Monday, November 30, 2020

Experience Is A Strength And A Weakness

“When confronted with the unknown,” writes Margaret Wheatley, “we default to the known.” This single sentence is a powerful insight into the world of leadership, and it is a challenging one too. 

Every day, people in leadership positions are confronted by complex problems and complicated issues. Every day, these same leaders try and figure out what is to be done next. Every day, they struggle to come up with unique and viable solutions. 

The problem is that every day, they draw on the one known that has always helped them though challenges before, namely past experiences. Some times these past experience are helpful, especially if they are dealing with a known technical problem. Then, these leaders draw on their experience and move forward. 

But 2020 has been a year filled with many unknown unknowns. We are the first generation in a long time who have had to deal with complexity of this magnitude. Our defaulting to the known may not actually be helping us move forward in an effective and resilient manner. Therefore, I believe we need to be mindful of our defaults and choose to create new solutions.

First, I think we need to slow down and schedule more time for reflection. Many of us have been attempting to move at the speed of light and solve all things in a hot minute. And to a degree, we have been successful. But the price is high when you do this month after month. Burnout or cynicism is inevitable.

However, when we take time to put down our cell phones, tablets and computers, we can pull back from the rush of minute to minute minutia and embrace the stillness. Here, we discover fresh perspective and insights. We can look at the bigger picture and figure out the trends around us. We grasp the wholeness and remember that life creates change through messy periods and quite a few troughs of chaos. Rather than being over stimulated, over worked and over scheduled, we can reclaim our calendars and our life, giving ourselves permission to think rather than to always react to everything and everyone around us.

Second, we need to seek out wisdom. And when we find it, enter into dialogue with these individuals. We can be physically distant and socially connected as a leader. It is in this space that we can think and share out loud our challenges. We can wrestle with big questions and big ideas to the point that we gain confidence about how to move forward.

This week, create time to step back from the mad rush to the next thing on the list, and schedule time to reflect, think, and plan. Then, seek out people who are sources of wisdom and engage with them on a regular basis. The combination of these two actions will be quite helpful over time.

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

Monday, November 23, 2020

History Is Always Being Created And Remembered

Thanksgiving is such a special time of year. It is when we come together, cook a big meal and celebrate. One of my favorite things during Thanksgiving is to hear stories about the past. As a former history teacher, I find the stories shared by our elders to be a fascinating window into life on the farm and our different communities. I always learn so much from what their lives were like all those many decades ago.

However, this year most families will not be gathering in person. Still, there will be good food and hopefully great pie, but the coming together of large groups of people will not happen as in previous years. And the sad part is that there also may be less story telling as a result.

With the realization that history is always being created and remembered, I choose this year to write down some of my history around Thanksgiving and to share it with our family. I also hope in the coming weeks to capture some of my favorite stories shared with me about life on the farm from years past and share them with my family too.

In the midst of these challenging times, there is much to be grateful for and many blessings to be counted. Each day we have an opportunity to decide where we shall focus. Each day, we can remember the following farm wisdom shared with me so many years ago: What you feed, grows.

This week, I encourage you to write down some of your stories around Thanksgiving and to share them with those you love. We may not be together in person as a whole family but we can be there in spirit and with the written word.

May your harvest be plentiful this year and all your family, friends and animals  stay healthy. Sending blessings from our table to yours.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

What Is The Story You Are Trying To Tell?

Given the impact of this global pathogen called COVID-19 and the resulting levels of anxiety and uncertainty, I am thinking of the late John O’Donohue, an Irish poet, author and priest, who wrote “our trust in the future has lost its innocence… We now know that anything can happen from one minute to the next….. Politics, religion and economics and the institutions of family and community all have become abruptly unsure.”

As each week unfolds, I believe we are still learning how to sit with the discomfort of a global pandemic, and to be present to ambiguity it is creating. We know that there are going to be more “surprises” and more uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead.

I also think we have been so consumed by 2020 that we have forgotten that before COVID arrived, we were tired and worried from the events of 2018 and 2019. While those two years feel like a lifetime ago on one level, we need to remember that we entered into this global pandemic worn and exhausted from working so hard. Then, as COVID exploded into our lives at work and at home in March, we entered into an emergency response period followed in the late spring by this on-going adaptive period. Now, we look forward to the post pandemic period in 2021 or 2022, but we must be honest with ourselves and recognize that we will exit this period more exhausted and more overwhelmed by the continued pace and emerging new problems in a post-pandemic period.

And when I sit quietly with all that was before COVID and all that is happening now during COVID, I arrived today with a singular question: What is the story we as leaders are trying to tell?

Many years ago, Marcus Buckingham in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success (Free Press, 2005), wrote: “To excel as a leader …. You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity. To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you.”

The line, “To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely”, really speaks to me this morning. We are afraid of the unknowns. We do not have much confidence in the future. And yet, as leaders, we must rise to the challenge before us and discipline ourselves to describe the future, vividly and precisely. The only was to do this is to pause and remember our history.

