Monday, August 10, 2020

Watch Out For Pandemic Fatigue

Since the middle of March, we have been riding an unprecedented wave of changes and adaptations related to COVID-19. Each week, there have been big and little issues surface, all of which are disrupting systems and work plans. Internal communications has become mission critical. And now, as we move into late summer, people are just physically, emotional and mentally exhausted by it all. We all would love some normalcy, order, and predictability.

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), writes that there are five reasons why change Initiatives slow down. They are as follows: exhaustion on the part of the leaders, failure to see progress, turnover of key change agents, flagging team morale, and things taking too long. When you add a global pandemic to the mix, you can understand why folks are so exhausted and fed up with it all. 

So, what are leaders to do when everyone is running on empty?

My answer to this question is for all of us to remember two small but significant concepts.

First, “Be a lighthouse not a weathervane”, writes Robert Cooper in his book, The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential For Leadership & Life (Crown Business, 2001). We, as leaders, can choose to be beacons of integrity, clarity and discipline, or we can be weathervanes pivoting this way and that way at every shift in the weather. Given all that has taken place during the last five months, I believe that being a beacon is an important choice that sends a message that we can and we will weather the pounding seas and battering storms around us.

Second, we need to remember that “People won't put their hearts into something they don't believe in” which is another important point from the above book. We have focused so much on maintaining effective daily operations during the last couple of months that we have sometimes forgotten to talk about the importance of the mission, i.e. the why behind the work. When we are worn to the quick, we need to hear from our leaders, managers and supervisors that our job matters and that it makes a difference. 

Some people may think that role modeling and communicating about mission are minor actions in a time period when systems and strategy need to be carefully redesigned. But after decades of helping people and organizations through the world of large and small changes, I have learned that small actions can have huge impact. As Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Truth About Employee Engagement: A Fable About Addressing the Three Root Causes of Job Misery, formerly called The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and their employees) (Jossey-Bass 2007), wrote: “... if a manager has any responsibility in the world, it’s to help people understand why their work matters.”

And right now, as pandemic fatigue sets in, we want to know that our efforts have made a difference. When someone notices how hard we have been working and appreciates all the time and energy we have put in to adapting to the relentless onslaught of big and little changes, then we do not feel alone in the midst of it all. We feel like we are part of a team. Our confidence and capacity to move forward is renewed. 

This week, I encourage you to be a lighthouse rather than a weathervane and to tell people the following message: I see you; I value you; I appreciate you. Your work matters and it is making a difference in the lives of so many people.

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

Monday, August 3, 2020

Prepare For The Future

As we enter into the new month of August, companies all across this country are focused on cash management. They grasp the notion of “no money, no mission” and want to make sure they have enough resources in the bank to deal with whatever might come next. 

Others are rethinking their growth targets and focused on maintaining their core business. They want their well established brand identity to not be damaged during these turbulent times. They want to survive this global pandemic but also have the company well positioned to thrive in the aftermath.

But a few hardy souls in the world of leadership are now willing to flex their intellectual muscles and engage in some in-depth scenario based planning. They want to grapple with a few possible scenarios and explore how the company will move through them. By doing this work in advance, they are better prepared if this possible reality happenings.

Here is one scenario more and more senior leadership teams are exploring right now.

First, starting in the middle to late September through to December, health officials all across the country advise people to get their annual flu shots. They remind the general public that the annual flu is a serious, and at times life-threatening illness. By getting vaccinated they are preventing the transmission of the flu to others and reducing the impact in their own lives.

Simultaneously, many infectious disease experts point out that there is a very high probability that a second round of COVID-19 will occur through out the globe this coming winter. They encourage us to be better prepared and to not ignore this second round.

If this coming flu season is especially virulent and COVID-19 returns or continues with a vengeance before there are adequate testing options and a vaccine, how should your company prepare and respond to this situation?

A tabletop exercise like the above tests the organization’s ability to be resilient in the face of a crisis. It also will determine if the lessons learned from this past spring and summer have been captured and effectively integrated into the systems, culture and strategy of the company. Finally, it is an opportunity to determine if there is a failure in one part of the company, whether or not it will metastasize and threaten the whole of the company. By proactively addressing realistic probabilities, we create the capacity for better preparedness, response and recovery activities.

