Monday, March 2, 2015

The Dark Side of Problem Solving

Most leaders do not want to talk about it, and most young leaders get caught in it. But all will admit privately that there is a dark side to problem solving. From my perspective, the best resource on this subject is the following book: Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable, Jossey-Bass, 1998. Right now, it should be required reading for many people in management and leadership positions who are struggling with problem solving.

Lencioni points out that there are five temptations:
- Choosing status over results.
- Choosing popularity over accountability.
- Choosing certainty over clarity.
- Choosing harmony over productive conflict.
- Choosing invulnerability over trust.

I call these the dark sides of problem solving. Over the years, I have witnessed numerous people in leadership positions choose status, popularity, certainty, harmony, and invulnerability when solving problems. Not once have I seen this go well for the person, the proposed solution, or the organization. Choosing these temptations have short and long term implications and none of them are helpful or productive.  

The difficulty for many leaders is that they have to do something that most of them do not want to do, namely have the courage to help their organization face reality and then deal with it. As Ron Heiftz noted in an interview back in June 1999 in Fast Company magazine, “Leaders of the future need to have the stomach for conflict and uncertainty -- among their people and within themselves.” The challenge is that they need to keep people in a “productive discomfort zone” while guiding them through the problem solving process. This requires the leader to unprotect the organization from the difficulties before it and to help the organization determine what is and is not essential to being successful moving forward. While this is not easy, it is clearly a vital part of being a leader.

This week I encourage you to be more mindful of the dark side of problem solving and to make smarter and more effective choices as you move through the work of problem solving. 

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Trouble With Solving Problems

Problems, problems and more problems. Everyday we struggle to keep up with them and to solve them. As Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky pointed out in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, the single most important skill for exercising adaptive leadership is the diagnosis of problems. However, we as leaders forget that our technical problems, i.e. ones with known solutions, may at times be another person’s adaptive problem, i.e. one where they may need to learn their way through the problem solving process. Because when it comes to diagnosing problems, it is the definition of the problem that more likely will be the problem. This is where shared language can be most helpful.

Next, we need to remember the advice of the previous authors when they wrote that “successful adaptive changes build on the past rather than jettison it.” They do this by determining “what is essential to preserving the organization’s heritage and what is expendable.” From my experience, this determination takes a great deal of personal reflection and very good, in-depth strategic dialogue. The combination makes a huge difference in solving problems.

Finally, we need to realize that in order to solve problems effectively over time, we must build an adaptive organization. Here are the qualities of such an organization as defined by the above authors:
- elephants in the room are named
- responsibility for the organization’s future is shared
- independent judgment is expected
- leadership capacity is developed
- reflection and continuous learning are institutionalized
When the above becomes part of the normal operations of an organization, then we can solve problems more effectively and generate more successful solutions.

This week I challenge you to do a better job of diagnosing your problems and at the exact same time to start building an adaptive organization. This will help you and your organization thrive in the midst of on-going difficulties and challenges.

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

Monday, February 16, 2015

Managing the Intensity of Change

Currently, people in management and leadership positions are overwhelmed by change. It is happening at the strategic and the operational levels at the same time. And it keeps coming hard and fast with little time to finish one thing before another starts.

As I noted at the Fall 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, change has shifted from being episodic to continuous even though we as leaders have continued to frame it up as episodic. Rather than thinking of organizational change as a “one and done,” we now need to focus on it being dynamic and continuous.

The result is that people are emotionally exhausted by the amount of unknowns. Every day, there are too many variables to process, and too few people to share one’s feelings and thoughts about it all. The upshot is that many are now focusing on operational compliance rather than strategic clarity.

When people are feeling overwhelmed and clearly feeling outside their comfort zones, I have taught for decades that leaders need to create a strong team, offer strategic perspective, and develop a safety zone so in-depth and thoughtful strategic level dialogue can take place. The challenge is that most leaders are too busy to take the time to reflect, and think and engage with others in constructive strategic dialogue.

The solution to this situation is to sign up for the Spring 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. Here, you will discover a fine group of dedicated leaders who are more than willing to step back from the day to day intensity and engage with you in thoughtful and meaningful dialogue about what is and what is not working. Consider it your personal think tank where creative and effective ideas and solutions are explored and developed.