I believe we are so consumed by COVID that we have forgotten our history. We have forgotten our roots. We have forgotten our story up until this moment. We have forgotten our past strategic choices. The dangerous and potential outcome of this organizational and personal amnesia is that we might learn to live with limited long term perspective. This “land of forgetfulness” creates relationships which do not have the capacity to trust, deal with risks, or generate creative responses to the extraordinary and complex challenges before us all. 

As leaders, we need to understand that there are four kinds of history. The first is remembered history, namely the stories we learned from others. The second is lived history, namely the experiences we personally lived through. The third is shared history, namely the experiences we personally lived through with others. The fourth form of history is the current experiences that are happening right now which will become history - remembered, lived, and shared.  

All four of the above create the narrative we tell ourselves and others about what is happening now and the why it is happening in a particular manner. Still, we must be careful about the stories we tell ourselves and others. As Brene Brown in her very important and helpful book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution. (Spiegel Grau, 2015) wrote, “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity.”

Margaret Atwood, Canadian poet and novelist in her book, Alias Grace, reminds us “When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”

With the whirlwind of a global pandemic swirling around us, we need to set aside time to regularly pause, reflect and think deeply. Thomas Merton, one of the most influential monks, poet and spiritual writers of the 20th century wrote, “When I speak of the contemplative life I do not mean the institutional cloistered life, the organized life of prayer. I am talking about a special dimension of inner discipline and experience, a certain integrity and fullness of personal development, which are not compatible with a purely external, alienated, busy-busy existence. This does not mean that they are incompatible with action, with creative work, with dedicated love. On the contrary, these all go together. A certain depth of disciplined experience is a necessary ground for fruitful action. Without a more profound human understanding derived from exploration of the inner ground of human existence, love will tend to be superficial and deceptive. Traditionally, the ideas of prayer, meditation and contemplation have been associated with this deepening of one’s personal life and this expansion of the capacity to understand and serve others.”

We are living a “busy-busy existence.” Therefore we need to set aside time on a regular basis, and give ourselves permission to explore and understand the inner ground of our experiences in order that we can “describe our joint future vividly and precisely” and “transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future”. When we do this from a place of an “inner disciple and experience, a certain integrity and fullness of personal development”, it will result in speaking with authenticity, clarity and “inherent worthiness” of ourself and of others.

So, my challenge to you this week and throughout this month is to engage in a disciplined and regular process of reflection and contemplation. Then, you will be able to answer the question, What is the story we are trying to tell?, and share it well with others as we all prepare for 2021.

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A Hard Year

This has been a hard year for me. I have experienced deep loss and great joy. I have struggled with worry, anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed by sometimes small and inconsequential issues.

At times, life has felt like the movie “Ground Hog Day”. Wake up, shelter in place, go to bed. A Monday is no different than a Saturday. A Wednesday is no different than a Friday. It is just another day of wash, rinse and repeat. 

I know that I am not alone with how hard this year has been.

During difficult times, some people fight and some people run. I think many of us have chosen the freeze option. Fight seems exhausting. Flight seems like a lost cause, because where ever we go, COVID will be there too. Therefore, freeze seems like the best choice. This ends up looking like napping on the couch or watching silly TV programs.

But, I have learned three things so far during this hard year.

First, I need to be patient with myself and others. We are all doing our best even if we do not feel like our best some days.

Second, I need to show loving kindness to myself and others. Anger and judgement do not help. Compassion and loving kindness are always the better choice.

Third, I need to continue striving to be my best self. Even in the midst of challenges and complexities, I can make healthy choices. And being my best self is a great first choice.

This has been a hard year for me, and it has been a hard year for many of you too.

On this day, remember that you are doing your best in spite of what is happening all around us. You are also enough just the way you are. And if that means sitting on the couch with a good book or watching some goofy TV for an extra hour, that’s okay. 

One day we will live in a post pandemic world. One day, we will see each other face to face. One day, we will hug our children and grandchildren, and not worry. One day, we will sit down over an incredibly good meal and share story after story about how we coped and how we survived in 2020. Now that will be a great new beginning.

Meanwhile, hang in there. Stay strong. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And know that together we can and we will make it through this.

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

Monday, November 16, 2020

Being Compassionate Is A Powerful Action

"It is time to become passionate about what is best in us, and to create organizations that welcome our creativity, contribution, and compassion”, writes Margaret Wheatley. “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.”

I am in 100% agreement with Margaret Wheatley. This is the time for us to come together to listen, share, reflect and learn. Given the challenges before us at this time period, we need more creativity, collaboration and compassion.

But many leaders do not consider compassion to be an essential  leadership skill. Instead, they focus on efficiency, speed, reading metrics and risk taking. While these are all important, I continually remind leaders that people commit to people before they commit to a plan. And, as the Gallup organization’s research shows us, people quit because of the relationship they have with their supervisor more than the relationship they have with the company. 

Over many decades of working with a wide diversity of people, teams and organizations, I have witnessed great leadership, highly adaptive teams and amazing outcomes. I have seen plans developed and executed flawlessly resulting in new and innovative solutions. And at the heart of it all are strong and healthy relationships amongst those involved. As Margaret Wheatley explains, “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles, and positions.”

