Tuesday, October 17, 2017

So, how’s the rest of your life going?

He had been referred to me for executive coaching by his senior executive, a person I had known and worked with for 15+ years. We were to discuss team building, communication, and goal setting.

When the appointed day and time arrived, he called me and we dived into the topics with great gusto. He was interested and asked good questions. He listened well and was genuinely intrigued by my perspective on these subjects. 

As we started to wrap up our one hour phone visit, I asked him the following question.

“So, how is the rest of your life going?”

He paused and replied, “This subject is not part of this coaching session. Furthermore, you would never ask my boss that kind of question.”

I replied, “OK. Let’s pause here. Do you know your boss’s cell phone number?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Please call him right now, and ask him if I ever ask him the question, ‘So, how is the rest of your life going?’. I will wait here while you call him.”

He hung up and I waited. 

A few minutes later, he called me back.

“I apologize for my response. This is unbelievable. You not only ask him how his life is going. You have met his wife, gone out to dinner with them, and discussed the subject of leadership and organizational change. You have even met his kids. He also said that every year you ask him if he has scheduled his annual physical. You tell him to do this for his family and for his team.”

There was a long pause and then he continued.

“The rest of my life is barely OK. I am burning the candle at both ends. I leave before the kids are up and often get home after they are in bed. My wife is upset with me about the pace of work. I sleep poorly and I am constantly worried. Do you think I should schedule a physical?”

“Yes, I do.”

“I haven’t had one since my high school football physical, and that was a very long time ago.”

“Becoming a leader,” I explained, “who can build and maintain a strong team is hard work. Communicating clearly with this team takes great thought and attention. Setting goals that are actually owned and understood by those who will have to execute them takes time and patience. Burning out is not a good choice personally or professionally. So, yes to the physical, and yes to reprioritizing your life so you do not win at work and lose at home.”

“I like that idea,” he replied. “Let’s schedule another time to visit and I will get things lined up on this end to be checked out by my doctor.”

Three weeks later, he called in for his executive coaching session. As always, I started by asking a question, “What’s going right?”

With great enthusiasm, he replied, “Lots! I went to my doctor and had a physical. I learned that my cholesterol was so high that I was in serious danger of a major heart attack. I am glad we caught that before it changed everything.”

He continued, “I sat down with my wife and we had a big conversation about my work habits and focus. We are rebuilding our family life. And I sat down with my team and we discussed the pace of change and what was realistic. This led into an important discussion about team work and goal setting.”

For the next 45 minutes, we explored leadership, team work, and goal setting at a greater depth than before. As we started to wrap up our one hour phone call, he paused and said, “You didn’t ask me how the rest of my life is going.”

“You are right,” I responded. “So, how is the rest of your life going?”

“Much better. Thanks for asking.”

As we hung up, I thought of a comment by Kevin Cashman from years ago who pointed out that if you want to become a better leader, you have to become a better person. Leadership is not just a work thing. It is a whole life thing and the journey to becoming a better leader is worth every step of the process.

So, how is the rest of your life going?

It is time to answer the question.

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

How do leaders work through endings and new beginnings at the same time? part #2

After the first two stages of transition management which I wrote about last week, there are three more stages. The third stage is called “In the Neutral Zone.” While the endings are uncomfortable and difficult in stage two, the in-between time can just feel weird on one level. In simple terms, the old ways of doing things are gone, but the new way is not fully operational. In essence, people feel caught between what was and will be. As a result, anxiety rises.

The most common behaviors one will see in the neutral zone are people becoming self-protective, and focused on just coping day to day. Old problems resurface, and people can become polarized. This happens, I believe, because leaders send mixed signals about change and people are worried about what is coming next.

When meeting with leaders during this stage, I regularly explain that listening in a respectful manner is very important. In particular, listen to understand rather than to respond or defend. Furthermore, try and understand how they are seeing the process as a follower rather than how you are seeing it as a leader.

As for yourself, recognize that the role of the leader may change as well. Be prepared for this depth of work by asking yourself this question: What do I need to let go of? 

The fourth stage of transition management is called “During the New Beginning.” Here leaders and followers focus on the outcomes, not just the details. Key performance indicators become very important. Leaders need to reward new behaviors and attitudes and remember that people are trying out new behaviors and perspectives. Understand that followers may have different needs than leaders as they discover new identities and a new sense of purpose. They may even rediscover the original mission or purpose of the organization.

The fifth and final stage is called “After the Transition”. Most leaders do not pay attention to this stage because they are focused on getting on to the next change. The best leader recognize the importance of this stage and always do an after action report and/or lessons learned debriefing given all that has happened. Margaret Wheatley in her book, Who do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity (Berrett-Koehler, 2017), explains that the core elements of an after action report (AAR) are the following:

- Priority is given to the process. No matter what, time is made available to learn from the crisis or situation.