Now is the time to register yourself and your team for this powerful learning opportunity. Here is the agenda for your review:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

8:30 am - Registration
9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders deal with continuous strategic and operational changes at the same time?
10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders create a mission driven, core-value led culture?
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking 
1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do leaders distinguish between when to build teams and when to build single-leader work groups?
2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do leaders hold people accountable?
4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday, April 9, 2015

9:00 am - 10:15 am - How does one lead with executive presence?
10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break 
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
12:00 pm - Adjourn

Location: Courtyard in West Des Moines/Clive, Iowa.

And here is the link to the registration form:


I look forward to your participation as we all learn new and better ways to manage the intensity of change.

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

Doing It Right The First Time

When I was growing up, I often heard the following statement: “If you are going to do something, then do it right the first time.” This was just the way it was in my young life. For example, if you wanted to go on a hiking trip, then you went and got the best gear you could afford, mapped out the route, and prepared for all contingencies like rain, heat or an accident. If it was worth doing, it was always worth doing right the first time.

The challenge this winter is that people are moving so fast and rushing about so much that many just want to solve a problem, i.e. get it past them so that they can get on to the next thing on the list. They are not thinking about what is the right or best way to do it. The goal is simply to do it and move on. Thus, they approach every thing and every person in a binary fashion, namely done or not done. And, of course, the goal is to solve the problem fast so you can then jump on to solving the next problem.

However, I think the key in successful organizations is not to simply get everything done. It is to make sure there is alignment between the solutions and the strategic nexus of the company. The nexus, as many of you know, is the sum of the mission, vision and values plus the strategic plan. If we do it right the first time, then we will have action based on the mission and core values in alignment with the vision and the strategic plan. Alignment is not always easy and may initially take more time. But the short and long term impact of doing it right is always worth the effort.

My challenge to you this week is to solve the problems before you in the right way every time. And to remember that alignment is both the goal and the method.

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

Monday, February 9, 2015

Exploring The Relationship Between Problems and Solutions

Every day someone in the world of leadership is wrestling with a problem. Large or small, technical or adaptive, leaders can struggle to figure out how to solve these problems within their organization and the ones outside their organization in an efficient and cost effective manner. Sometimes they struggle with decision-making. Other days it is with how to communicate the solution in order to generate buy-in. But what ever the case, problems and leadership go hand in hand. 

For me as an executive coach, consultant and teacher, I have been thinking recently about leadership and problem solving because I read the following quote by  Eric Sevareid“The cause of problems is solutions.” When I first came across this quote in an essay by Margaret Wheatley, I had to stop and reflect. I spend hours helping leaders figure out how to solve problems. Yet, I have to take the long view and realize that today’s solutions could create long term problems. Fixing an operational issue could have long term strategic impact. Fixing a strategic problem may cause many operational issues.

From my perspective, it all comes down to The Law of the Whole, namely “Change in one part influences and changes all other parts.” Our challenge as leaders is not to just solve the immediate problem but to also think through what could be and what will be impacted by the solutions proposed. As we do this, we will make better choices. For when it comes to exploring the relationship between problems and solutions, it all comes down to making thoughtful choices.

Remember: Leadership can be hard. Problem-solving will not always be easy. However, it is imperative that we make the best choices and to think through the short and long term implications of these choices.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Redefining Leadership

There are days when leaders get overwhelmed by too much change, too much information, and too much chaos.

Some call this a tipping point. Others say they have reached the end of their rope. Some call it hitting the wall.

What ever it is called, the best leaders pause and reflect when this happens.

They ask themselves some questions.

What am I missing? 

How did I get here? 

What created this situation?

And in these moments of reflection, an opportunity to re-examine life and leadership can take place. 

As Steve Miller, Group Managing Director, Royal Dutch/Shell, shared many years ago, “Change how you define leadership, and you change how you run a company.” 

One place to discover a new definition of leadership is by participating in the 2015 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

There is still time to sign-up.

 For more information on how to register for the 2015 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: http://www.chartyourpath.com/VTA-Leadership-Training.html 

Remember: if you change the way you lead, then ultimately your will change the company.

I look forward to seeing you at out first session on March 3!

