Monday, April 14, 2014

Digging Yourself Out Of A Hole

When the phone rang and I heard the tone of his voice on the other end of the line, I knew there was a problem. “I realized something, Geery,” he said. “One of my divisional leaders has the wrong person on the wrong seat on the bus.” As he described the impact of this situation, I knew he was right. 

As he explained over the phone, after months of trying to change the department culture, improve the systems and stabilize the turnover within the division plus coach the poor performing leader to a new level of performance, things were just not working. “I realized,” he continued, “it was a poor hire from the very beginning. They were not a good fit with our company’s values.”

As he shared, I remembered John Maxwell’s “The Law of the Lid” in his book,  The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow them and People Will Follow You, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998, which states that “Leadership ability determines a person's level of effectiveness.”

Months later he called back and reported that they had removed the dysfunctional leader and asked others to step up. However, this resulted in other leaders burning out and quitting, too. “Why did this happen?” he inquired.

“It is not uncommon,” I replied. “B players tend to hire C players rather than A players.”

“Oh my,” he responded. “We have a lot to do to dig ourselves out of this hole.”

Technically, I pointed out, you can’t easily dig your way out of a hole. Most people just dig deeper. Now the engineers and construction managers I know would point out that you can dig yourself out of hole only if you are willing to dig a spiral stair case around the edges of the hole in order to get out.

In reality, we as leader need to recognize that we got ourself in the hole in the first place because of our beliefs and mindset. Our thoughts, or lack there of, led us to digging the hole in the first place. Changing people in certain positions may help but the greater and most important challenge is to not dig yourself into a hole in the first place. In short, our choices as leaders are based on what we think. And given what is happening in the big world at this time period, we need to do more thinking before we act.

This week, pause before you start digging and ask yourself, “Is this the best choice to make given the situation?”

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Leadership Myth #3

When out on the road visiting with clients, I spend a lot of time meeting senior executives in their offices. Some offices are immaculate, dust free work places with every paper, pen and stapler in perfect order and ready for action. Others are filled with stacks of paper and reports on every horizontal surface in the entire room. And some look like the cross between a freshman college dorm room and a sophomore boy’s bedroom. In these, there are piles of paper, a variety of jackets and ties left on chairs, unfinished mugs of coffee, and numerous post it notes about everything on anything where one will stick. 

From experience, I know that each of us are doing the best we can given the circumstances before us. I also know that more and more executives are working longer and longer hours with no hope of ever getting caught up. Most just suffer quietly with the burdens of their work. Overwhelmed, they push hard and harder just “to get one more thing done before I head home.” And in this grand electronic era of constant connectivity, I am seeing more and more e-mails later and later at night, or very very early in the morning. Leaders at all levels are getting caught in one simple myth, namely “my job is to get everything done before I rest.”  

This mentality of 24/7 leadership is just not working. We are way past the burnout stage. Now, for many, we are deep into bone level exhaustion and soul numbing consequences. Personal lives and families are getting impacted, if not ruined, by people who believe they just have to “get’er done” before they can rest.

First, it is impossible to get everything done now given the flood of connectivity. There will always be more e-mail than time. The internet has not saved us time. It has instead accelerated it and created unrealistic expectations.

Second, at the current pace of change, there is no stabilization but just constant adaptation to continually changing events and systems. Furthermore, anyone’s real or manufactured crisis can upset the apple cart. Therefore, we need, as leaders, to re-learn how to practice self care.  Remembering an old adage of my Mother’s, namely “we can not give what we have not got,” it is time to rebuild our own personal foundation. Moving forward, we must lead from a place of clarity and health rather than exhaustion, burn-out or cynicism. This is not easy work but it is important work.

Finally, remembering the words of Kevin Cashman, namely “Leaders get what they exhibit and what they tolerate,” we need to role model a healthier way of leading. If we only rest when the work is done, then we are sending a signal through out the organization which will have a dramatic impact over time at both the strategic and operational levels.

This week, practice healthy self-care. Give yourself permission to rest well and work well. You and your organization will be much better in the short and the long run.

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Leadership Myth #2

The meeting was into the second hour of presentations and reports about how to correct current tactical problems and strategic misalignments when the senior executive next to me bent over and whispered, “you can’t fix dumb.” It was a completely inappropriate comment about a young manager who at the time was trying to present his best thinking about a complex set of problems.

Our challenge as leaders is not to get caught trying to fix everything.  Even if we skipped sleeping for the rest of our life, we will never get caught up with all that needs fixing. When you enter the world of leadership, you will learn that everything and every one wants your attention in the workplace. But many leaders at this time period are caught in the trap of trying very hard to fix everything that is broken.

We forget that what got us promoted over the course of our careers was our capacity to solve problems efficiently and effectively. The more we did this the more senior leaders at the time were pleased and encouraged our further development. We kept fixing things and as a result we kept getting bumped up to the next level of management. 

However, what was an asset in the beginning of our career can become a liability. This happens because when we fix everything for everyone else, we create dependent relationships with our peers and our direct reports. They learn, and then will always need our help to solve their problems.  

