Monday, August 22, 2016

Clarify Your Priorities

Every day as leaders we get pulled in many directions. This is normal and, at times, very frustrating. Whether we like it or not, there are endless demands on our time and our attention. It comes with the job, and it rarely is the best part. Still, we can do one unique and challenging thing to handle it. We can proactively clarify our priorities.

Over the years, I have heard many people say that clarifying priorities is simple, but I have not found this to be the case at all. Every day people arrive with problems that need to be solved. Every day we do our best to manage and, at times, just cope.

Upon much reflection, I have come to the conclusion that to manage our priorities we first need to step back from the day to day issues and focus on the bigger picture, particularly the bigger picture at home. In this part of our life, I encourage people to define their priorities in the following areas: health, marriage, family, home and community/friends. Having these categories helps people name one to three things per category, and start to put many things back into perspective.

Second, at work, we also need to define the categories, e.g. people, team, strategic direction, operational excellence, etc.. Again, it is the categories that take the overwhelming task of prioritization and breaks it down into manageable areas of focus and clarification.

This week, define the categories that work best for you and then begin to define 1-3 priorities per category. This will take time but it is worth the investment when life just gets busier and busier with no end in sight.

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

It’s All About The Culture

Routinely I have the wonderful opportunity to cross paths with former students of mine who participated in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training. When we sit down and visit, I often ask them “What have you been learning recently?” And nine times out of ten, they will will respond, “I have realized, Geery, that it is all about the culture.” I just burst out in a huge smile and reply “Yes, it is.”

As Ron Heiftz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Harvard Business Press, 2009) explain, “Fostering an adaptive culture will enable your organization or community to meet an ongoing series of adaptive challenges into the future, a future that is almost guaranteed in our day to keep pitching new challenges toward us.”

The above authors explain that there are five distinguishing characteristics of an adaptive culture. They are as follows:

- Elephants on the table are named.

- Responsibility for the organization is shared.

- Independent judgement is expected.

- Leadership capacity is developed.

- Reflection and continuous learning are institutionalized.

This week, analyze your organization’s culture or your team’s culture, and determine whether or not you are building the right culture for today and for the future.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Transforming Day to Day Operations

Although no one in a leadership position wants to admit it, sometimes the best strategic plans do not really change day to day operations. The problem as Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Harvard Business Press, 2009) note is the following: “The reality is that any social system [i.e. tactical operations] … is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way.”

The reality is that most people who do day to day work do not want day to day operations to change. They like status quo just the way it is, even if it is a dysfunctional status quo. As one person shared with me a recently, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”

General Stanley McChrystal with Tantum Collins, David Silverman and Chris Fussell in their book called Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement For A Complex World (Portfolio/Penguin, 2015) explored the subject of transforming day to day operations when combatting Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004. While it looked on the surface like a traditional insurgency, under the surface AQI operated unlike anything they had seen before. In place of a traditional hierarchy, AQI took the form of a dispersed network that proved devastatingly effective against the United States military’s objectively more qualified force. As they wrote, “To win we had to change. Surprisingly, that change was less about tactics or new technology than it was about internal architecture and culture of our force - in other words, our approach to management.”

We will be exploring this subject and many more on September 21 - 22, 2016 during the upcoming Fall 2016 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa. 

Here is the overall agenda for your review:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
- 8:30 am - Arrival & Visiting Time
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders transform day to day operations?
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders know if they have the “right people on the right seats of the bus”?
- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch & Networking 
- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do leaders create an understanding of a problem and buy-in for the solution?
- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do leaders create a team during times of high turnover?
- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday, September 22, 2016
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders cope with prolonged uncertainty and having too much to do?
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

If you and your team are interested in participating, here is the link to the registration form:


I hope you will join me and many other business leaders as we explore how to transform day to day operations. Given all that is happening in the world at this time period, we, as leaders, can not afford to create strategic plans that do not actually transform day to day operations. 

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

Monday, August 8, 2016

Assessing the Temperature

August in Iowa is a traditionally hot month with more than it’s fair share of humidity. Farmers love it because it is good for the corn and the beans. People struggle with it, but manage well enough if they have access to a good fan or an air conditioner. But in the world of leadership, assessing temperature has less to do with what is outside the organization and much more to do with what is happening inside the company.

When instituting organized change or transformation, all leaders know there will be problems. Some will be technical and some will be adaptive. Most people will respond normally to these problem, namely that they will want a clear and uninterrupted pathway back to status quo or normalcy. And the best leaders understand that status quo is dangerous if not organizationally fatal in some situations. Therefore, they will, over time, raise or lower the temperature around change.

First, this has nothing to do with the temperature within the room where people work. Instead, it is all about raising or lower the awareness and urgency factors within a group or organization to address issues where there is conflict or disagreements. As Ron Heiftz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Harvard Business Press, 2009) note, “Your goal is to keep the temperature - that is, the intensity of the disequilibrium created by discussion of the conflict - high enough to motivate people to arrive at creative next steps and potentially useful solutions, but not so high that it drives them away or makes it impossible for them to function.”