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

Monday, February 2, 2015

Living With Passion

I realized recently that many people live their lives like they wash their clothes. Some are careful about what colors go into which load, while others stuff it in and do not mind if their underwear is grey or their brights faded. Yet after the load determination stage, they all dump in the soap, turn on the machine, and walk away. Clothes in and clothes out. Dirt is washed away and that is all that counts.

I remember the first week I lead a work camp for teenagers in rural northern Mexico [back in the early 1980’s]. After three days of digging trenches for the first septic system and flush toilet for a small community school, the students in the work group approached me and the upcoming weekend fiestas with a big problem and an even more important question. Their clothes were dirty.  “Now, what do we do?” they asked.

There were no washing machines, not even electricity. The amount of running water from the pump depended on whether or not the community generator had enough gas and working parts to get started that day. I handed each group member a bar of soap or a box of soap flakes and said, “Go find a bucket of water and start rubbing.” That first weekend was pretty difficult for them because they had not thought ahead about how hard it was going to be to get the dirt out of their clothes after all their digging. They went to the party wearing some very wrinkled and not very clean combinations of work pants and shirts.

Yet, if you have ever washed a week’s worth of clothes by hand, you learn the importance of thoughtfulness and mindfulness. I, too, became very attentive to how I treated my clothes and how hard it was going to be to wash them out after a hard day’s work.  By the end of the week, I remembered that dirt didn’t just wash away - one had to work hard and carefully at it.  Richard Bach wrote that you are never given a wish without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however. My own level of awareness of how I choose to live my life started to come into focus. Dirty laundry can be a good teacher.

When it comes to learning practical stress-management skills, the quality of our lives needs to be redirected to living from a place of passion. When you are washing a pair of well-used and very dirty blue jeans by hand, and you want them to come clean because you have been invited to dinner by the town mayor to discuss further work camps with the community, you have to rub hard and be consistent. The issue of what is important is very clear, namely, that clean clothes are a statement about caring for yourself and others. It is a sign of commitment to the process. The “dump in and walk away from the machine” style of living is not even part of your reality. In short, as with the process of cleaning clothes by hand, awareness is central to handling stress more effectively.

Along with living one’s life with passion and awareness, there is another important aspect to health and wellness. As Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu wrote: “A man or woman with outward courage dares to die; A man or woman with inward courage dares to live.”

Walking the pathway to health requires us to acknowledge, that all our experiences in life are catalysts for growth. Furthermore, what we accept, think about, and keep foremost in our minds will be the basis on which we live. If we choose to live with passion, we must have the inward courage to live fully in each moment. Stress has to be handled and handled at the moment it occurs. We can not put it off or forget about it.

In stress-management workshops, people regularly ask me where they should begin. I always remind them of the following words from the Bible: “As you sow, so you shall reap.” To have inward courage to live passionately means to become more attentive to the process of living. We do not need to start washing our clothes by hand, but we do need to become more awake to the process of what we are choosing to do and in what kind of spirit we are doing it.

On the same trip to Mexico, one day one of the light-hearted young men came up to me and asked if he and others could go down to the river to wash their hair and their clothes with bio-degradable soap. I conferred  with the other leaders since they had been in Mexico more times than I, and we said “yes” to the request. With bags of dirty clothes, we all hiked to a nearby waterfall in the river. While some washed their clothes along the bank, others washed their hair with buckets, the light-hearted one had a most unique solution. He put on his dirtiest clothes and walked into the river with soap. First he washed his clothes while wearing them, and then his hair. He ended this very funny “wash cycle” by singing at the top of his lungs while standing underneath the water fall. His clothes came out cleaner than those of the other students, and the afternoon ended with all of us standing around wearing and washing our dirty clothes and then singing under the water fall. It had to be one of my most memorable and enjoyable clothes-washing experiences. 

Living passionately can be fun and rewarding. Dealing with your stress by being aware of how you choose to live is a continual process of mindfulness. Being light of heart and playful in spirit is a good place to start.

From Listen to the Heart The Transformational Pathway to Health and Wellness by Geery Howe published back in 1991. For more information about the book, please click on the following link:  http://www.chartyourpath.com/Listen-to-the-Heart.html

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