Given what we know this month, now is the time to be prepared. Let’s not be surprised anymore by unforeseen possibilities.

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

Monday, July 27, 2020

Now Is The Time For Intellectual Honesty And Humility

Over and over, I hear people saying “The only way through this is together” or “We stand together.” These are powerful statements during hard times. They remind us of what is most important as we go through the daily, weekly and monthly challenges and changes related to the on-going global pandemic.

As a leader, we know that teamwork is essential to our short term ability to survive and long term ability to thrive after this pandemic. When we sit down with our team to discuss daily operations or to explore strategic choices, we know that we need each member of the team to demonstrate certain leadership traits. Ram Charan in his book,  Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty: The New Rules for Getting the Right Things Done in Difficult Times (McGraw Hill, 2009) writes that there are six essential leadership traits for hard times. They are as follows: honesty and credibility, the ability to inspire, real-time connection with reality, realism tempered with optimism, managing with intensity, and boldness in building for the future.

Today, I want to focus on honesty and credibility. As he explains, “This is no simple challenge. Nobody can be certain about the business environment and its direction. How can you tell people what you believe when you can’t be confident that it is right?…. The only answer is intellectual honesty and humility. Your authority derives not from omniscience but from your ability to facilitate understanding and solutions…. acknowledge the limits of your understanding and ask them for their own views. Doing this may take courage, but together you can piece together better probabilities than any one person.”

Intellectual honesty and humility is not often considered an important leadership trait at the individual or team levels. Most people want a leader who has all the answers and has figured out, in advance, all the solutions. But research and professional experience have taught me that the best leaders have the courage to know and to say when they do not have the answers. They realize that not all problems are technical and have known solutions 

Instead, these leaders understand that adaptive problems are more common now and these problems have called into question many fundamental assumptions and beliefs. They recognize that adaptive problems require in-depth learning and new ways of thinking. And this will only take place when a leader is willing to accept that their depth of understanding of what is happening is limited by their access to key information, i.e. “ground level intelligence” - a Charan term from the above book, and their getting locked into only one way of interpreting this information. Being open to changing your mind is not easy but it is essential when there is so much uncertainty in the company and in the market place.

I also know that role modeling intellectual honesty and humility is powerful at the team level. As Kevin Cashman wrote so many years ago, “Leaders get what they exhibit and what they tolerate.” When we role model these characteristics, we send an important message to the team and to the company as a whole. As Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't (HarperBusiness, 2001) wrote about the Stockdale Paradox, namely the ability to “retain absolute faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” The combination of these actions will only take place if a leader and their team embrace intellectually honesty and humility.

This week, strive to be the kind of leader your organization needs you to be during this most unique time period. Be a healthy role model of intellectual honesty and humility. You will be setting the tone for authentic robust dialogue and the creation of effective and resilient solutions.

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

Monday, July 20, 2020

Finding Solutions In the Middle Of On-going Fear

There are two primary questions that have surfaced this summer.

- How are we going to make it through the never-ending impact of COVID-19?

- What do I have to do as a leader?

Ram Charan in his book, Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty: The New Rules for Getting the Right Things Done in Difficult Times (McGraw Hill, 2009) says it is best to answer these questions by dividing them into two areas, namely leadership and operations. As he explains, “The first is about inspiring and motivating people to go beyond their fears and painting a believable future that is waiting after the storm. The second is about the daily nitty-gritty of doing business successfully in a very tough and unpredictable environment.”

I think one of the biggest challenges of this summer is our individual and collective fear and uncertainty of what might happen next. People continue to be afraid for the future existence of their businesses, their families and themselves. As Charan points out, “Indeed, there is fear of fear itself - the kind that Franklin D. Roosevelt characterized as “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.” 

In this kind of environment, some leaders will retreat and make no choices related to operations or motivating their people. Others will respond by entering into the land of denial or wishful thinking. But if we have the courage to recognize the current reality, Charan says we have to accept the fact that “there is simply no question that you are your company will be different two years from now. If you don’t believe that, you are condemning your company to the ash heap.”

