Monday, November 20, 2017

Count Your Blessings

This is one of my favorite times of the year. 

First, I love it when family comes pouring into the house. Seeing nieces and nephews, greeting new boy friends and girl friends, welcoming aunts and uncles. The blessing of all being together is quite special.

Second, when family all gather at the table to celebrate the Thanksgiving meal, I love the quiet pause for prayers before the meal. Here with heads bowed we are thankful for the bounty of the food, the gift of being together one more year, and the miracle of being a family. This is truly a moment when we are blessed. 

Finally, I love the time after the meal when all participate in the clean-up in the kitchen. As food is put away, special dishes are washed by hands and the table is cleared, the room is a buzz in multiple conversations. It is during these times that I come to understand that “work is love made visible”. And after such a grand meal, a bit of clean-up together, we always make room for pie and whipped cream!

My hope is that you are blessed beyond measure this week. Celebrate family, count your blessings every day, and, when possible eat more pie!

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Great Leaders Create More Great Leaders

Multiple times each year, I ask students in my leadership training courses a question: What are the characteristics of a leader worth following? After 30+ years of working with thousands of leaders from multiple industries and all different parts of the country, one common answer has surfaced. Great leaders develop other people to become great leaders. While this answer may seem simplistic, it is actually hard to do.

First, great leaders get to know you. They do not just create role clarity, and define expectations. They do not just set goals and motivate you to achieve them. What they first do is learn what are your strengths, talents, and how you work most effectively.  Then, they match your strengths and talents with the opportunities and goals before the company.

Second, they spend considerable amount of time educating you about how your work makes a difference. They do not just put you in a job and make sure you get it done. They instead place your work within the context of the greater purpose and direction of the company. They want you to know that what you are doing every day has value and meaning. 

And finally, they assist you in learning how to measure progress. Great leaders want you to know that each and every day progress is being made. They educate you on how to measure your own progress so that the work does not become tedious or boring. They want you to feel engaged and purposeful.

The above three things take time and attention. They require a person in a leadership position to routinely develop and coach their direct reports. They require a leader to enter into thoughtful dialogue, and effective listening. They require a leader to give up controlling people and instead to focus on empowering them. 

These things are not easy skills to practice but they are, nevertheless, important.  The first step is to learn how to become a great leader. One way to do this is to participate in the 2018 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 to lead, manage, and develop people to generate short and long term success.

For more information on this in-depth training and how to register for the 2018 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

Great leaders always create more greater leaders. They understand that when more people can think, act and work like a leader, then the company as a whole will become great too. Therefore, now is the best time to sign up and participate in the 2018 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. 

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

How do leaders help others think and act strategically? part #2

When helping others to think and act strategically, make sure the senior team  has certain key characteristics in order to position the entire organization to be successful. As John Kotter noted years ago in his book, Leading Change, when building a change cycle, make sure you have the following as part of your key team, namely positional power, expertise, credibility, i.e. good reputations, and people with leadership experience. In particular, make sure this group of people have enough power to lead the change process and enough ability to communicate the new vision related to the change.

Every time I think about Kotter’s advice, I also think of Jim Collins and his distinction between executive power,, i.e. the power to make decisions based on your place in the table of organization, and legislative power, i.e. your ability to form a coalition of people to make something happen given you do not have enough positional power to change the current situation. It is the combination of both that needs to be part of the senior team. These are the folks who have the potential to make sure thinking strategically and acting strategically will take place within other groups within the company.

Yet, as I share this with you today, we need to remember the advice and counsel of Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao in their book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Crown Business, 2014), who note that “Effective scaling depends on believing and living a shared mindset throughout your group, division, or organization. Scaling is analogous to a ground war rather than an air war because developing, spreading and updating a mindset requires repleteness vigilance. It requires stating the beliefs and living the behavior, and then doing so again and again.” From my experience, leaders who have ground level experience and credibility make a huge difference when it comes to strategic thinking and acting. 

This week, check to make sure your team has the right combination of characteristics to ensure that they and others will be successful in thinking and acting strategically.

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

How do leaders help others think and act strategically? part #1

It was a lunch meeting with the CEO and 2 VP’s around a small table at a busy restaurant The VP to my left wanted to talk about performance reviews and organizational clarity. The VP to my right asked the following question: “What are the questions you ask people to make sure people are clear?”

Here are the questions I gave him:

- What do you do at (name of organization)? This checks role clarity.