- Everyone who was part of the action or crisis is present and expected to contribute.

- Rank and hierarchy don’t matter: it is acknowledged that everyone has something of potential value to contribute.

-The process is disciplined. Specific questions are asked in order. Facilitation is needed to ensure that only one question is answered at a time and that each person speaks without being contradicted or challenged.

- Learnings are recorded in some form. They are available as lessons learned for the benefit of others.

- The value of learning is visible in consequent actions. People feel smarter and gain confidence that they can deal with the next crisis.

As she continues, the four questions of an AAR (to be asked in this order) are the following:
- What just happened?
- Why do you think it happened?
- What can we learn from this?
- How will we apply these learnings?

This week, review the final three stages of transition management. For more information about managing transitions, read the following book: Bridges, William. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, (Da Capo Press, 2003). I also encourage you to conduct an AAR so people learn from the past rather than repeat the same problems from previous major change cycles.

Quote For The Week: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.” - John Quincy Adams

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

How do leaders work through endings and new beginnings at the same time? part #1

Right now, so many people are feeling overwhelmed by the pace of organizational change with all of the endings and beginnings happen at the same time. Our challenge as leaders is to differentiate between change management and transition management. Change management is situational and outcome focused, i.e. the destination. Transition management, on the other hand, is psychological, personal and emotional, i.e. the endings. As the late William Bridges wrote, “Transition is different. The starting point for transition is not the outcome but the ending that you will have to make to leave the old situation behind.” Transitions start with an ending and finishes with a new beginning. The hard part about this is that it starts with letting go of the old ways, the old identity, and dealing with losses.

There are five stages within transition management and the leader's role in each stage is important. The first stage is “Before the Transition.” Here, you as the leader know that change is in the works. When thinking about this stage, realize most employees do not know that change is coming and are mostly focused on making sure the day to day operations are working well.  So, the first step as a leader in this stage is to figure out how to sell the problems that lead you and others to feel that change is the best solution.

The challenge to doing this level of work is to remember that the problem is defining the problem. Some people will see the problem as technical and others as adaptive. Your goal as the leader is to define the problem in a clear and concise manner. To help you prepare your thoughts, put them in writing. In specific, write a one minute speech about what the problems are that lead you to deciding to make change happen. Next, put together a one minute speech about why it is necessary now given how busy every one is. Then, practice giving these two speeches and ask for feedback so clarity can be achieved.

While you work on your two speeches, I also encourage you to assess the level of trust in the organization's leaders. Remember that there are three levels of trust: personal, strategic and organizational. Once change has been initiated, trust will be stretched and challenged. Recognize that you can give everyone a voice but not a vote in what is taking place.

Another step in preparing yourself and the organization is to visit with key leaders on a one to one level. Start by checking about their clarity for why the organization must change. And then, why it must happen now. Check also on the leadership competencies of key positional leaders. Everyone who is mission critical to success should have the ability to communicate well and cascade information well. They need to be good transactional and transformational coaches and understand data based decision-making. If you are struggling with team work issues, review the material from the following book: Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass, 2002. It has good diagnostic material inside of it.

The second stage of transition management is called “During the Ending.” Here, all involved have learned that change is taking place. Now we are seeing people let go of the old ways, let go of identity as defined by the old way of doing things and dealing with the losses. We as leaders need to remember that loss is a subjective, personal experience while leadership is objective.

During the ending stage, do not overreact to resistance and opposition. Instead, frame it up as a form of feedback. Recognize that it is normal for people to resist the loss of clarity, connections, confidence, control and their understanding of the definition of success. You will also see grieving behaviors, e.g. anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness, disorientation, and depression.

As you and others move through this stage, continue to define what is and what is not over. Always treat the past with respect, and show how the endings ensure the continuity of what really matters.

This week, reflect on the first two stages of transition management and teach those around you about it. This will help with short term issues and long term results.

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

Monday, October 2, 2017

How do leaders on-board the next generation of high-growth opportunities while managing daily operations?part #2

In meeting after meeting during the last six to nine months, I have heard the same phrase used over and over, namely “We need the right people in the right seats”, referencing the concept from Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great. In reality, we need the right people in the right seats, the right teams with the right focus, and everyone using the right tools connected to the right outcomes.

This morning, let’s talk about right people and right teams. First, people need individual competencies to be successful at a team level. Individual competencies refer to a person’s knowledge and skills required to fulfill specific role requirements.  Second, teams need team competencies which are the collective abilities of the team required to execute the business strategy. For example, being competent at working through conflict as a team is a basic and yet so few teams have discussed this or been trained on how to do this.

