Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Two Interesting Books

Recently, two very interesting books were given to me, and I have enjoyed reading them quite a bit.

The first book was called The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph (Penguin, 2014) by Ryan Holiday. It is, in part,based on the following quote by Marcus Aurelius: “Our actions may be impeded . . . but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” 

As the author explains, “Every obstacle is unique to each of us. But our responses they elect are the same: Fear. Frustration. Confusion. Helplessness. Depression. Anger.” Yet, he points out that within every obstacle, trial or problem is “an opportunity to improve out condition.”  

The book revolves around the notion that overcoming an obstacle is a discipline of three critical steps, namely, perception, action and will. 

Perception impacts “how we see and understand what occurs around us - and what we decide those events will mean.” As Holiday explains, there are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try to be objective, to control emotions and keep even keel, to choose to see the good in a situation, to steady our nerves, to ignore what disturbs or limits others, to place things in perspective, to revert to the present moment, and to focus on what can be controlled. In short, we need to learn to be objective, i.e. what happened, instead of solely being subjective, i.e. that which happened is bad.

Action, the second of the three steps, is commonplace but right action is not. As he points out, “We forget: In life, it doesn’t matter what happens to you or where you came from. It matters what you do with what happens and what you’ve been given.” Recognizing that “excellence is a matter of steps,” the author quotes the stoic Epictetus who wrote “persist and resist.” As Holiday further explains, “Persist in your efforts. Resist giving in to distraction, discouragement, or disorder.”

The third discipline is Will, which he explains as “our internal power, which can never by affected by the outside world.” As Holiday writes, “If Perception and Action were the disciples of the mind and the body, then Will is the discipline of the heart and the soul.” As he continues, “in every situation we can make the following choices:
- always prepare ourselves for more difficult times.
- always accept what we’re unable to change.
- always manage out expectations.
- always persevere.
- always learn to love our fate and what happens to us.
- always protect our inner self, retreat into ourselves.
- always submit to a greater, larger cause.
- always remind ourselves of our own mortality.”

Whatever the obstacle, Ryan Holiday encourages us to do the following: “First, see clearly. Next, act correctly. Finally, endure and accept the world as it is.”

Upon completing the book and reflecting on all that was contained in it, I believe this book can be quite helpful for leaders who are working at all different levels within an organization. In particular, I believe the book offers a sound framework for dealing with some of the current challenges that are surfacing during one to one coaching or check-in sessions. Given the number of people who are feeling overwhelmed by the pace of change and transformation plus feeling totally scattered by the volume of work that needs to get done, I believe that the book, The Obstacle Is The Way, providers the coach and the person receiving the coaching a framework to move through their challenges in a thoughtful and respectful manner. 

I also believe this book could be a good team read during the next six months. As many of you have recognized, things are not going to slow down this summer. Many have actually reported to me that today’s depth of urgency will be nothing compared to the amount of urgency that will surface between July 1 and the end of September as more and more companies realize that they must make solid progress on their strategic plans if they are going to complete them in a satisfactory manner within the allotted time frame, which currently is somewhere around 2018.  

Therefore, I recommend this book for all who are coaching people during the coming months and for those who are leading leadership teams that are struggling. I think you will find this a very helpful resource for your leadership library.

The second book was called The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change (Scribner, 2014) by Adam Braun. 

Years ago, during a From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, we got into an interesting and in-depth discussion about realistic and effective executive stress management systems. While folks around the table shared a diversity of systems and exercises that they used to cope with executive stress, I was asked what I did. Of course, I shared about gardening, cooking and walking, but I also shared that there are days when I focus less on stress management and more on finding meaning and purpose in my life. For I have discovered over time that I can not always make my life less stressful, but I can make it more meaningful. And it is the sense of purpose and meaning in my life  that helps me make it through the rough patches.

One thing I did share that morning was that I like to read books about people who inspire me. And when I picked up the book, The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, I discovered another resource in this category. 

Adam Braun was a young and successful person on the path to a successful Wall Street career. However, while traveling he met a young boy begging on the streets of India, who after being asked what he wanted most in the world, simply answered, “A pencil.” This small request changed Braun’s world view and eventually led him to leave his prestigious job to found Pencils of Promise which has built more than 250 schools across Africa, Asia and Latin American.  

If you are seeking fresh perspective about whether or not a single person can make a difference, then reading this book needs to be a part of your journey. If you are seeking lessons learned along that path, then, again, reading this book is a must. As Howard Thurman noted, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This book is one place which will inspire you to become more alive.

Happy reading!

