Monday, March 23, 2015

Building Connections Instead of Connectivity

It was many years ago when they called me to stop by and see their state of the art computer lab. As I walked in, the room was filled with computers in rows and a huge screen up front. My host that morning explained to me that the company had invested in all these machines and a new software program so everyone in the room could explore a strategic level question at the same time. Then, once people started typing, they could also read all the other comments people were writing plus add their own comments. A massive level of sharing was going to take place and it would all be recorded on the big screen so people could see it happening live.

I smiled as she listed all the benefits of this new strategic level computer lab. Then I asked a simple question, “Why don’t people just talk directly to each other and skip the computer?

A long time ago, I remember my young son calling up his best friend on the phone and checking to see if he was home. Then, he said the following: “Great! Hang up and let’s instant message.” And they did.

While I like novel approaches, there is something very powerful that happens when people listen and share face to face. They make a deeper connection than just the words. Clarity is more than just a head and ear experience. When it is real, one feels it, not just thinks it.

As Margaret Wheatley wrote years ago, "It is time to become passionate about what is best in us, and to create organizations that welcome our creativity, contribution, and compassion. We do this by using processes that bring us together to talk to one another, listen to one another's stories, reflect together on what we're learning as we do our work. We do this by developing relationships of trust, where we do what we say, where we speak truthfully, where we refuse to act from petty self-interest."

My hope is that this week you will commit to developing relationships of trust where our connections are based on meaningful sharing and listening.

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A New Book on Leadership

I read all the time. Whether it is articles on the web, the latest issue of Fast Company magazine or the Harvard Business Review, I am always on the hunt for new insights or perspectives to help me better understand the fascinating and complex world of leadership and organizational change. 

Over the decades, I have found that certain authors are good sources of new insights. For example, Stephen Covey, Tom Peters, and Ken Blanchard in the 80’s and 90’s always provided solid research and ideas. More recently, one can always count on Jim Collins, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Patrick Lencioni, Margaret Wheatley, and Marcus Buckingham to present thought-provoking ideas and new perspectives.

However, over the last few years when reading the Harvard Business Review, a new author, Herminia Ibarra, has started appearing on my radar screen. Her research and ideas are intriguing and helpful. They have caused me to pause, reflect deeply, and rethink some things. Thus, I was delighted to see that she just published a new book  last month called Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader, Harvard Business Review Press, 2015. Now having read it twice, I think she offers some good, new ways of thinking about the world of leadership. 

The foundation of her new book can be summarized by the following quote by Richard Pascale: “Adults are more likely to act their way into a new way of thinking than to think their way into a new way of acting.” As she explains, “you can only learn what you need to know about your job and your self by doing it - not by just thinking about it…. we only increase self-knowledge in the process of making changes.” As she continues, “This cycle of acting like a leader and then thinking like a leader - of change from the outside in - creates what I call outsight.” 

In the book, she notes that “Contrary to public opinion, too much introspection anchors us in the past and amplifies our blinders, shielding us from discovering our leadership potential and leaving us unprepared for fundamental shifts in the situations around us.” Outsight comes from actions that revolve around redefining your job as a leader, redefining your network and redefining yourself. “As psychologists remind us, knowing what we should be doing and actually doing it are two very different things.”

Her case for a change in thinking how we approach leadership is solid and well thought through. Each chapter of the book contains excellent summaries of the material explored. For example, in the Chapter 1 Summary, she points out that “Outsight comes from a “tripod” of sources: new ways of doing your work (your job), new relationships (your network), and new ways of connecting to and engaging people (yourself)…. Sustainable change in your leadership capacity requires shifts on all three legs of the tripod.”

I was particularly impressed with her notion in Chapter 2 that effective leaders need to be a hub and/or a bridge. As she explains, leaders who are hubs do the following: set goals for the team, assign roles to their people, assign tasks, monitor progress toward goals, manage team member performance, conduct performance evaluations, hold meetings to coordinate work, and create good climate inside the team. On the other hand, leaders who are bridge builders do the following: align team goals with organizational priorities, funnel critical information and resources into the team to ensure progress toward goals, get the support of key allies outside the team, enhance the external visibility and reputation of the team, and give recognition for good performances and then place team members in great next assignments. Understanding when you are a hub and when you are a bridge builder is a good step in learning to be a better leader. 