The solution to fear of this magnitude is to do something we know how to do. First, when it comes to the subject of daily operations, Marcus Buckingham in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success (Free Press, 2005) notes: “To excel as a manager you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and that your chief responsibility is not to eradicate this uniqueness, but rather to arrange roles, responsibilities, and expectations so that you can capitalize upon it. The more you perfect this skill, the more effectively you will turn talents into performance.” This is something we can do each day. It is a small but powerful step because when each employee is able to do their best, then talent can generate daily positive outcomes.

Second, when it comes to leadership and motivating employees, Marcus explains: “To excel as a leader requires the opposite skill. 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.” This is also something we as leaders know how to do. We can gather our team together, sit down and formulate a realistic and credible plan. It may not be a plan for the next 3-5 years, but we can create a short term plan of action which addresses current problems. And then as we execute it, we will be able to adapt it through regular strategic reviews.

This summer the questions will not go away and the fear will come in waves as more information and data about what is happening is revealed to us. Nevertheless, helping people do their best on a day to day basis and gathering your team together to create a plan about how to move forward are two good first steps. 

Life as we know it is evolving. At work and at home, we have to keep making smart choices. But through individual acts of loving-kindness, support and an appreciation for peoples’ talents, we will continue to greet each new day with a reverence for life. And over time, our fear and our many questions will be transformed into courage and action to keep moving forward and to keep making a difference in the communities where we live and work.

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

Monday, July 13, 2020

How do I as a leader live a life that is less stressful and more meaningful when I feel lost and overwhelmed by all that is happening and all that needs to get done each day? - part #6

Last year, a client of mine was traveling through Iowa and asked if we could meet for breakfast. So, I picked one of my favorite places to eat and asked him meet me there.

When we walked in the door that morning, one of the wait staff came over and warmly greeted me. My client was quite surprised.

“There must be a story behind that,” he commented to me once we sat down. 

“Yes,” I replied. “Years ago, my wife and I were dog sitting for a friend. The dog was an experienced therapy dog and very used to being out in public with people. So, we brought the dog here with us one summer morning and ate at an outside table. 

On that particular day, many of the staff stopped by to say ‘hi’ to us and to pet the dog. In the process, they shared their experiences with dogs with us. This began a journey of sharing every time we come here.”

We ordered breakfast and the person who greeted us came around with a fresh pot of coffee to refill our cups. I paused in our conversation and thanked him for such good service. My client told him that he was impressed with the service here, too.

Then, our waiter shared about his recent challenges. “I am 40 years old, married, with two elementary aged school children, and I am taking three classes at the community college, working full time and about to transfer to the University.”

My client shared that he went to community college too and then transferred to a University. “It was a good choice,” he commented.

“Good to know”, the waiter responded.

“I know you are doing the best you can with the challenges you have,” I added.

Our combined messages to him that morning were we see you, we hear you, we feel what you are feeling, and we respect you. This is the power and importance of being fully present to another person. I am present to your suffering. I am present to your joy. But most of all, I am present to you, bearing witness to what we both know, namely the importance being committed to living out of truth and respect.

Some days as leaders, we get so wrapped up in busy that we forget that “the most difficult work of leadership involves learning to experience distress without numbing yourself”, notes, Ron Heifetz, and Marty Linsky in their book, Leadership On The Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading (Harvard Business School Press, 2002). We forget, that “the form doesn't matter” because “any form of service to others is an expression, essentially, of love.” As they continue, “Exercising leadership is a way of giving meaning to your life by contributing to the lives of others. At its best, leadership is a labor of love.”

From my perspective, we are all a part of a great creative journey. We are all walking into the unknown and unpredictable future. We are all vulnerable and stronger than we think. 

And on this journey, we can always help each other. We can always act from our compassion. We can remember our oneness.

In the big picture, our real struggle is a spiritual one. Are we humans having spiritual experiences or are we spiritual beings having human experiences? The answer is that we are all called to be faithful. We are all called to reclaim our common humanity. We are all called to build and maintain genuine communities of love, compassion and connections.

