Monday, January 13, 2020

Decipher the Stone - Quality

During the 80’s, 90’s and even up to about 2005, people in leadership positions talked all the time about quality. It was a known concept and considered to be vital to short and long term success. Then, starting in the first decade of this new century, more and more people stopped talking to me about it and stopped including it within their strategic plans. 

The new word that replaced quality was “systems”. Starting over 20 years ago, systems and processes became the hot topic. Everyone wanted to build new and better ones. They wanted them to be standardized and often centralized in order to be more efficient. And, at the time, given the state of many organizations’ systems or lack thereof, this was a smart choice.

However, the cost of focusing on systems, processes and all the related technology was that the topic of quality became a secondary or even tertiary topic of discussion for many leaders. It just wasn’t on the New York Times best-seller list of books or concepts. Many felt like they “had been there and done that” during their earlier careers. Still, I think it is time that we revisit the concept of quality and not regulate it to the dust bin of history. 

In the past, quality was the result of getting people to do what needed to be done through rules, regulations and micro-management. In many work places, fear in combination with controlling people through centralized authority caused some degree of quality to take place.

Then, over the decades and with the rise of global competition in combination with economic, political and massive social changes, quality was recognized to be the result of trust, respect and clarity. Rather than being a top down outcome, it was more of an inside-out approach related, in part, to self-confidence, personal clarity, and effective teamwork. 

Furthermore quality, be it in services or products, was achieved through thoughtful, quick and flexible responsiveness to internal partners or external customer needs. In short, quality outcomes happened because people believed in quality and the related systems supported people to make quality decisions.

As leaders, the first step to generating quality in the midst of these wickedly challenging times, is to remember three key points:

- people want to make a difference.

- people care about the work they are doing, want to do a good job and want to know they are making progress.

- people want to be in win/win relationships.

For organizations to become nimble, flexible and agile during the next two years, we need to remember the above key points and to recognize that when people feel like they are making a difference, doing a good job, making progress on a daily basis, and doing all of this within a win/win work environment, then quality based decision-making will become a cultural norm. 

From my experiences over many decades, it has become quite clear to me that quality happens when people feel like they and the work they are doing is respected by those in supervisory, management and leadership positions.

This week, sit down with your team and discuss with them the things that need to be in place for quality to become a consistent outcome. It will be an illuminating discussion.

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

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Spring 2020 Roundtable - Early Bird Special!

Now that the New Year has passed, it is the time for us to turn our attention to the Spring 2020 Roundtable! 

On April 8 - 9, we will gather at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ankeny, Iowa for the Spring 2020 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. 

Here is the agenda for your review:

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

8:30 am - Arrival & Visiting Time

9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do effective leaders plan when the future is so wildly unpredictable?

10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break

10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do effective leaders execute a plan when the future is so wildly unpredictable?

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

1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do people shift from being a manager or supervisor into becoming a leader? - part #1

2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break

3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do people shift from being a manager or supervisor into becoming a leader? - part #2

4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday, April 9, 2020

9:00 am - 10:15 am - 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 needs to get done each day?

10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break 

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

12:00 pm - Adjourn

Starting today through Friday, January 31, I am offering an “early bird” registration price for the Spring 2020 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

If you sign up during this time period, and submit payment before 2/1/20, the price will be $ 275.00 for the two days and $ 175.00 for a single day. Here is the link to the registration form:


Please write “early bird special” on it and use the above price when you send it to me by mail, e-mail as a PDF, or fax (# 319 - 643 - 2185).

After 2/1/20, the registration price will be $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day.

I hope you will reserve April 8 - 9 on your calendar, and e-mail me today about whether or not you and your team are coming. Then, when the first early crocus and daffodils are just starting to bloom, all we will need to do is meet at the Spring 2020 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

For those who are planning far advance, do not forget that the Fall 2020 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable will be on September 15 - 16, 2020 at the Brown Deer Golf Club & Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa.

I look forward to seeing you in April and in September!

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

Monday, January 6, 2020

Discover the “Rosetta Stone” of Change

In 1799, during the Napoleonic occupation of Egypt, a Frenchman discovered the Rosetta Stone near Alexandria. The Rosetta Stone commemorated the ascension of Ptolemy V to the Egyptian throne in three writing systems: Greek, cursive Egyptian, and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. 

Subsequent study of these inscriptions lead European scholars to decipher ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics for the first time, thus providing access to a much broader view of history through the translation of ancient Egyptian texts. The Rosetta Stone facilitated the understanding of the ancient Egyptians’ unique world view previously obscured from modern explanation. 

Many people in leadership positions right now know their organization needs to become more nimble, flexible and agile doing the next two years. They recognize the importance of shared values, clarity of strategic intent, and the importance of building a high degree of trust and collaboration within and between teams. 

