Monday, August 3, 2015

Finding Confidence In Chaos

Being overwhelmed by all that needs to get done is not a fun place to be. Furthermore when everything and everyone wants your time and attention, you begin to wonder if you will ever get anything actually done. Interruptions start to feel like the foundation of all you do.  

When this happens to people in leadership positions, their confidence in themselves and their ability to make change happen successfully plummets. They burn out quickly and struggle professionally and personally. 

Yet, some leaders in situations of this nature seem to pull themselves up by their boot straps and move forward again. They regain their confidence and work themselves out of their struggles.

How do they do this?

I think the best answer can be found in the following book: Collins, Jim. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't. HarperBusiness, 2001.  Here, the author introduces the concept called “Level 5 Leadership.” As he writes, “Level 5" refers to a five-level hierarchy of executive capabilities, with Level 5 at the top. Level 5 leaders embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will. They are ambitious, to be sure, but ambitious first and foremost for the company, not themselves.” 

As he continues about this in-depth research study on organizational transformation, “Level 5 leaders look out the window to attribute success to factors other than themselves. When things go poorly, however, they look in the mirror and blame themselves, taking full responsibility. The comparison CEOs often did just the opposite - they looked in the mirror to take credit for success, but out the window to assign blame for disappointing results.”

The key for me, when reading the above, is to cultivate people who help me look out the window to better understand what caused success. And to have people in my life who can help me when I look in the mirror to better understand what needs to change about me. Whether these are colleagues, allies or confidants, the key is to have a strong circle of people, a kitchen table cabinet, who will support, educate and assist me in becoming a better leader. Having these individuals in my circle helps me to build and maintain my confidence during challenging times.

This week, review your core circle of support and make sure you have people who can assist you whether you are looking out the window or into the mirror.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Leadership & The Four C’s

More and more this summer, leaders are reporting to me that they are outside their comfort zone. Whether it is the warp speed of change that is happening right now, the digital economy, or that everything now is connected to the internet, they are just not feeling very comfortable and ready for the short and long term challenges before them. They tell me that there is little balance in their days, very little sense of order, and very few moments of predictability. In short, their world is more chaotic than they like. 

At times like this, leaders need to focus on the Four C’s, namely building clarity, confidence, connections, and commitment. 

The first step is to define clarity. Whenever this topic surfaces, I always turn to the first book that focused on this subject, namely Patrick Lencioni’s The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, Jossey-Bass, 2000. Here, he explains that a healthy organization minimizes the potential for confusion by clarifying the following:

- why does the organization exist?
- which behavioral values are fundamental?
- what specific business are we in?
- who are our competitors?
- how are we unique?
- what are our plans for the future?
- who is responsible for what?

For leaders this summer, the above list of questions is a great place to start when seeking a new level of clarity. Reflect deeply on each question, and write out your answers. Then, sit down with your leadership team and share your thinking. The subsequent strategic level dialogue will generate a strong foundation for the future and help when things feel chaotic outside your comfort zone.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Summer Reading

Recently, a lot of people in leadership positions have asked me what I am reading. The answer is simple: “Lots, and always.” In particular, people want to know which books. So, here has been my summer reading to date.

I started my summer reading the book, Coop: A Family, a Farm, and the Pursuit of One Good Egg (Harper, 2009) by Michael Perry. This non-fiction book is a humorous and heartfelt memoir of a young man and his family living in a ramshackle, northern Wisconsin farmhouse. With 37 acres of fallen down fences and overgrown fields, Perry is informed by his pregnant wife that she intends to to deliver their baby at home. So, Michael Perry searches through his unusual childhood of being raised by city-bred parents, who took in 60 or so foster children while running a sheep and dairy farm, for clues insights and solutions about how to proceed as a farmer, writer, husband and father. With his trademark humor, I read the book because the man is an excellent story teller. As one who uses stories extensively in my training and executive coaching, it is always good to read the work of other people, particularly fine story tellers. I find it educational and inspirational. It helps me on so many levels. And besides, it was a fun book to read.