- What are your priorities? This checks goal clarity.

- What do you do that matters most? This checks mission clarity.

- Why is this important work to do? This checks strategic clarity.

Then, we entered into a discussion about how to help people transform chaos into a challenge.

One of our great challenges as leaders is to get people to think and act strategically. First, according to Aaron Olson and B. Keith Simerson in their book, Leading With Strategic Thinking: Four Ways Effective Leaders Gain Insight, Drive Change, and Get Results (Wiley, 2015), strategic thinking comprises three activities, namely assessing situations, recognizing patterns, and making decisions. Others define strategic thinking as the ability to anticipate the future, the ability to create strategies to achieve the organization’s vision, and being aware of the impact of your actions.

These are all very good answers. Yet, I want to approach this from a different angle. First, I believe thinking strategically requires someone to have the capacity to zoom out before they zoom in, i.e. knowing when to step back rather than to lean in. According to Jim Collins and Morten Hansen in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (HarperCollins, 2011), when we zoom out before we zoom in, the goal is to sense a change in conditions. It is not merely seeing the big picture; it is to understand how the big picture is changing. Once we sense a change in the environment, we need to ask ourselves the following question: How much time before the risk profile changes? The next question is the following: Do the new conditions call for disrupting our plans? Once these question are answered, leaders zoom in and focus on the execution of plans and objectives. 

From my experience, one difference about thinking strategically is that it is not about execution as in personal effort, but instead it is about execution of the plan as in making sure the whole of the organization stays focused on achieving the plan. 

Another notable element of those who think strategically is that they are not caught in polarity thinking. One unique element of those who do not get caught in polarity thinking is that they do not do this work by themselves. From my observation, if one is able to think strategically, it has happened after lots and lots of practice. I believe you need a strategic network of people outside of the organization who ask you questions about the things you are thinking about but from different angles. Effective leaders cultivate this strategic sounding board and utilize it on a routine basis. I believe a strategic network in combination with working with an executive coach makes a big difference in thinking and acting strategically.

For example, an executive coach and a wide and diverse strategic network will ask you to think through the following kinds of questions:

- Who are the different stakeholders involved?

- What is the impact to each group?

- What is the precedence being set for each group?

- What is the core message you are trying to send?

- What is the mindset you want to achieve amongst those who follow you??

It is the questions in combination with active listening that will make a profound difference in the long run.

At the same time, being able to think and act strategically means being able to understand the follower. Why? Because thinking and acting strategically is always followed by helping others to do likewise. According to Aaron Olson, and B. Keith Simerson in their book, Leading With Strategic Thinking: Four Ways Effective Leaders Gain Insight, Drive Change, and Get Results (Wiley, 2015), there are four types of followers. First, there is the follower who lacks competency and is unwilling to perform the task. Next, the follower who lacks competency but is willing to do the task. Third, there is the follower who is competent to perform the task but lacks self-confidence and does not believe they can perform the task, and therefore has self-doubt and lacks commitment. And fourth, the follower who is self-confident, is willing, and is capable of performing the task.

With the above mind, we need to find the “bell cows,” using a former University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry term, namely the members of the herd that other cows always follow. Once we have identified these people, then we can connect with them on a one to one basis and begin the journey of helping others to think and act strategically. 

This week, build your strategic network, seek out excellent executive coaching on a regular basis and reconnect with the “bell cows within your herd.” All these steps will make a big difference over time.

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Future Shows Up Every Day

We were talking during a break in a leadership training when I realized that the young person I was visiting with thought that leadership was all about strategy and nothing else.

“Hold on,” I pointed out. “Strategic leaders are vital to the success of a company but so are operational leaders. It is the combination of the two, strategy and operations, that makes the company move forward through time successfully.”

“OK,” he responded, “but operational leaders can only do so much.”

“This is true. However, they are mission critical.”

“How so?”

“You and I can stand here and talk about the future all we want. We can speculate on all sorts of possibilities, but the moment of truth happens every morning when the staff and your customers or clients, which ever term you want to use, work together to create effective and meaningful solutions.”

I paused and he contemplated my perspective.

“The future shows up every day,” I continued. “We can talk about two years from now and completely forget that two years ago, today was the future.  In the end, the best strategic leaders realize that they need the best operational leaders to make it real. The trains need to run on time each day. The staff needs to be well trained. The systems need to work. It is not fancy, best-seller book level stuff, but it is necessary. It’s what differentiates between good and great companies.”