However, they are struggling to figure out how to create this depth of clarity and action throughout their organizations such that it is sustainable, i.e. a flywheel for positive focus and momentum through the current and emerging challenges. In short, they feel like they are trying to read ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics without the a Rosetta Stone.

When I listen to a diverse number of people in leadership positions share and explore what they are doing that is working and what they are doing that is not working, it has become clear to me that we must decipher three key concepts this winter, namely quality, empowerment and principle-centered leadership.  We must create a new level of understanding and rediscover the common threads that unite these key concepts. In short, we need to discover a “Rosetta Stone” of change for this new decade.

This week, I encourage you to sit down and reflect about what you know to be true about quality, empowerment and principle-centered leadership. Then, over the coming weeks, we can bring my thoughts and your thoughts together into a greater whole.

Happy New Year!

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

Monday, December 30, 2019

Create an Environment for Excellence in 2020

A long time ago, Robert Rosen wrote the following in his book, Leading People, Viking Penguin, 1997: 

"People want to be led. They don't want the old authoritarian leadership style.  Nor do they want some clever new management technique. Instead, they want leaders with deeply held human values who respect people's unique talents and contributions. They want leaders who will create an environment that nurtures excellence, risk taking, and creativity. They reject intimidation or manipulation, but they positively yearn for inspiration.

Similarly, in the misguided efforts of leaders is hidden another message: leaders need followers. Leaders don't want docile, do only-as-ordered employees.  Instead, they want responsible, mature, forward-looking associates. They want partners who are as committed as they are to the success of the enterprise."

As we celebrate the end of 2019, let us focus on creating an environment for excellence in 2020. We all yearn for inspiration, meaningful work and meaningful lives.

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

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Gift of Elders

One of my favorite things about the holidays is listening to the stories that our elder’s share about their childhood experiences. For example, I always enjoy hearing my mother-in-law, who grew up in the southwest Kansas dustbowl, talk about the Christmas she received an orange and a brand new pencil. It was a gift for the ages. 

I enjoy hearing farm stories about Christmas morning breakfast after the cows were all milked and the cattle had been fed. I enjoy hearing stories about sleigh rides to visit friends in town across the snow covered gravel roads. I enjoy hearing stories of people sitting around the dinning room table cracking nuts and picking out the meat while sharing news of family and friends from across the country. 

I also enjoy hearing stories about families that would go caroling from house to house, the baking of special foods that were only served once a year, or the home made gifts that people took months to make. All of these stories make us wiser, more hopeful, and more understanding of the true meaning of the holidays.

This holiday season I am looking forward to hearing more stories. But I also look forward to creating new experiences with our elders and our younger people that years from now will become one of those stories that gets shared over a good meal.

This holiday season may you and your entire family gather, share and celebrate with your elders. They will bring a rich and meaningful perspective to life’s journey.

Happy Holidays!

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

Monday, December 16, 2019

How do leaders conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed? - part #3

To conquer adversity successfully, we as leaders need to build and maintain regenerative systems in our lives. I learned this recently over a long lunch meeting with a senior executive. We had gathered to discuss a major organizational transformation. Most of what was happening was based on disruptive goals instead of incremental goals. The impact of these new goals was being felt at the people level, the structure level, the systems level, and the culture level. People were overwhelmed and all of the problems that were surfacing as a result were adaptive in nature.

At home, this same individual was dealing with a husband who had a new job. She shared with me that she often felt like she was on the verge of complete burnout or a total nuclear melt down. 

“What am I suppose to do? The goals are Board endorsed. Our industry is changing fast. And I have to keep moving forward.”

I listened carefully to her concerns and then said, “In situations of this nature, you have to manage your energy, not just your time and commitments. How do you recharge, rebuild or regenerate your energy? Is this an event or a system?”

I have learned personally and professionally that each of us needs to recharge, rebuild or regenerate our energy on many levels. Some of us will do this through exercise at the individual or group level. Others of us will gain energy and perspective through structured or institutional settings like a church or a support group. And finally some of us will do this personally by meeting regularly with a select group of friends. The key I have found is that it needs to be systematic. We need to not just be doing it because it needs to “get done” but instead we need to do it because we understand that this choice over time makes a big difference. It results in on-going improvements and insights.

Second, when it comes to regeneration, we need to step back and recognize that measuring something does not always need to be numerical in nature. The party line in the world of business is that“We inspect what we expect” and “If we can not measure it, it can not be improved.”

My perspective on all of this measurement stuff has evolved over time. I understand the importance and role that measurement plays in helping people get better at something. But when it comes to regenerative level work, I believe there is a time and a place for qualitative measures, too. I have not met a leader in all my years who will quote me a statistic related to personal or professional change. Most tell me a story about an event or experience that shifted their perspective and their choices. I have come to understand that if a person remembers something like this over time, then it has made a difference. Our memories and the feelings around these memories are just as important as the quantitative measures. 