I also was delighted to read about the role of operational, personal and strategic networks in Chapter 3 of this new book. “The first helps you 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.” I enjoyed how she framed up strategic networks as a one “made up of relationships that help you to envision the future, sell your ideas, and get the information and resources you need to exploit these ideas….A good strategic network gives you connective advantage: the ability to marshal information, support, or other resources from one of your networks to obtain results in another.” I completely agree with her when she further explained “You need operational, personal, and strategic networks to get things done, to develop personally and professionally, and to step up to leadership. Although most good managers have good operational networks, their personal networks are disconnected from their leadership work, and their strategic networks are nonexistent or underutilized.”

Overall, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader is a good new addition to the lexicon of well written books about this subject. I enjoyed reading it, and recommend it to others. I also look forward to her on-going work in this area.

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Big Question

Many times during executive coaching sessions this winter, senior leaders have confided in me that they are deeply frustrated by how dysfunctional their team has become.

“What’s the problem with people these days?”, they ask me. “Why can’t they just get along and get things done?”

There are no easy answers to such important questions. It takes time and perspective to understand what is going on and why it has resulted in the problems that many senior teams are experiencing right now.

Still, one insight I have gleaned from years of this level of work is that most leaders talk team but in actuality just want a single leader work group where they as the leader define all the goals, the agenda, and the definition of success. They want to be in control and in charge. While there is a time and a business context for such a choice, most leaders use team based language but choose single leader work group behaviors thus generating confusion and trust issues amongst the “team” participants.

Because this issue is surfacing in multiple industries across the country, I have decided to spend time exploring and discussing it at the Spring 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. It is part of the following larger agenda:

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: Sheraton West Des Moines Hotel at 1800 50th Street, West Des Moines, Iowa

If you and your team are interested in discovering creative and effective answers to the question of teams vs. single leader work groups, I encourage you to register today. Here is the link to the registration form:

I look forward to your participation as we discover new and better ways to collaborate.

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

Thinking About The Past; Planning For The Future

The first quarter of 2015 is nearly in the history books and a new round of planning has started. In small and large group meetings, people are coming together to discuss summer goals and how they can position the organization for a strong finish in 2015 and a good beginning in 2016. Goals and objectives are being written and rewritten. People are studying metrics and talking about alignment. Supervision and coaching are kicking into high gear.

As one who is well aware of all this effort, I am continually reminded of the following quote by Jon Madonna, retired Chairman and CEO of KPMG International: “Nothing stops an organization faster than people who believe that the way they worked yesterday is the best way to work tomorrow. To succeed, not only do your people have to change the way they act, they’ve got to change the way they think about the past.” 

Our challenge as leaders is to create a sense of urgency and clarity that maintaining status quo is more dangerous than moving forward to a whole new level of performance. When all involved comprehend that what got us to here, may not get us to the new desired outcome we seek in the future, then there will become a new level of focus and determination.

This week I encourage you to do a better job of selling the problems and clarifying the vision for the future. The combination of the two will create a solid forward momentum.

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Freedom to Continue

Being a leader is hard work. 

Every day, we deal with people, problems and complexity.

We routinely make decisions with incomplete information.

We struggle with group dynamics.

We try hard to sort the wheat from the chafe when it comes to prioritizing.

We make every effort to communicate in a clear manner.

And some days, we don’t feel like we are making much progress.

Some days, we are worn by the pace and overwhelmed by the magnitude of just how much needs to get done.

When I am facing such times, I remember the following quote by John W. Gardner:

"We need to believe in ourselves and our future, but not to believe that life is easy. Life is painful and rain falls on the just. Leaders must help us see failure and frustration not as reason to doubt ourselves but as reason to strengthen our resolve.... Don't pray for the day when we finally solve our problems. Pray that we have the freedom to continue working on the problems the future will never cease to throw at us.”

My challenge to you this week is to remember that the future is just another sunrise away. And we need leaders who will strengthen our commitment to keep trying. We need leaders who believe in the work we do and who know that hard work matters. We need leaders who are committed to their people. We need leaders who are willing to pray that we have the freedom to continue solving today’s problems and the ones that are coming.  We need leaders right now who will strengthen our resolve.

Are you willing to be that kind of leader this week?

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

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