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

Monday, July 6, 2020

How do I as a leader live a life that is less stressful and more meaningful when I feel lost and overwhelmed by all that is happening and all that needs to get done each day? - part #5

When we feel lost and overwhelmed by all that needs to get done in a day or are continuing to suffer from some PTSD related to COVID-19, we must be open to transformation. Often, when we talk about personal or organizational change, we commonly use the following words: change, transformation, evolution, continuous improvement, and transition. The list is long and we interchange these words routinely.

In the world of organizational transformation, change happens first in the strategic nexus and from there it radiates out into the 4 pillars, namely, people, structure, systems and culture. Hopefully, this results in improvements in efficiency, effectiveness and stakeholder satisfaction. Often the focus is on transforming systems to help the business run better. This results in a change in processes which are what makes the “new” or “transformed” systems run better.

But in the world of personal transformation, namely a change in mind, body, social/emotional or spirit, one rarely wakes up and says, “today I am going transform my life.” Most of the time, something happens and “Boom!”, we are rocketed into a transformation. I think at that moment of time we are more often stunned or shocked into a transformation. 

For example, one day I was traveling out west following the Maps program on my phone. As I started to drive forward at an intersection, not realizing that the light was red, a car from my left narrowly missed hitting me. I am stunned by my lack of attention. My phone said go forward and I was attempting to do just that.

Another example from my life journey was having a significant health scare and realizing that I was taking too many people in my life for granted. I was living a life focused on getting things done, not connecting with people.

The examples are endless. The impact is significant. The problem is time. And the realization that a transformational insight or epiphany can wear off. We all  can fall back into habitual patterns. 

For me, at moments like that I realize I am “sleep walking through life”. I recognize that I have stopped growing. I recognize that I am not really open to transformation except through the most shocking of experiences.

When I say “be open to transformation”, I am encouraging us to commit to being open to changing our perspective, to being open to changing the way we live, and to being open to more wholeness in our lives and less fragmentation.

In essence, I am challenging all of us to live in such a way that people will be moved by our words and our actions. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it has taught us that life is short and precious.

Our words and our actions are powerful. We want them to communicate that we are humble, faithful, and bold, i.e. as in doing the right things. We need to remember that our boldness comes from our ability to be present to what is happening and to role model consciously rather than unconsciously. Part of this boldness means that we need to find our voice.

I wrote about finding our voice back in the spring of 2018. As Stephen Covey wrote in his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (Free Press, 2004), the 8th Habit is to “find your voice and inspire others to find theirs.” As he notes, your voice is the nexus of talent, passion, need and conscience (that still small voice within that assures you of what is right and that prompts you to actually do it).

I have continued to think about “finding our voice.” Here is a long quote that has inspired me as I have reflected on this subject:

“…. finding our voice, finding a way to speak with our lives. It is potentially rich but too seldom tapped … I first understood this from Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak. Vocation, he clarified, is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” As he put it, “[V]ocation is not the goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am”.

Longing for a true home, this is vocation. Finding a way to that home is a journey toward understanding who I am. At its essence, home provides a sense of place. Vocation is the same. Knowing who you are is finding where you are, as in “I have a sense of my place in this world.” We often seek our sense of place by what we do professionally. This is where the confusion comes that links vocation with work, jobs, and titles. But it is not a profession. It is definitely not “work” and even less a “job.” Vocation is knowing and staying true to the deep voice. Vocation stirs inside, calls out to be heard, to be followed. It beckons us home. When we live in a way that keeps vocation within eyesight and earshot, like the needle of a compass, vocation provides a sense of location, place, and direction. This is why we may say to friends as a deep compliment of appreciation for their genuine acceptance, “I feel comfortable here with you. I can just be myself. I feel at home.”

People who are close to home no matter where they live or travel or what work they do are people who walk guided by their voice. They are voicewalkers…. they always are within earshot of home.” - John Paul Lederach

As part of the process of finding our voices and feeling at home, we need to speak our fears, listen to the fears of others, share our vulnerabilities and as a result, discover our common ground and our common journeys. Jonathan Sacks writes: “The greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering a genesis of hope.” 

This week, I encourage you to find your voice and to speak your truth.