When we get so busy focusing on solving operational issues, we forget that having the right people in the right seats and having the right teams with the right focus will create a healthy living system. As Margaret Wheatley wrote: “A healthy living system is a good learner and can thrive even though its environment is moving toward increasing disorder. But to do so it must be actively engaged and aware.” Many leaders are not ready for this level of work because it means they will loose control of the people and/or the solution to certain problems. 

Therefore, I believe we need to build more professional learning communities, a term I learned from working with educators, where in-depth sharing and practice takes place. I have seen these communities work together at our From Vision to Action Executive Roundtables. As they sit around the table, they are building common knowledge, common language, and common perspective. They also are building and maintaining important relationships, sharing what is and what is not working which is in part a micro strategic and operational review, and building a foundation for handling beginnings and endings . One interesting element of these professional learning communities is that they become a way to build culture and institutionalize an organization’s culture.

Next, I believe we need senior teams to be true teams rather than simply single leader work groups. The two defining characteristics of excellent senior teams are that they can hold in-depth strategic debate and dialogue, and at the same time have respect for the other members of the team, especially their skills, their talents and their strengths. In order to build this depth of good strategic debate, dialogue and respect for others on the team, senior leaders need to do the following:

- Clarify identity. This process involves defining the core principles about how to deliver high quality, day to day service and how to move forward through difficult times. A clear sense of identity mobilizes people into purposeful action. It also helps build networks of relationship, which ultimately builds community

- Build community. What many leaders forget is that effective teams are born from healthy community. When the overall sense of community is grounded in clear ethics and core principles, we have social coherence and community resilience.

This week, sit down with your team and talk about identity and ethics. Discuss and clarify with them who we are, what we believe in, and how we work through the challenges that are happening around us. We as leaders must be and create an “island of sanity”, a new term by Margaret Wheatley, in an ocean of challenge and difficult choices.

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

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Power of Resilience and Optimism

In and around the hustle and bustle of life, I have had the opportunity to read two wonderful books. The first was Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017) by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. The second was Life is Good: the Book - How to Live with Purpose & Enjoy the Ride (National Geographic Society, 2015) by Bert and John Jacobs.

In the first book, Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, shares about what happened after the sudden death of her husband, Dave. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend, Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, helps her through this stage by telling her about specific steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences.

I was drawn to the book because of the material in it about resilience, a subject that has interested me for the last 6 months. In particular, I believe we need to help leaders and managers right now become more resilient given the overwhelming amount of difficulties in the work place, and in our communities. Through Sandberg’s personal story and insights and Adam’s research, I found some interesting ideas about resilience.

For example, they write, “We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events.” I found it helpful when they shared the research of Martin Seligman, a psychologist who spent decades studying how people deal with setbacks. Seligman found that three p’s can stunt recovery: personalization which is the belief that we are at fault, pervasiveness which is the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life, and finally permanence which is the belief that the after shocks of the event will impact us forever. These three p’s create a loop inside our heads which repeat the following: “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful, and it’s always going to be awful.” Understanding the three p’s has helped me coach others through challenging times and assist them to put things into perspective.

Two weeks after losing her husband, Sandberg was preparing for a father-child activity. “I want Dave,” She cried. Her friend replied, “Option A is not available,” and then promised to help her make the most of Option B. 

Right now, a lot of leaders and managers are not able to work with Option A, and are moving to Option B. This book offers sound insights and concrete steps on helping individuals through hardships, including illness, job loss, sexual assault, natural disasters, and the violence of war. Sandberg’s story and the stories shared by others reveals the capacity of the human spirit to persevere and to rediscover joy. This book will help you become a better leader and help you assist others through the pain and challenges when Option A is no longer an option.

The second book Life is Good is the inspiring story of the founding of the Life is Good company by two brothers. It celebrates the power of optimism which is the driving force behind this socially conscious clothing and lifestyle brand, now worth more than $100 million. From their scrappy upbringing outside Boston, through the early years of selling t-shirts out of a van, to their current success, the book includes chapters about ten key “super powers” accessible to us all: openness, courage, simplicity, humor, gratitude, fun, compassion, creativity, authenticity, and love. Illustrated with the company’s iconic artwork, Life is Good explores how to overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities.

Many years ago, my wife gave me a Life is Good ball cap. I still wear it when I garden. It is frayed and beat up but I love the message on it. I also love the little tag that was on the cap when she gave it to me. It read as follows: “Do What You Love; Love What You Do.” In a time period when more and more people are feeling worn, stretched and overwhelmed by all that is happening, it was good to read the story of two people who founded a company doing what they love and loving the journey. When I got done reading this book, I felt reinvigorated to go back into the world and make a positive difference no matter what was the challenge before me.