Rather than becoming a permanent fixer within the organization, we need to become a facilitator of helping other people learn how to manage their work and their challenges. In the beginning, this will take more time and some people will feel that it would be easier to just do it themselves. However, if we continue to fix things, we just perpetuate the problem.

This week, I strongly encourage to stop trying to fix everything and everyone. Instead, invest your time and attention to helping people learn how to solve their own problems. It will not be easy at first, but the long term ROI is worth the investment.

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seeing Our Problems with New Eyes

“Most ailing organizations, notes John Gardner, “have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.”

Given how resistant most corporate infrastructures are to change plus how many leaders are suffering from functional blindness, it is a wonder that we can get any thing done on certain days of the week.

Nevertheless, there is a a solution, namely to participate in the Spring 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable on April 9 - 10 in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Here, you will find executives, leaders and managers who are striving to not only see and better understand their problems, but also to resolve them. In an open and supportive, strategic dialogue, participants will learn, share and explore both their technical and adaptive challenges. The result is always fresh insights and new ideas.

Here is a link for more information on the agenda and how to register for the Spring 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable:


It is time we see our problems with new eyes and from new perspectives.

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Leadership Myth #1

First, we advertise for an open staff position, e.g. supervisor, coordinator or manager. Next, we interview potential people. Then, we invite a few to come back for a second round of interviews. Finally, we select the best one and make an offer.

During their first days at work, we have them fill out reams of paperwork. Then, they begin days, weeks, and in some cases even months of orientation. Either on-line or in person, we attempt to help them understand who we are, what we believe in, and where we are going as an organization. This in combination with multiple compliance trainings rounds out the orientation stage.

After that, on-boarding takes place. Here, the new person works with their supervisor to learn the day to day operations of the company, participate in their initial coaching, and receive their first round of goals. Through team meetings and other events, they come to understand how to do their job and how to be successful. They also build relationships with the rest of their team.

And some where in this process, supervisors, coordinators, and managers learn that there job is to come up with all of the answers. I don’t know how this happens, but it is highly destructive mind set, and a clear road to burn-out and dissatisfaction. Being the source of everything has never lead people to become an engaged member of the workforce or to generate clarity through out their area of influence.

Our job is a simple one this week. First, do not embrace the notion that leaders need to be source of all the answers. The best leaders actually ask the better questions, rather than give all the answers.

Second, we need to mentor and coach all the other leaders who are getting stuck buying into this myth.  It is time we help them unload this burden and instead rise to a new level of leadership. 

In short, this may not be easy work but it is important work, especially if we want to keep the best people that we have just worked so hard to recruit, orient and on-board.

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Starting at the Wrong Place

When senior teams are struggling, they often do it in a dramatic fashion. People take sides. Words are spoken, and later regretted. Meetings become highly dysfunctional. Everyone gets upset and in the end, a consultant is called in to figure out the exact problem and to make specific recommendations.

I have witnessed these situations many times over the decades of my work. They are not pretty and can be quite painful for all involved. Still, there are a few steps people can take in order to start moving in the right direction and prevent many common problems.

First, when building the agenda for the senior leadership team meetings clarify whether an item on the agenda is one of the following:

- information sharing
- consultative
- coordinating
- decision making

This will help all involved to know what level of participation needs to take place.

Second, read the one of the following two books: 

- Wageman, Ruth, Debra A. Nunes, James A. Burruss and J. Richard Hackman. Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great, Harvard Business School Press, 2008, 

- Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass, 2002.

This will give you new tools and perspectives about what to do when it comes to dealing with normal problems and challenges.

Third, focus more on changing your own behavior than trying to change other people. While seems a simplistic choice, it is actually quite difficult to maintain a high degree of discipline and to consciously make choices based on seeking a common purpose to the situation before you.

Fourth, build individual and group level trust. As Patrick Lencioni notes in his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Jossey-Bass, 2012, “The only way for the leader of a team to create a safe environment for his team members to be vulnerable is by stepping up and doing something that feels unsafe and uncomfortable first.” Remember that without trust nothing is going to change.

This week, before you rush out to hire a consultant, do your own homework. Create a smarter team meeting agenda, read well written books on team work and team building, and focus more on your own behavior. This will be a good foundation for a new future.

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Great Leap Backwards

Given the rise of constant change, high market volatility, and continual organizational struggles to build infrastructure to match ever-increasing expectations related to performance, many leaders are making a great leap backwards to command and control leadership as the only solution. Right now, I am witnessing an increasing number of executives who are deploying this form of leadership to solve all of their problems as fast as possible. While the initial results may be beneficial, and help with constant, messy change, the major problem with this form of leadership is that it often comes wrapped in fear and intimidation, resulting in few people willing to take a risk outside their comfort zones.

However, there is another choice. It is to gather with other senior executives at the Spring 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable on April 9 - 10 in West Des Moines, Iowa, and to explore alternatives to command and control which generate improved focus, commitment and effort. Here is a link for more details on this unique learning opportunity:


I hope you can join us as we seek to find more effective pathways to clear and effect action.

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