is not going to change so people understand that there is a line of continuity through all that is happening. And finally, they help all involve understand what are the priorities each quarter. Again, they create focus and clarity over panic and fear. The result is fewer deer-in-the-headlights moments, and more people who come together to solve tactical and strategic level problems.

This week, remember that the deer-in-the-headlights response is normal. We all are doing the best we can with the information we have. And remember to create clarity. When we focus on purpose over fear, people will make the right things happen every time.

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

Answering The Big Questions

I spend a lot of time in conference rooms sitting around tables visiting with people in leadership positions. Some of the rooms are over the top amazing with all of the latest gadgets and hardware plus an amazing view of the sky line from the top floor of the corporate tower. Others are quite simple - a table and some chairs.

During these many hours of listening, exploring and sharing, there always comes a point when someone is going to ask one of the big questions.

- Where are we going with all of this?

- How are we going to get there?

- What’s it going to look like when we get there?

- How will we measure progress?

- Why is this so important that we have to stop doing what we are currently doing and start doing this?

Some leaders stiffen when asked these question. They want their staff or team to just blindly follow them where ever they are going. Others are highly defensive and go into attack mode to deal with those who asked the question. And unfortunately, some go into high academic mode and give an answer that is so confusing and so convoluted that in the end no one understands anything. They are just blinded by the blizzard of words and give up. In short, the leader is frustrated and the follower is miserable. Another lousy day in the office has taken place.

During interesting times and during an extended trough of chaos, asking questions is normal. People are confused. People are seeking clarity. People want to understand so they can make the right choices and be successful.

We forget some days as leaders that all employees want to do well in their job. They want to make a difference and know that their time and energy is not being wasted. They want to work within the context of a supportive work community and on a healthy team. Our role as leaders is to create that healthy work environment within the company so that no matter what is happening outside the company people feel like they are respected and valued within the company. When this happens, people rise to the challenges before them. They think creatively both at the tactical and strategic levels.

This week, recognize that the big questions are just questions. They are not an attack on you, but instead an inquiry and a pathway to clarity. So, sit down this week with a pad of paper or a blank computer screen and come up with some thoughtful answers before you are asked. Bounce these answers off people you respect to make sure they are clear and to the point. And then treat the person asking the questions with dignity. We may live in interesting times and be working through lots of chaos, but we do not need to be rude or disrespectful in our answers. Instead, we need to embrace the old Boy Scout and “Be Prepared.” It will make a world of difference in the conference room and through out the company.

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