Monday, December 5, 2016

How do leaders cope with prolonged uncertainty and having too much to do? - part #1

One big problem that is stretching leaders all across the country is that they are constantly on call. With the arrival of the smart phone, there is an expectation that people in leadership and management positions are 100% available, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, and 100% committed to work above all else.

With this as the back drop to today’s work environment, and a major source of our uncertainty and stress, Wendy K. Smith, Marianne W. Lewis, and Michael L. Tushman in their article called “Both/And Leadership”, Harvard Business Review, May 2016, suggests we explore the following three questions:

- Are we managing for today or for tomorrow?

- Do we adhere to boundaries or cross them?

- Do we focus on creating value for our shareholders and investors or for a broader set of stakeholders?

What I find interesting given the above three questions is that while each of them are unique to the industry where one works, our responses are all the same, namely feeling overwhelmed, fear, frustration, confusion, helplessness, depression, and anger.

What is missing is a fresh perspective. Therefore, I suggest we embrace dynamic equilibrium, where we understand that our strategic paradoxes will always be present and changing, and that it is our job to find the place of balance within the motion.

To start this process, I suggest we check our perception of the world around us. There are two ways to “see” the world , according to Ryan Holiday in his book.  The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, Penguin, 2014. The first is “The Observing Eye,” where we see what is actually there. The other is “The Perceiving Eye,” where we see more than what is there. As leaders, our goal is to see these things as they really are, without any of the ornamentation. The most dangerous perspective or perception to hold is one where we think we can change something that is not ours to change. 

This week, embrace your challenges and practice seeing with your Observing Eye rather than just your Perceiving Eye.

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

How do leaders create a team during times of high turnover? - part # 2

First, when seeking to create a shared mindset at the team level, Michael D. Watkins in his article, “Leading The Team You Inherit”, Harvard Business Review, June 2016, writes, “To get everyone aligned the team must agree on answers to four basic questions:

- What will we accomplish?
- Why should we do it?
- How will we do it?
- Who will do what?

Answering these four questions unites the team at a foundational level. 

Second, I think there is more that is needed, namely a commitment to “structured unstructured time,” a term Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen use in their article called “The Secrets of Great Teamwork.” Harvard Business Review, June 2016. I saw it best applied this past summer when a CEO took his entire team out to dinner after an intense, day long strategic dialogue about the future. That evening I listened to two different sets of conversations and was delighted to see that no one was talking about work. Instead, they were using this structured unstructured time to get to know each other better and to share more about their history. When they gathered the next morning, it was obvious that the group was more connected, relaxed and focused.

Third, I think it is important to teach people how to make meaningful decisions. People need to understand that it is a four stage process, namely planning to making a decision, making a decision, implementing the decision and then evaluating the decision. The thing that unites a team the most is when everyone on the team is using the same method of planning when making a decision. When in-depth clarity about the strategic nexus, i.e. the unity of the mission, vision and core values plus the strategic plan, in combination with a high degree of confidence in the competency of the other members of the team, then the team stays united through the normal ups and downs of today’s corporate life.

This week, remember that building teams and maintaining teams is paramount right now to short and long term success. As Oren Harari wrote in his book, The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, McGraw-Hill, 2002: “Leadership is, ultimately, responsibility, and it's the ultimate responsibility.”

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

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Time For Thanks

In a society where busy is the new definition of success, and where cell phones are constantly ringing and beeping, we could easily frame up this week as nothing more than food, football games, and intense shopping. 

But what I look forward to is the brief pause before the big meal when we gather around the table, hold hands in a circle, collectively bow our heads, and say a prayer of thanks. 

This year, I know that our family will be thankful for the loving hands that grew the food. And the loving hands that prepared it. 

We will be thankful for safe travels and happy reunions.

We will be thankful for grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, spouses, brothers and sisters.

We will be thankful for the opportunity to be together, laughing, singing, and sharing our joys, our challenges, and our losses.

In that moment of peaceful quiet and pray-filled reverence before the meal, we will be one. 

One family.

One faith.

One circle filled with many blessings.

My hope is that you can find that moment of peace and connection as you gather with your family and friends this Thanksgiving. We are all connected and this is a week to be thankful for the meaningful connections we have with the ones we love.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Unleashing the Power of Culture and Coaching

When the history books are written about our time, many authors will focus on the flawless execution of brilliantly conceived strategies and the amazing level of teamwork that took place. Others will focus on the different personalities of our times showing how they were in command of smart people and delegated to them so they could solve amazingly complicated problems. Finally, these same authors will note that even in the face of adverse conditions these leaders and their companies did not give in or give up to the difficulties before them. Resilience and perseverance will become the buzz words of this decade.

While much of this is true on one level, the best leaders, especially the ones who are humble enough to not get caught up in the hype, will not let the focus be on effort and strategy alone. They will talk about the quiet revolution that took place when no one was looking. These leaders will talk about the interface between culture and coaching.  

From my experience of helping organizations and leaders improve or transform their organization over the course of 30+ years, I have watched the best leaders recognize that their organization’s culture is key to their strategic success. These thoughtful leaders focus on the systems that create this culture and sustain this culture. They understand that any cultural misalignment has the potential to impact the organization over the short and long term. Therefore, they are constantly monitoring for misalignments, and recognizing that these misalignments will have a profound impact on profitability and sustainable growth. 