I also have learned that the telling of stories related to those events is important, too. It bonds people and makes people feel like they are making a difference. It also inspires people. A number can not always do this. The sharing of a story or a memory can.

Finally, we need to understand that stewardship of regenerative systems is our responsibility. People who conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed do not “outsource” the care of institutional regenerative systems or personal regenerative systems. They engage by being committed to active participation. As one elder told me years ago, “you get out of it what you put into it.” This means going regularly to church or a support group. This means making time for friends and family. 

There have only been a few times in my life when time was not a defining characteristic of what was happening. At these moments, I was not aware of what day of the week it was. Nor was I focused on the clock and what was coming up next. These were what I like to call “100% now moments”.

For example, the days after our first child was born I did not know what day of the week it was. The only time I noticed was sun rises and sun sets. To this day, I specifically remember the time I spent laying on the couch with a newborn son on my chest, watching the sun slowly rise. It was so peaceful and so now.

The biggest and long periods in my life where “time stopped” happened over four summers. During my college years, I went to the same place every summer to be a camp counselor. It was way more than a job. It was a community where I could do “deep battery” recharge after another year of higher education. This particular camp taught simple outdoor living with a focus on wood craft skills, camping skills, crafts, music, trips and adventure.

What made the work of the summer camp experience so powerful for me was that I had found myself, and my team i.e. the other counselors, and my community. We actively supported each other by encouraging each other to try out new activities. When difficult issues surfaced related camper behavior and when challenging differences of perspective happened between counselors, we made the time to deal with them in a thoughtful and respectful manner. In short, there was an “I” but there was an even stronger “we”.

This sense of community was based on an understanding that the work we were doing was changing the lives of all involved. Our goal was make each day a meaningful day. Therefore, we made time to build a meaningful and supportive community. It was dynamic, organic and personal, i.e. a “thick system of relationships” referencing the work of David Brooks in his new book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. As he explains, “When a community begins to build together, they don’t just create new stuff; they create new norms.” 

When I look at the bigger picture, the road ahead is complex. Big issues and complex challenges abound. Our work as leaders will be very important. Therefore, we need to support people to have a meaningful day at work, to have a meaningful day at home, and to do it within the context of a caring community.

This week, begin to build and routinely maintain meaningful regenerative systems in your life. It will make a big difference at work and at home.

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

Monday, December 9, 2019

How do leaders conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed? - part #2

In order to grasp context and hardiness, I have come to the conclusion that you need a mirror and a window.

Back in 2001, Jim Collins wrote a book called Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don’t, HarperBusiness, 2001. Two of the famous phrases from the book that we still hear today are “Good is the enemy of great” and “First who… then what.” The not so famous phrase is “Level 5 Leadership.”

As Collins wrote: “Level 5 leaders display a compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated. In contrast, two thirds of the comparison companies had leaders with gargantuan personal egos that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company…. Level 5 leaders are fanatically driven, infected with an incurable need to produce sustained results. They are resolved to do whatever it takes to make the company great, no matter how big or hard the decisions.”

And then Collins wrote the following, powerful two sentences: “Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves.  When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility.”

For us gathered here today, let’s dive deeper into the concept of the mirror and the window. First, the mirror is to reflect on what I could have done better. No blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck. The goal is humble self improvement. The window, on the other hand, is to give credit for the success of the company to other people, external factors or good luck.

When I think of all the leaders I have met in my 30+ year career who would fall into the Level 5 Leadership category, I realize that these individual have people in their lives who are executive coaches, allies, and confidants. This network of people help them to look in the mirror and out the window on a routine basis.

Furthermore, these same Level 5 Leaders are always seeking to expand their network of people. As Hermina Ibarra wrote in her book, Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), effective leaders have operational, personal, and strategic networks. The first helps them to manage current internal responsibilities. The second boosts personal development, and the third focuses on new business directions and the stakeholders you must get on board to pursue these directions. In particular, a good strategic network can give a person a connective advantage: the ability to marshal information, support, or other resources from one of your networks to obtain results in another.

But here is where I think Collins grasps something unique. Some people use their networks to get some place, but from my experience I have observed that Level 5 Leaders are not solely destination focused. Yes, they want to “produce sustained results” but they know that the first step is to become a more disciplined person through disciplined thought and disciplined action. The work is as much internal as it is external.

As we know, there are four stages to adult learning: unconscious incompetence, conscious incompetence, conscious competence, and finally unconscious competence. From my experience, Level 5 Leaders are constantly seeking in the mirror and through the window ways to not get caught in reactive, unconscious incompetence. They want to get better and they know that the only way to do it is with the help of others and ample time for deep self-reflection.

This week, build and maintain a network of people who will help you look into the mirror and out the window better. And at the exact same time, give yourself permission to schedule more time for reflection. Our challenges in the coming year will be bigger and we must have the courage and the capacity to conquer them and emerge stronger and more committed.

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