And from my perspective, the capacity to form these relationships begins with authentic compassion, namely the ability to respect a person’s journey including their challenges and their choices. When we realize how difficult life’s journey can be and recognize the complexity of choices people have to make over time, we start to build and maintain relationships based on integrity and understanding rather than judgement and self-interest.

This week, I challenge you to be more compassionate and to develop more relationships built on trust rather than positional authority.

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

From Independence to Interdependence

This morning, I keep thinking about the following quote from Brene Brown’s wonderful book,  Braving The Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone (Random House, 2017):

“… we don’t derive strength from our rugged individualism, but rather from our collective ability to plan, communicate, and work together. Our neural, hormonal, and genetic makeup support interdependence over independence.”

For me, this quote is a point of clarity and a challenge. While the word “interdependence” jumps off the page, our challenge as leaders is to create a process which brings together our “collective ability to plan, communicate and work together”. The former is the destination and the later is the pathway to it.

When I think about the process which will result in interdependence, I am reminded of a quote by Margaret Wheatley who wrote, “People only support what they create.” I think the key is to create a process which has significant ownership and understanding. And the first step in creating that process is to create a work environment for ownership where each person wants to be responsible for his or her own performance. 

This is the daily work of leadership. It is not the subject of New York Times best-seller books. Instead, it is the hard work of building collective trust, respect, and dignity into every process and every job. We must remodel it as leaders and not tolerate any behaviors that are disrespectful. In short, we must have the courage to take risks and to speak up in spite of the vulnerability and uncertainty that is taking place all around us.

Furthermore, we must have a level of empathy and compassion, recognizing that in the midst of this global pandemic and economic unrest everyone is doing their best even on their worst days. As Brene Brown reminds us in the aforementioned book, “perspective is a function of experience.” Given none of us have been through a period like this before, we must create perspective and maintain perspective. And that is going to take a great deal of listening and sharing. 

With open hearts and open minds, we can and we will move toward more interdependence. The first step is to create safe and healthy work environments where all involved can be their best selves and continually learn to be even better.

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

A Noble Profession

“It is possible, in this time of profound disruption, for leadership to be a noble profession that contributes to the common good”, writes Margaret Wheatley in her book, Who Do We Choose to Be? Facing Reality, Claiming Leadership, Restoring Sanity (Berrett-Koehler, 2017). “It is possible as we face the fearful complexity of life-destroying problems, to experience recurring moments of grace and joy. It is possible, as leaders of organizations, communities, and families, to discover deep and aiding satisfaction in our work if we choose not to flee or withdraw from reality. It is possible to find a path of contribution and meaning if we turn our attention away from issues beyond our control and focus on the people around us who are yearning for good leadership and engage them in work that is within reach. It is possible to use our influence and power to create islands of sanity in the midst of a raging destructive sea.”

Given how 2020 is unfolding, it is time for us to reclaim leadership as a noble profession. We can do this by focusing on the following four specific actions.

First, we need to understand that what is happening today reflects a series of decisions and choices over time. As I often point out to my students, what is happening today within a company reflects the strategic decisions made three to five years ago. The same goes for our lives at home and in the communities where we live. Our challenge now is to figure out what new choices we need to make so we are in better places at work and at home during the coming years.

Second, we need to focus on people and finding the good within them. While judgement keeps us distant from each other, showing unconditional and compassionate, loving kindness can bring us together. We need to remember that each and every person is doing the best they can given what they know and what they have experienced in life. We must remember that we belong to each other.

Third, we need to be people of integrity. We do this by treating each person we meet and the community within which they live with dignity and respect. We must strive to be better people and to remember that community, contribution and connections are “the very things that truly give life meaning and purpose”, as noted by Margaret Wheatley.

Finally, we must ask ourselves an important question: Why did I want to become a leader in the first place? Understanding our motives around leadership are critical to our reclaiming the nobility of leadership. Patrick Lencioni in his excellent book called, The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate their Most Important Responsibilities (Wiley, 2020), writes that many people in leadership positions “spend time and energy based on what they are going to get, rather than what they need to give the people they’re supposed to be leading.” They have forgotten that leadership is about doing the job, not just having it.

As he continues, “At the most fundamental level, there are only two motives that drive people to become a leader. First, they want to serve others, to do whatever is necessary to bring about something good for the people they serve…. The second basic reason why people choose to be a leader - the all-too-common but invalid one - is that they want to be rewarded. They see leadership as the prize of years of hard work and are drawn by its trappings: attention, status, power, money.”

As he concludes, “I believe it’s long past time that we, as individuals and as a society, reestablish the standard that leadership can never be about the leader more than the led…. leadership is meant to be joyfully difficult and selfless responsibility.”

When we as leaders reclaim and live up to the nobility of leadership, we must make mindful choices, role model integrity and compassion, and serve others with clarity of purpose. Then, we will “create islands of sanity in the midst of a raging destructive sea.” And this will make all the difference in our lives at work, at home and in our communities.

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