Sunday, June 28, 2015

Surviving a Trough of Chaos in the midst of a Sideways Cyclone - part #1

During the Spring 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable before a wonderful group of leaders from four different states, I noted that more and more companies and organizations are feeling like they are caught in a trough of chaos in the midst of a sideways cyclone. 

The trough of chaos is a normal stage of organizational development where a group of people move outside their comfort zone to achieve a greater level of performance.

The sideways cyclone, a term coined by students of mine in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, happens when multiple changes cycles are being initiated at the same time, overwhelming daily operations.

The late William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, (Da Capo Press, 2003), reminds us that during such times people need four things, namely a clear sense of purpose for the changes that are taking place, a picture of what we are striving towards, a plan of how to get there, and someone to articulate what is my part and how it fits into the picture and the plan.

For us here today, let’s focus on the picture first. When you are feeling like you are caught in a trough of chaos in the midst of a sideways cyclone, what does operational excellence and strategic clarity look like? A big part of working through this combined challenge is to create a strategic mindset. This means that all involved understand the context for change, the overall strategy leading the organization, and the definition of operational excellence.

Right now, not enough leaders are painting this picture and creating this depth of clarity. In particular, we are under-communicating context, and under-communicating the strategy. But, from my vantage point, we are significantly under-communicating right now what is operational excellence.

It is time people recognize that the understanding of what is operational excellence is directly connected to the cash generating part of the business. People need to understand that operational excellence happens when problem-solving, teamwork and leadership result in on-going improvements in day to day activities. Until there is a recognition of the need for continuous improvement at the day to day level, we will constantly be caught in a trough of chaos in the midst of a sideways cyclone.

This week talk with all of your team leaders about what is the picture and the mindset of operational excellence. It is time we move forward together, and get past feeling overwhelmed.

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

Monday, June 8, 2015

Leading with Executive Presence - part #2

One of the hardest lessons to learn about when leading with executive presence is that every day there are things that will make you as a leader upset, irritated or feeling off balance. Big or small, these triggers are not always controllable or within your circle of influence. They just are. And you as a leader have to deal with them whether you like it or not. 

First, in situations of this nature, recognize that you are more visible with every level you move up in the organization. All of your actions are constantly sending a message. Therefore, be more present when you are with people and quit multi-tasking. Instead, spend more time shaping the values and standards.

Second, there is a difference between creating connections and relationships vs. connectivity. The later is about e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, etc. It helps, but it is not a relationship. The former takes time, energy and commitment.

Third, as a leader, you need to be doing more of the thinking, not always more of the doing. And when you are thinking, always bring the problem you are struggling with back to the mission and operating principles of your organization. Next, support those who role model the mission. And as a leader, always stay focused on the mission.

Fourth, when leading with executive presence, you will need to learn to deal with disjointed incrementalism, i.e. knowing where you want to go, but not always how to get there. In situations of this nature, convey strategic intent and make the objectives clear, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them

This week, remember that we all have difficult days in the world of leadership. You can choose how you deal with them, but always remember to stay focused on the mission.

FYI: I am taking off the next two Mondays for some personal thinking and reflection time. I have to practice what I write about here in this blog. I will be back with more Monday Thoughts on 6/29/15. 

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

Monday, June 1, 2015

Leading with Executive Presence - part #1

When I teach the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, we routinely discuss what it takes to be an excellent leader. During these conversations, I point out that the best leaders lead with executive presence. In the beginning, this means being more self-aware of your appearance, words, and body language because each is sending a message about what you believe and what you think is most important.

However, upon reflection, executive presence is greater than just self-awareness. It means being confident and calm in spite of external circumstances. It also means having inner clarity, which will create confidence in others to follow, rather than external ego.

Leading with presence starts by showing up and being clear on the inside. Then, giving our complete attention to those who are present, and being present when you do it. We need to recognize that people read your reactions and your actions very carefully, not just your words. 

First, to get better at leading with executive presence, we must schedule regular time to pause and reflect. Leaders from my experience are becoming more and more “junkies” to external stimulation. The faster we go, the more we need to slow down and reflect. Many problems can not be solved by pushing harder and thinking harder. Believe it or not, when I am stumped, I often will mow the grass, pull weeds, sweep the sidewalk, or shovel snow. Nine times our of ten, then the answer comes. I quiet the mind and the solution surfaces. This is the third law of thermodynamics, i.e. as activity decreases, order increases.

Second, to get better at leading with executive presence, we need to commit to a personal mastery approach to leadership and leading. This means we must be willing to be a constant beginner. We need to recognize that the best leaders are constantly learning. It is a positive addiction for them.

This week, pause and reflect more on your choices. There is always more to learn.