At the exact same time, these profoundly successful leaders also focus on one to one coaching. While they can build and maintain amazing teams, the prerequisite to successful teams is to have a work place filled with successful people. Therefore, the best leaders are constantly focused on developing their people. This one to one level of coaching is mission critical to the culture and to the company. When people within a company are dedicated to constantly getting better, then a cultural flywheel is built. The power of all committed to continual improvement results in a company committed to continual improvement.  In short, organizational change and improvement is the sum of individual change and improvement.

For those leaders who are seeking to create and maintain this kind of flywheel during the next 3-5 years, then now is the time to sign up your key leaders for the 2017 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 2017 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

The history books about our time may or may not become bestsellers, but the impact of exceptional leadership will transcend this time because those companies will still be in business and still creating successful outcomes and solutions. I look forward to your participation in the 2017 From Vision to Action Leadership Training where we will explore these topics and many others that can make a difference.

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

Monday, November 14, 2016

How do leaders create a team during times of high turnover? - part #1

“Today’s teams are different from the teams of the past,” writes Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in their article “The Secrets of Great Teamwork,” Harvard Business Review, June 2016. As they continue, “They’re far more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic (with frequent changes in membership).” Haas and Mortensen call these kinds of teams 4-D teams.

First, let’s remember that in the world of team building the sequence that most teams go through to becoming a team is the following: “forming, storming, norming, performing.” What we forget is that this original process was created by Bruce Tuckman in 1965. A lot has happened in the last 51 years and yet Michael D. Watkins in his article, “Leading The Team You Inherit,” Harvard Business Review, June 2016, notes the following: “Ultimately new leaders want their people to exhibit high-performance behaviors such as sharing information freely, identifying and dealing with conflict swiftly, solving problems creatively, supporting one another, and presenting a unified face to the outside world once decisions have been made.” Whether it is 1965 or 2016, we want our leadership teams to be very successful.

Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in their article “The Secrets of Great Teamwork,” Harvard Business Review, June 2016, note there are four key elements to successful teamwork. They are a compelling direction where “People have to care about achieving a goal”, a strong structure where “Every individual doesn’t have to possess superlative technical and social skills, but the team overall needs a healthy dose of both”, a supportive context where all involved have the resources, information and training they need, and finally a shared mindset. As Haas and Mortensen explain, “Distance and diversity, as well as digital communication and changing membership, make them [teams] especially prone to the problems of “us versus them” thinking and incomplete information…. The solution to both is developing a shared mindset among team members - something team leaders can do by fostering a common identity and common understanding.”

This week, before you start thinking about how to reduce turnover on your teams make sure you have the right elements in place for them to be successful.

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

Going To The Next Level

During the last 90 days, more and more senior leaders have been discussing with me about how to help a functional leader become an enterprise level leader. At the same time, many middle managers who want to be a future senior executive have talked with about the exact same subject. While there are no quick fixes to this challenge, there are three key concepts that I have observed when people transition from being a functional leader to a successful enterprise level leader.

First, the best enterprise level leaders know that diagnosing a problem is as important as solving a problem. Therefore, they follow the advice of Roger Martin in his June 2007 article in the Harvard Business Review called “How Successful Leaders Think” by asking the following three questions:

- What are the salient factors to take into consideration?
- What is causing what? i.e. an analysis of causality.
- What is the correct decision architecture to deploy?

The answers to these three questions give them a framework to making the right decision rather than simply rushing in to solve the immediate problem. In essence, these questions help them see the bigger picture and understand the impact of making a decision.

Second, the best enterprise level leaders recognize that commitment is a mindset more than it is an action.  Beginning with the perspective that awareness is not understanding, the best enterprise level leaders are focused on creating a strategic level mindset in everyone who has to develop and execute a strategic plan. They agree with Bill Gore when he wrote, “Commitment, not authority, produces results.” Therefore, they are constantly seeking out ways to help people be better committed to the mission of the organization.

Third, the best enterprise level leaders know that competency is not mastery. Many people can do things in a competent manner. But those who are committed to mastery understand that there are never really experts, only people who commit a life time to constant learning of the fundamentals and the willingness to take risks to achieve a higher performance. With intentionality and continual practice, the best enterprise level leaders are always willing to be the beginner. Continual progress is the foundation of all they do.

The goal of becoming an enterprise level leader is a worthy one. The goal of becoming one of the best takes profound depth of character and commitment. The path is not easy but it is worthwhile. I hope the above helps you as you move forward in your career or if you are coaching some one in their career journey.

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

Monday, October 31, 2016

How do leaders create an understanding of a problem and buy-in for the solution? - part #2

One of the biggest challenges to creating buy-in for the solution to a problem starts with creating the environment for understanding and ultimately ownership of the problem. This means we have to help employees feel that they are technically competent to deal with the problem but also committed and motivated to deal with it. This is why more leaders need to read or routinely review the following book: Lencioni, Patrick. The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and their employees), Jossey-Bass 2007. This is a great resource for building the right environment for ownership.

Second, John P.  Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead in their book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down, Harvard Business Review Press, 2010, write that the elements that work together to achieve buy-in happen when we capture peoples’ attention, and then “with people paying attention, winning over the minds and their hearts.” From my experience and observations, people only do this when they feel safe and cared for by their managers and supervisors.

Finally, while this may seem immensely simplistic, the best leaders at helping people buy-in to a solution show how the solution and it’s related new behaviors and practices will lead to improved results. While this may not be a latest and greatest, hot-off-the-press, best-seller, new idea, it is nevertheless a practical one. When people see improved results, they support and advocate for the solution to continue.

This week, keep building the right environment for ownership, and keep helping people to see improved results. It will make a world of difference for all involved.

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