“So, what do I need to do to make this happen?”, he inquired.

“Go to the place where the mission statement is made real every day. Visit with the people. Listen to their concerns, their challenges, their victories. Validate their efforts.”

“Next, do an in-depth systems review to make sure it really works like it is suppose to work. And if you learn it is not working right, then help them change it. Remember the capacity to have a future starts now. Operational excellence is nothing more than delivering on the mission each day and continually improving it.”

“I guess there is more to this leadership stuff than just thinking about the future,” he responded. 

“Yes, and that is why it is so important.”

And then our break was up and we both headed into class. 

Remember: the future shows up every day.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

How do leaders help their organization become more resilient?part #2

Leaders who help their organization become more resilient focus on creating three different kinds of clarity, i.e. three different forms of knowledge. The three different kinds of knowledge are the following:

- Declarative knowledge is factual knowledge which helps them understand and explain how and why things work the way they do.

- Procedural knowledge is knowing how to perform certain activities plus details the steps and activities required to perform a task or job.

- Structural knowledge is information about how to organize one’s thoughts in order to solve a problem. This form of knowledge helps in problem solving plus the creation of plans and strategies.

At the same time, leaders, who help their organization become more resilient, respect the power of culture. Ken Blanchard in his book, Leading At a Higher Level: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations (Prentice Hall, 2006) writes that when people leading the change fail to respect the power of the current culture, the current culture will kill the change initiative.

From my perspective, most organizational systems and initiatives are focused on improving what already exists. They are not aligned with the “new” change, i.e. new transformational strategic change. Furthermore, the ways we measure progress are all operationally oriented rather than strategically focused. Therefore, it is hard to measure if the culture is changing.

However, highly resilient organizations, writes Karl Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe in their book, Managing The Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty (John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2007) are highly reliable organizations. Wick and Sutcliffe note that “No system is perfect.” I would agree and say that no person is perfect, too. But as they point out “The essence of resilience is therefore the intrinsic ability of an organization (system) to maintain or regain a dynamically stable state, which allows it to continue operations after a major mishap and/or in the presence of a continuous stress.” The hallmark of an HRO, a highly reliable organization, is not that it is error-free but that errors don’t disable it. As they continue, “Resilience is a combination of keeping errors small and of improving workarounds that allow the system to keep functioning.”

From experience, lots of reading, plus visiting with many leaders, I have learned that creating a resilient culture involves three actions:

First, they image worst-case conditions and practice their own equivalent of fire drills. This can involve thinking through a black swan event and planning accordingly. Or those involved can participate in a pre-mortem. As Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne in their article called “Outsmart Your Own Biases” from the May 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review wrote, “In a premortem, you imagine a future failure and then explain the cause…. This technique, also called prospective hindsight, helps you identify potential problems that ordinary foresight won’t bring to mind.”

Second, they institute routine After Action Reports. See my Monday Thoughts Blog for October 6, 2017 for more details about After Action Reports.

Finally, they implement a “Churchill’s Audit” from the book, Managing The Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty which is based on personal reflection. Here is his audit:

- Why didn’t I know?
- Why didn’t my advisors[/direct reports] know?
- Why wasn’t I told?
- Why didn’t I ask?

This week, consider holding a black swan event with your team and/or a premortem.  I also encourage you to do a Churchill Audit on a recent event. All of the above will help you and your team become a more resilient.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wings & Roots

On the weekends, I go outside and listen to the earth.

During the work week, my days are very full. Some weeks I travel and teach. Other times, I am in meetings all day or visiting with people on an individual level. There are days when I am in the office, researching answers to problems, reflecting on lessons learned, or mapping out future presentations.

For the most part, I spend a lot of my time at work listening. I listen to strategic problems and operational challenges. I listen to issues about people, structure, systems, and culture. I listen to complex problems and complicated problems. I spend hours trying to figure out what happened and why. And then countless more hours, helping people figure out realistic solutions and effective strategies to move forward.

However, on the weekends, I step away from the computer, the e-mails, and the piles of paperwork. After my usual Saturday morning chores, I step outside and listen to the earth.

Here, in this world, time changes from minutes and hours to days, months and seasons. Here in this world, I listen to the wind. I listen to the plants. I listen to the calls of nature. 

In this world, I get to work with flowers and dirt, weeds and plants. In this world, birds and animals, the weather and the trees are all growing, moving, changing. The cycles and rhythms of life are all around me. 