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

Monday, May 25, 2015

Holding People Accountable - part #2

In order to hold people accountable in an effective manner, leaders need to create an environment where people feel safe to be coached, to receive feedback, and to give it. This is a huge step in the process and will take some heavy-lifting by all involved, because it will first and foremost require us as leaders to proactively ask for feedback and to be willing to receive it. We need to be the change we wish to see.

Second, we need to role model the importance of receiving regular coaching ourselves. We need to be coached as well as to coach. If we are strong enough to receive feedback and be held accountable through coaching and supervision, then we can start to build a safe environment for accountability.

However, the subject of holding people accountable in a successful manner begins long before the actual accountability moment takes place. As leadership happens between the words, it is the same with accountability. Accountability starts before the moment of accountability takes place.

In short, I agree with Roger Wagner and James K. Harter,  PhD in their book, 12: The Elements of Great Managing, Gallup Press, 2006, when they wrote, “Before a person can deliver what he should as a manager, he must first receive what he needs as an employee.... One of the most fundamental needs of a great manager is . . . a great manager.”

This week, be a great manager!

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

Monday, May 18, 2015

Holding People Accountable - part #1

Accountability is the new buzz word. Just like excellence in the late 80’s and empowerment in the 90’s, everyone is talking about it and few comprehend how to actually do it.

First, we need to recognize that most people’s definition of accountability is typically a reaction to something happening or not happening rather than a proactive choice. The former happens when something or someone upsets status quo. The later happens when we as leaders are willing to take responsibility for our actions, to do what we said we were going to do, and to ask for support before we need it. In short, accountability from a leadership perspective is the willingness of a person to call their peers or direct reports on performance or behaviors that might hurt the team or the company. 

Even though it is a buzz word, accountability is still important. Without it, we can not achieve our strategic goals. Our change process will break down without it. Accountability plays a role in building ownership and it creates enhanced teamwork and trust 

After listening to many leaders talk about accountability this year, and discussing it with them, it has come clear to me that accountability in the realm of leadership is all about results. In particular, it is about driving for results through others. It starts with setting clear expectations, having well defined goals and giving feedback routinely.

Proactive accountability helps the organization reach it’s collective goals. The success of accountability reflects the depth of ownership and understanding about what are our individual and collective results. Thus, line of sight and ownership are connected. In short, the purpose of holding someone accountable is to improve their performance, to help them become a better employee, and to achieve our collective results.

The main problem with accountability right now is ambiguity. Poorly defined goals, low or unclear expectations, and irregular progress reviews or coaching sessions cause many problems. Most people being held accountable end up feeling defensive, loose their self-confidence, become more confused than clear and feel wounded rather than competent.

To successfully be held accountable and to accept it in a positive manner, people have to know their SMART goals before accountability works. But more important, they need to be clear about the results or desired outcomes we are seeking. In short, they have to know what is expected of them.

This week, gather your team together and discuss what is the difference between reactive vs. proactive accountability. It will make a world of difference.

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

Monday, May 11, 2015

Teams vs. Single-Leader Work Groups - part #2

After reflecting on the important questions I posed last week on this blog, I want to continue exploring teams vs. single-leader work groups. 

This spring I believe most leaders build single leader work groups because they suffer from context blindness, a result of being held hostage to daily demands for time and attention, rather than routinely stepping back to think and act strategically. Context blindness prohibits most leaders from making the right choice on whether or not to build a team or a single leader work group.

As a review for us here today, context blindness happens when we can not comprehend the environment around us or around the organization in a holistic manner, and thus are unable to discern which trends or key information we need to pay attention to in order to make better decisions or to take more effective action. As a result with context blindness, there is a lack of strategic level urgency and instead just operational reactivity.

This week, prevent context blindness by building a clear understanding of why there needs to be strategic level urgency rather than just operational reactivity.

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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Teams vs. Single-Leader Work Groups - part #1

First, after many months of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that most “teams” are really single leader work groups. As speed, constant change and complexity become the new normal, more and more leaders are quickly defaulting to task oriented leadership instead of task and relationship-oriented leadership. This is especially true when solving problems quickly ends up trumping everything else. 

Second, I think most leaders fear “shared leadership” that happens on a true team. They also don’t know what it means and do not know how to role model it. Most leaders, when pushing to get things done, see shared leadership as a loss of positional power and status. They also see it as a loss of control which is not something they want to do right now in the midst of constant change.

Third, I have come to the conclusion most “team” leaders are unclear on their role and thus can not figure out how to role model the right mind set and skill set for being a member of a team. 

This week, pause and reflect on the above observations. Then, answer the following questions: 

What does shared leadership mean to you? 

What is the role of the team leader in your organization? 

What behaviors do they need to role model in order to be effective? 

Seeking out these answers is worth the time and effort. 

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