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

Monday, April 25, 2016

How Do Leaders Consolidate Initial Improvements And Continue To Produce More Change? Part #1

Many companies right now want to create positive and sustainable, forward momentum. They want to have a regular string of short term wins that are always producing more positive changes. However, after the first or second short term win, many start to fade and loose momentum. 

John P. Kotter in his book, The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations (Harvard Business School Press, 2002) reminds us that after a short term win, effective leaders do the following:

- use increased credibility to change systems, structures, and policies that don’t fit the vision.

- hire, promote and develop employees who can implement the vision.

- reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and change agents.

But when we dig deeper into his writing, we discover some important clues about how to continue moving forward. First, reinvigorating the process means reinvigorating the leaders involved in the process. We forget that the credibility of the leaders during change is interconnected with the credibility of the process. They are interrelated and symbiotic. Each one helps the other. Yet some times after the initial short term win, leaders burn out and then push in unproductive ways to get things done. They default to “poor behavior,” e.g. command and control with the emphasis on control.

Therefore, we must separate role from self. We need to not work so hard that we physically and emotionally collapse, or sacrifice your off-the-job life. Instead, we need to focus on only doing what we can do best, and aggressively rid ourself of work that wears us down. For example, tasks that were relevant in the past may not be now. Therefore, we need to focus on what you can delegate so you can focus on what you do best. 

Second, we need to understand that with the “power of the chair” needs to come an awareness of the importance of “respecting for the chair.” Quoting the Spider Man movie with great power comes great responsibility, we need to remember the difference between executive power and legislative power. With the former comes positional power but at times we also need to use the later, i.e. build a collation of people to move a solution forward. But there is a deeper understanding to this concept that highly effective leaders and experienced leaders understand and demonstrate.

First, in the world of leadership, there is the acquisition of knowledge to do one’s job. Here, the learning focuses on the gaining of knowledge, facts, material, content and meaning. This learning can be seen as a “possession,” i.e. knowledge as property. For many leaders, being in their positions means that they have control over doing something. Therefore, their learning has a clear end point and their competency is based on being able to repeat something.

Nevertheless, there is a second level of leadership which relates to the execution of knowledge. The critical depth of this learning comes through participation. Here the focus is on the learning to become something, i.e. a member of the community of those in the position, profession and/or practice. With it comes an understanding that we as leaders are part of a larger community of leaders. In this circle, competency is relational rather than intellectual. In short, we become part of the “community” with other leaders.

This is why respecting the chair becomes so important. You and your chair are part of a community of chairs. You do not own it. You are a care taker of it. And you will pass it on to another in due time.  

This week, ask yourself the following two questions: 

- What do you want to be known for as a leader?

- What do you want the position to be known for?

These answers will help you personally move forward and produce sustainable changes.

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

Monday, April 18, 2016

How Do Leaders Successfully Scale Up For Growth?

I have been asked this question often during the last six to nine month in many senior team meetings and executive coaching sessions. My answer recently has focused on three key points from a delightful book on this subject called Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Crown Business, 2014) by Robert I Sutton and Huggy Rao.

First as the above authors explain, successful companies who scale up “spread a mindset, not just a footprint.” I like this answer because we often underestimate the importance of mindset and instead focus on footprint. In particular, this mindset needs to include two elements, namely clarity about strategic direction and clarity about operational excellence. Strategic direction clarity is built around why we need to move forward with a degree of urgency related to change and/or transform. Operational clarity is built on a deep understanding of the current and changing needs of the client/customer. The mindset has to be both strategic and operational. 
Second, the above authors remind us to “find your bell cows and take care of them.” Bell cows are members of the herd that other cows always follow. They may be positional leaders and non-positional leaders. What ever the case, we need both in order to be successful.

Third, Sutton and Rao remind us to “fix the plumbing before the poetry.” Every organization has mission critical systems that must work well for the whole company to work well. From my perspective, the top four we need to focus on right now are hiring, managing performance, rewards and recognition, and employee dismissal. If these are not working well, all the poetry in the world will not help the company.

Finally, there is some common sense we must remember when scaling up some growth. It is as follows: “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Regularly review the mission, vision and core values plus the strategic plan. Here you will find the answers to many of the organizations persistent problems.

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

Monday, April 11, 2016

Time To Examine The Bigger Picture

When I teach the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I routinely point out that people in leadership positions need to deal with the day to day problems, upgrade current operations to meet future customer needs, and figure out the right strategy given the emerging trends. In the midst of all this work, they also need to zoom out and look at the whole picture rather the current technical or adaptive problems before them.

When we step back and look at the bigger picture, we come to understand that figuring out the future is more than just investing in R&D or talking about innovation. Instead, it means we need to examine the entire business model, and ask ourselves an important question: Are we positioned correctly to win in an ever changing market place?