My hope this week is that you will travel to your nearest book store or library, and check out the above two books. We, as leaders need resources which give us hope, perspective and the ability to stay focused on what really matters the most.

Happy reading!

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

How do leaders on-board the next generation of high-growth opportunities while managing daily operations? part #1

I had been called in to figure out why one key department was constantly not functioning well. There was urgency to the situation because a major acquisition was coming. To be understand the situation, I visited with the CEO, COO, SVP, HRO, and the department head over the course of one day.

That night, over dinner, the HRO said to me, “the more people talk about this problem department, the more I am confused.”

“I agree”, I replied, and thought to myself the following quote by Konrad Adenauer: “We all live under the same sky, but we do not all have the same horizon.”

The problem in this situation was that all involved were zooming in to fix “the problem” rather than zooming out to gain perspective. My starting place was to ask a series of big picture questions:

- What is the purpose of this department?
- What are the goals of this department?
- What are the KPI’s of this department?
- What are the expectations related to performance within this department?

You could have heard a pin drop at the table that evening as I shared the answers I had gleaned. Not a single individual was on the same page.

When we step back and look at the bigger picture right, we realize that we are living in a period of “profound disruption”, a new Margaret Wheatley phrase. We are seeing the deification of numbers and data, and yet are not seeing clarity about the difference between data and useful information. We also are seeing communication without connections and the rise of polarization. In the midst of all of this, exhausted professionals want to make a difference but are stymied by factors beyond their control or impact. The outcome of this reality is that now, more than ever, many people are considering and others are walking away from the leadership table. As they report to me, it’s just too much work.

Meanwhile, everyone is wanting to grow their organization. They want to serve more people, do more good work, and make a difference in the lives of those who are serving. Few leaders understand that with growth, distractions and complications multiply.

At the same time, the challenge of on-boarding new ideas, which would generate this desired growth, is that people want to solve all the problems and standardize all the processes before action. This is just not possible. We forget that solving problems creates more problems

Finally, operational management is trumping strategic execution. Introducing change or a new strategic plan has become an event rather than a process. Introducing change into a world of dysfunctional teams also does not make them functional; it actually increases their dysfunctional nature. 

And last, but not least, we have to recognize that managers are not leaders; both are important, but we need leaders! We especially need leaders who can unite us and create clarity.

This week, step back from the big pictures challenges and complexities and focus on the following questions:

- What is the purpose of this company or department?
- What are the goals of this company or department?
- What are the KPI’s of this company or department?
- What are the expectations related to performance within this company or department?

Finding the answers to these questions will create alignment and better choices when it comes to taking the next steps into the future.

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Invest In Leadership Training Now?

Right now, non-profit organizations are significantly worried about the status of their funding for the future, and whether or not they will be able to find qualified people to hire into front line staff and supervisory positions. Simultaneously, for-profit organizations are worried about building a sustainable sales force, continually generating innovative products and/or services plus the erosion of the customer base to on-line providers. And everyone is worried about the continued retirement of the baby boomer generation (1943 - 1960) and the arrival of a very different workforce, namely the combination of millennials (1981 - 1997) with generation Z (1998 - 2010). 

So why spend money now on training people to become betters leaders?

The Boy Scouts have a motto, “Be prepared.” Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts in 1908, defined “being prepared” as being “always in a state of readiness in mind and body.” While most leadership training does not involve physical education, it does involve increasing mental understanding and perspective, i.e. helping people in key positions to be better prepared for current technical problems and future adaptive problems.

But, the more in-depth answer is that well trained individuals in leadership positions have a greater capacity to plan and execute both operational and strategic plans in an ever-changing work place and service environment. The result of which is that the company as a whole has greater bench strength.

The term “bench strength” comes from the world of baseball and refers to having a lineup of highly skilled players who can step in when another player is hurt or replaced.  In particular, bench strength is another way of saying that a team has a “deep bench” which is a large number of talented players who are sitting “on the bench” waiting to play.

In the world of non-profits and for-profits where volatility and complexity is the norm, having a large number of people who can step forward into management and leadership positions means that the company will always be prepared for known and unknown problems that might arise. This depth of readiness positions the organization above the competition and strengthens it ability to respond well no matter what is the situation.  

For those of you who are thinking beyond today and hoping to position your organization for the future, then now is the time to sign people up for the 2018 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 2018 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: http://www.chartyourpath.com/VTA-Leadership-Training.html 

The future is happening all around us. Being prepared and having a deep bench are no longer optional. Now is the best time to invest in leadership training. 

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