And as this October quickly moves toward November, I rest in the knowledge that the five hundred plus tulips, daffodils, and crocus I planted over a week ago are settling into their new homes. They begin their journey to becoming spring miracles.

When I step outside and listen to the earth, everything comes into perspective. This morning I am reminded of the words of Hodding Carter who wrote, “There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots, the other, wings.”

All the spring bulbs I planted recently are focused on one important task, namely to put down roots. Roots to prepare for winter. Roots to prepare for spring. Roots to become what they are meant to become.

This past August during the later half of the month as I listened to the earth I realized that the seasons were changing faster than I thought. I was outside in the middle of the week rather than just on the weekend because nearly all of my clients were on vacation, in meetings, or helping their children transition back to school. A rare pause in the hustle and bustle of consulting and executive coaching. Everyone was busy doing something else, and I could step outside and shift out of work mode.

It was a sunny day. I was down on my hands and knees pulling out invasive weeds and some very persistent grass that was sure my flower bed was the better place to grow. I paused in all of the work to just enjoy the moment. It was then that I realized that the new green of spring and the brilliant green of full summer was changing into the dark green of fall. I could just feel the difference. With the last flush of flowers taking place all around me and some of the summer drought having passed due to recent rain, I could feel the plants putting down roots, reaching deep and growing stronger. They were preparing for the return of winter.

Right now, in a world filled with many challenges and complexities, we need roots. We need to feel connected to our families, friends, and community. We need to feel a part of meaningful work within the context of caring communities. We need to feel like our lives matter, and that we are making a difference.

At the same time, we need wings. We need to grow and continue learning. We need to rise to our challenges and integrate new ideas and perspectives. We need to see the bigger picture, to explore the far horizon, to comprehend the length and scope of our existence.

About three weeks ago, I was out back of our house cleaning flower beds and hauling the trimmings out to the field where our neighbor’s horses, two large Belgium breeding mares, live. With dinner plate sized hooves, I have to look up into their eyes when they come over to the fence, curious to see what I am up to and wondering if I will pick up fallen fruit from our apple tree and feed it to them. 

On this particular September day, I came to the gate and the horses where thirty feet away nibbling on some tender grass. I opened the gate and pulled in my little garden way cart. I often dump the flower bed trimmings under a nearby walnut tree where the horses like to stand in the afternoon shade before heading to the barn for the evening. They like to push the garden trimmings around with their hooves and eat the tender bits.  

I looked at the mares as they moved further away to the east and came on into the field. As I dumped the load under the walnut tree, I looked up just in time to see the younger mare trot out the gate, heading west. I dropped the cart and sprinted after her. I knew I had to get in front of her to stop her forward progress. She went around the north side of vegetable garden, heading toward the apple tree. I raced around the south side of the garden and we meet on the western edge. 

I stopped. She stopped. I raised my arms and said “No. Back into the field with you.” 

I slowly approached and she backed up a step. I stepped forward one more time and she turned tail and galloped toward the gate just before the other mare escaped. Then, the two of them then raced into the field at a full, big horse gallop, kicking their heels and throwing clods of dirt in all directions.

When they stopped in the middle of the field, the younger mare looked over her shoulder at me. I could have sworn she was smiling, and that the two of them were giggling. I paused and picked up my cart. I walked back and closed the gate. Then, I watched them as they meandered over to the new pile of greens under the walnut tree, looking for the tender bits. By then, all three of us were smiling.

In world where busy is the new definition of success, we actually have few adventures anymore. We instead have full days followed by full days followed by even fuller days. We are connected to our flat devices twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We get so wrapped up in trying to get so much done that we actually don’t experience the miracle of living. We actually don’t have many wing or root experiences anymore; we just have stuff to do.

So, on the weekends, and even some days after work, I go outside and listen to the earth. 

This fall, I watch the big V’s of Canadian geese migrating to the south. I notice that the blue jays have started to fly together in small groups from tree to tree. A dear friend of mine tells me the juncos have come down from the north to over winter in the more milder climate of Iowa. I notice that the hummingbirds have migrated south and the gold finches have gone that way too.  

And I slowly move out of living life by minutes and hours and back into the world of days, months and seasons, I keep thinking to myself we all need roots and wings. We all need big adventures where at the end we have a smile on our face, joy in our heart, and the blessing of being alive. We all need to find a place where life is meaningful and the community is caring.

It all begins with wings and roots… roots and wings.

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