As the above authors explain, to raise the “temperature” within a group or organization, a leader will “draw attention to the tough questions” or “bring conflicts to the surface.” In order to lower the temperature, a leader might “provide structure by breaking the problem down into parts and creating time frames, decision rules, and role assignments” or “slow down the process of challenging norms and expectations.” Whatever the choice, the key is carefully assess the temperature within the organization or the group on a regular basis.

This week, take stock of the temperature and then consciously choose to raise or lower it in order for the group to be more effective.

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

Monday, August 1, 2016

Acting Politically

In the world of adaptive change and organizational transformation, there is a lot of office politics. Effective leaders know how to manage these different elements and all of the different personalities involved. It is not easy work, but it is powerfully important work. 

Ron Heiftz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Harvard Business Press, 2009) point out the following: “By acting politically, we mean using your awareness of the limits of your own authority, and of stakeholders' interests, as well as power and influence networks in your organization, to forge alliances with people who will support your efforts, to integrate and defuse opposition, and to give valuable dissenting voices a hearing as you adjust your perspective, interventions and mobilize adaptive work.”

The first step from my own experience and from what the above authors have researched is that we need to find allies in order to be effective. As they write, “Trying to lead an adaptive set of interventions without allies is like braving Buffalo, New York, in the dead of winter without a warm coat. That is especially true when you attempt to lead change in a group or organization of more than twenty people. In such settings, the complexity of the political landscape is way beyond anyone’s ability to navigate alone.”  Allies and confidants are very helpful in understanding the political landscape.

The second step is “take responsibility for casualties.” This is very important and I have seen it done well and done very poorly. The impact of either way is profound and long lasting. As the above authors note, “adaptive change results in casualties: people in the organization who loose something of value, whether it is a familiar way of doing things, status, job, or in the military, their lives.” 

Recognizing that casualties are inevitable, we need, as leaders, to pay attention to them, spend time with them, acknowledge our role in creating them, and find ways to help them in a respectful manner to endure what is happening or to get on with their life in a new way.

This is important strategically, the above authors remind us, because you are “communicating to the allies of those who have become casualties: if these allies see you treating their friends humanely, they may have more positive feelings about you and your initiative. If they see you treat their friends callously, they will have one more good reason not to come on board.”

This week, find more allies and prepare for how you will take responsibility for casualties. When we hold ourselves accountable in this manner for the outcomes of our decisions and our actions, large or small, we send an important message as a leader. 

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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Early Bird Special Reminder!

Before more of July passes by, I just wanted to post a friendly reminder that the “Early Bird Special” for the Fall 2016 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable is set to expire on Friday, July 29.

If you sign up between now and 7/29/16, 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 when you send it to me by mail or fax (# 319 - 643 - 2185).

After 7/29/16, the registration price will be $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day.

Here is the agenda for your review:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016
- 8:30 am - Arrival & Visiting Time
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders transform day to day operations?
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders know if they have the “right people on the right seats of the bus”?
- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch & Networking 
- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do leaders create an understanding of a problem and buy-in for the solution?
- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do leaders create a team during times of high turnover?
- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday, September 22, 2016
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders cope with prolonged uncertainty and having too much to do?
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
- 12:00 pm - Adjourn 

Location: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa.

Hope you can come!

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

Figure out Ripeness

Once you have been on the balcony, referencing the metaphor from last week’s blog post, then it is time to start figuring out how to create an effective course of action. Ron Heiftz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Harvard Business Press, 2009) recommends we determine the “ripeness” of problem within the organization. As they explain, “an issue is ripe when the urgency to deal with it has become generalized across the system. If only a subgroup or faction cares passionately, but most other groups in the system have other priorities on their mind, then the issue is not yet ripe. Determining ripeness is critical because a strategy of intervention to ripen an issue that is only localized is different from a strategy to deal with a ripe issue that is already generalized.”

Their writing on this subject reminds me of John Kotter’s research in the book Leading Change where he talks about the importance of creating urgency before creating action. The late William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions also talks about this concept and the importance of selling the problem before implementing the solution. The key is to realize that complacency and status quo are real and will fight back against change or transformation unless there are enough people who understand that doing business as usual is more dangerous than doing business in a whole new way.

Therefore, Heiftz, Grashow and Linsky asks us to answer three questions in order to figure out the depth of ripeness related to change. They are as follows:

- “Is the urgency localized in one subgroup and not yet widespread across the larger system?”

- “Or, on the other hand, are people avoiding the hard work of dealing with the adaptive challenge at hand because the pain of doing so has reach too-high levels of disequilibrium?”

- “Is the prevailing momentum to treat the situation as a technical problem or as an adaptive challenge?”

This week, ponder the above three question and come up with some answers. Your answers will help you determine how to move forward in developing your strategy for the future.

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