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

Monday, June 29, 2020

How do I as a leader live a life that is less stressful and more meaningful when I feel lost and overwhelmed by all that is happening and all that needs to get done each day? - part #4

Some days we think we are doing just fine until we run into a problem that stumps us on so many levels. 

For me, it was a ground hog trying to make a home under our front porch one year as winter approached. I first noticed that we had a problem when I saw that something had chewed through the lattice along side our porch steps. So I went to the lumber yard and purchased a fresh sheet of lattice, cut it to the right size and installed it.

The next day I discovered that the “new” lattice was chewed through. Now, I went to the garden center and purchased a variety of repellants in powder and spray form to stop what ever was chewing on our house. I also went back to the lumber yard and purchased more lattice.

This became a recurring problem. More chewing so I applied more repellant. Then, it was purchasing more “new” lattice. Finally, after a couple of cycles, I covered it all in chicken wire.

The next morning I discovered that what ever was chewing on our house had chewed through the chicken wire too. I was flummoxed. So, I found a neighbor with a trap and put it beside the worst part of the damage. 

I also started asking people for advice. A farmer recommended I use an anhydrous tank to solve the problem. Someone else said I should use the exhaust from a car to solve the problem. One person suggested I purchase coyote urine or use my own to solve the problem. I wasn’t open to any of these solutions.

Finally, the problem continued so I hired a “critter removal” service. They installed a bigger trap and we caught a squirrel. Next, we caught a skunk but the critter removal service told me that my real problem was a ground hog who was looking for a place to make it’s home for winter. 

The spot under our porch must have been the best place. It also must have been a very smart ground hog with a PhD, because we never caught it in the trap. Instead, I went out one morning and discovered a massive hole in the ground.

By now, I was one mad homeowner. I’d had it with this problem and just wanted to finish it “once and for all.” So, I got on my work clothes, a hat, headlamp, dust mask, knee pads, a trash can lid and a pointy stick. Then, I removed all the lattice and chicken wire and crawled under our porch. On one level, I was checking to make sure I did not trap the groundhog under the porch once I made the final repairs. I also think my inner, cave man brain had kicked in and I just wanted to have it out with the beast.

There I was all hunched over under the porch when I began to think again. “What are you doing?”, I asked myself. “This is the dumbest idea you’ve had in quite some time.” Quietly, I crawled out from under the front porch, and then sat on the front porch steps. I needed space for reflection. Previously, I had not given myself permission to take the time to do this.

Slowly, a new solution came to me. First, I had to think like a groundhog. I did not need chicken wire because I wasn’t dealing with a chicken. Instead, I purchased industrial grade hardware cloth and, of course more lattice. 

Next, I installed the hardware cloth first, then the new lattice and finally more hardware cloth. I also dug the hardware cloth into the ground one inch deep and out for two feet. It looked great.

The following morning I discover one more big hole. Unbeknownst to me, the ground hog had been asleep under the porch when I had crawled in. Lucky I got out when I did!

As I stood looking at the massive exit hole, another neighbor walked over and saw me staring at the hole. “You want to stop that from happening?”, he asked me.

“Yes”, I replied.

“Drop some old rocks and junk in that tunnel. Then pour in my old bag of powdered concrete. Add a gallon of water. Cover it up with an inch of dirt and in a couple of hours you will have one big massive concrete plug. There is no way they can dig through concrete.” So, I followed his advice and created a large “concrete plug.” I have never had a problem since that day.

On that cool fall day, I learned two important lessons. First, I needed to ask more people for advice. I also need to role model “intellectual humility”, a term Ryan Holiday talks about in his book,. Stillness Is The Key (Portfolio/Penguin, 2019).

The second lesson I learned was that I did not need to rush to a solution.  Reflection is a powerful first step to finding a solution. As John Paul Lederach wrote in his book, The Moral Imagination: The Art and Soul of Building Peace (Oxford University Press, 2005): “When overwhelmed by complexity,” the haiku master said, “seek the elegant essence that holds it all together.” For me that day, it was a massive concrete plug.

This week I encourage you to schedule more time for reflection, to role model intellectual humility, and to seek the elegant essence that holds it all together.

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