By answering the question, we must also recognize that the success of our day to day tactics must be infused with a cultural drive to constantly improve because this is the true definition of operational excellence.

When we do this big picture thinking, we understand one simple fact.  Under every business there are problems. As Mark Bertolini, David Duncan and Andrew Waldeck wrote in their article called “Knowing When to Reinvent” in the December 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review, there are five interrelated “fault lines.” 

First, are we meeting the right need of our customers? We need to recognize that the functional, social, or emotional needs of our different customers may be changing. 

Second, are we using the right performance metrics? Current and future metrics need to be consistent with what the customer values. 

Third, are we properly positioned within our industry? We need to remember that certain customers may be bringing your services in-house or outsourcing them to new kinds of competitors. 

Fourth, are we using the right business model to compete against emerging rivals and the changing needs of our customers? The way we make money must be aligned with how value is created for the customer. 

Fifth, do we have employees and partners who possess the required competencies and capabilities to meet the current and future needs of our customers? As we all know, fulfilling the changing needs of customers will require new skills to be brought on board

As I noted at the Fall 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, successful business during the next three to five years will need to be the following:

- nimble - “able to learn and understand things quickly and easily” 

- agile - “move quickly and easily”

- flexible - “willing to change and try new things”

Therefore, on a routine basis, leaders need to step back from the daily issues and check the fault lines under their business and ask themselves if they are prepared and ready to transform their business model. This is the only way to be ready for evolution or revolution. 

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

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Onion's Lesson

The sun was hot that afternoon in late July, when I walked with our older son, who was six years old at the time, to the garden to get some fresh vegetables for dinner. While I picked some lettuce, he pulled a large onion. After brushing off the dirt, he began to peel away the outer layers.

As we walked back to the house together, he continued peelIng the onion until there was barely anything left of it. As I had a couple of onions in my hand as well, I let him follow this exploration and waited for his response.

Having reached the center of the onion, he turned to me with a look of utter surprise and wonder. "Dad, it's all onion!" he exclaimed in surprise.

As a consultant and executive coach who spends many hours each week working with people and corporations through the world of change, I have been a part of numerous executive retreats, peeling away the layers of the organization to better understand the problems, the challenges, and the issues surrounding a specific change cycle. After countless hours of reflection, and upon analyzing many successful organizational change cycles, I am convinced that the role of effective, committed leadership is fundamental to creating a healthy organization culture. This level of leadership involves imparting energy and maintaining perspective.

By generating personal excellence and learning how to move outside one's comfort zone, we create the capacity for transformation. By creating a meaningful strategic dialogue, we generate the ability to transform understanding into action

In the end, at the core of the onion is onion. And at the core of organizational transformation is authentic leadership. As Mahatma Gandhi once said ‚ “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

So, I encourage you, also, to peel away the layers where you work and to explore, just like our son did on that hot July afternoon. I assure you: You will find the journey both productive and invigorating.

Remember: As a leader, what you provide will activate and energize the ability of the organization to transform challenges into achievements. So, take your time and choose wisely.

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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Commit To Service

We were sitting in pre-op that early morning at the hospital, a regional teaching center, waiting for the anesthesiologist to come. The room was full of patients quietly waiting and talking. Our youngest son was going to have minor surgery, and we had decided that I would be with him in the surgery room until he was asleep. So, wearing a gown and mask, I waited with my wife and our young son.

Into the pre-op room came an entourage: doctors, anesthesiologists, and their students ready to begin the morning. One by one they visited each bed in the room. But no one came over to us. At first, I was a bit worried. Finally, an older gentleman came into the room. White-haired and slightly bent, he had a noticeable tremor in his hands as he carried a tray of small plastic cups straight over to us.

"Would you like some soda before breakfast?" he asked our young son. Little did he know that in this four-year-old boy's household, soda wasn't necessarily the drink of choice. Therefore, he didn't fully understand the appeal of "pop before breakfast" and declined.

"Too bad," said the doctor, as he reached over and downed the first cup. "How about you, Dad? Want some pop for breakfast?" I looked at him, knowing that one of the cups had the preoperative sedative; but I wasn't sure which one. And playing Russian roulette with soda was not my favorite thing to do at 6:45 a.m.!

He smiled, offered one to my wife and took another for himself. There was only one cup left. He turned to our son and said, "Join us, won't you?" At that point, he picked up the last cup. We all lifted up our cups together, said "bottoms up," and downed them. "See you in a bit," he commented, as our son slowly settled down, ready now for surgery.

Soon, I was carrying our now drowsy son in my arms down the hallway to surgery. When we entered ‚ surgical trays were being set up. Doctors, residents, and nurses were all going about their tasks. Then, in walked the older anesthesiologist with a couple of students. He greeted us and picked up the mask that would go over our son's face.

I remembered that mask from when I had my tonsils out as a very young boy. When it was placed over my mouth, I remember feeling as if I was suffocating before I lost consciousness. During our pre-surgery orientation, the resident had warned us that it was not uncommon for children to fight and flail while the mask was being put on.

This older gentleman simply held the mask above our son's head and talked to him about preschool and soccer. Occasionally, he would call out a number to his assistant who was running the controls. Slowly, our son slipped over the edge.

Once he was unconscious, the anesthesiologist gently slipped the mask on, turned to me and said, "He's ready. You can go now. " Suddenly, I realized that the entire surgical suite was quiet. All of the nurses and residents had watched him interact with our son in this peaceful way. Once the mask was on, the hustle and bustle of surgery started up again, and I went back down the hall to pre-op to meet my wife and begin our waiting.

A couple of hours later, we were in the post-surgery suite, as our son came to. With monitors beeping quietly and nurses attending to him, the anesthesiologist returned to check on his patient. I thanked him for his kindness. Then, before leaving, he turned and said, "When I was a younger doctor, I would typically just put the mask on and get the ball rolling. But since I became a grandfather, every child looks like my grandson. I can't work in that manner any more. Kindness and compassion are vital to this service." Through this experience, I realized what a difference this grandfather's "commitment to service" had made in the lives of our own family.

Our commitment to those we serve is vital to our success. When transforming a challenge into an achievement, we must realize that there is a fundamental difference between helping customers or employees, and serving them. "Helping" is based on inequality. We are aware of our own strengths, opinions, and options, as well as what we think needs to be done. Often, those who are "being helped" can feel diminished in the process.

On the other hand, service and servant leadership involve a relationship between equals; the feeling is one of mutual exchange. The difference is in the commitment. Many organizations say they are committed to the customer but truly do not care for them. These organizations will repeat whatever they are currently doing, until time stops and the world ceases to turn. Unfortunately, their commitment is really to themselves.

Other corporations will attempt to listen and respond to the articulated needs, wants, and desires of the customers, but paralyze themselves with policy-and-procedure manuals that are three feet thick. The result is frustration, made even worse through limited feedback. The staff members of these corporations are attempting to leap tall buildings in a single bound with concrete shoes!

Yet, many leaders create organizational cultures where a commitment to customers and to one another carries an ethic of true service. These organizations guide and lead their customers to services and products they had not even envisioned, and they do it in a manner whereby both experience satisfaction and mutual respect.

The doctor who cared for my son was just such a person. While proficiently attending to the medical details of preparing a child for surgery, he was simultaneously aware of the psychological aspects of how to serve the child, so that the experience would not be a traumatic one for the child -- or for the parents.

The ultimate question of service is simple: Am I acting to fulfill my own needs, or am I acting to serve others? The greatest action we can take is to serve another in a respectful and healthy manner. At that moment, we live our commitments. As Calvin Coolidge noted, "No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave."

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

Live Your Core Values

We were discussing trust, change, and strategic development, when I noticed a gold ring, tastefully mounted on a beautiful piece of wood. When I asked the person about it, his response surprised me: "It belonged to my father. Last winter, he was coming off the highway onto an icy exit when the back tires of his 18 wheeler started sliding on the ice. He was killed in the accident. I grieved long and hard. It happened during his last remaining weeks at work before he retired.

"Still, in the midst of all my sadness, I feel okay, in part because a week before the accident I had gotten up early, picked up a box of donuts, and had driven over to have breakfast with him. At the time, I didn't really have time to go. I was swamped with meetings and appointments, and we had an evaluation coming up that everyone was working hard on. Still, I had a gut feeling that it was important to do, so I went.

"We talked about the weather, trucking, and my work. I encouraged him to skip the last couple of weeks before retiring and take some of the vacation time that he had been saving. I told him I loved him, that I appreciated him and was proud of him. We aren't normally very demonstrative, but I'm so glad now that I went out of my way to see him.

"And all I have now is this gold ring to remind me of our time together. This gold ring reminds me to create those kinds of connections here at work. It makes all the difference, really. This ring reminds me of the power of taking time, and to not neglect the things that really matter in the heat of the hectic pace."

Every day at work, connections are waiting to happen - opportunities to take core values and turn them into living experiences. Don’t waste these opportunities for genuine sharing and role modeling. As Bill Byrne has stated, “Choice, not chance, determines destiny."

Remember: Make time on a regular basis to live your core values and to build the community you seek. It will be the foundation for today and tomorrow.

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