Next, I read Christopher McDougall’s latest book, Natural Born Heros: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015). McDougall, the bestselling author of Born To Run, explores the secrets of ancient Greek Heroes and realizes that are still alive and well today on the island of Crete. In particular, the book revolves around the story of a band of Resistance fighters in WWII who plotted the daring abduction of a German general from the heart of Nazi occupied Crete. In particuclar, the author talks about the physical challenges of being a hero and doing heroic feats, including natural movement, extraordinary endurance and efficient nutrition, along with the mental challenges. I enjoyed reading this book because it reminded me to think holistically when helping leaders tackle complex and challenging, adaptive problems. I also enjoyed reading it because I am a former history teacher and it was a good story.

This week, I finished reading Marshall Goldsmith’s latest book called Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts - Becoming the Person You Want To Be (Crown Business, 2015). Considered to be one of the world’s most influential leadership and business thinkers, a top rated executive coach, and author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Goldsmith points out that our reactions do not happen in a vacuum.  They often are the result of constant and relentless triggers in our environment. Still, he notes that we have a choice in how we respond. 

At the same time, he acknowledges that change is hard. We are superior planners but inferior does in an environment that influences us constantly through out the day. Our best intentions and discipline are often drained like water from a leaky bucket. 

His solution comes in the form of daily self-monitoring, hinging on what he calls “active” questions. These questions measure our effort, not out results. As he explains, there is a difference between achieving and trying. We can not always achieve the desired result but we can try on a daily basis.  In particular, Goldsmith offers six “engaging questions that can help us take responsibility for our efforts to improve. They are as follows:

1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
2. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
3. Did I do my best to find meaning today?
4. Did I do my best to be happy today?
5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

For those of you who are actively involved in coaching people and working on improving employee engagement, then this book needs to go to the top of your reading list. Practical and thought-provoking, I found his insights very helpful. This is a book I will be rereading during the coming weeks so I can continue to grow from his insights. I strongly encourage you to read it as well.

Happy reading to all of you this summer, and if you discover a good book, please remember to share it with me. Thanks!

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Early Bird Special Reminder!

Before more of the summer passes by, I just wanted to send you a friendly reminder that the “Early Bird Special” for the Fall 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable is set to expire on Friday, July 31.

If you sign up between now and 7/31/15, 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 7/31/15, 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 23, 2015

8:30 am - Registration
9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders get all the different parts of an organization to work together as one unified whole rather than a collection of fragmented silos and turf battles?
10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - What is the role of the leader when everything is constantly changing?
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking 
1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do leaders improve their decision-making?
2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do leaders help others improve their performance?
4:30 pm- Adjourn

Thursday, September 24, 2015
9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders keep operating successfully when their time is constantly being interrupted by everyone else?
10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break 
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
12:00 pm - Adjourn

Location: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, 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

Monday, July 20, 2015

Surviving a Trough of Chaos in the midst of a Sideways Cyclone - part #4

In college, my friends and I had a saying: “When the going gets tough, the tough eat ice cream.” It seemed a good solution to nearly everything at the time. And as a result, we all moved in the direction of gaining the proverbial “freshman fifteen,” namely 15 extra pounds of weight. Now, my choice is a different line of thinking when tough days happen.

For those of us in leadership positions, there are many tough days ahead. And we have important choices about how to engage people and how to help them through these current and forth-coming challenges. One thing I have been focusing on this summer is to remind leaders that a big part of their work revolves around helping people fit in. As we work on clarifying purpose, painting the picture of where we are going, and building solid plans for how to get there, we, at times, get so busy that we forget to define for all involved how they contribute to making this all happen.

When working on the one to one level, leaders need to clarify for their direct reports the following: 

- what is their role, strategically and operationally

- what are their responsibilities when it comes to the implementing the current strategic and annual plans

- what are your expectations and their goals within the current plan

- how they are to measure their progress, i.e. their relationship to the balanced scorecard or other forms of organizational metrics.

While a bowl of ice cream on a hot day may be more fun, doing the above is worth the time and energy. Tough days are happening now and will continue in the future, but good leaders know that it is important to help others figure out how they fit into the bigger picture. Then, they will commit on a deeper level.

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

Monday, July 13, 2015

Surviving a Trough of Chaos in the midst of a Sideways Cyclone - part #3

For many people right now, planning for the future is becoming more and more important. Some are building long range plans and even discussing what they, as an organization, want to look like during the coming decade. Others are struggling because there are simply too many unknown variables for making a series of sound decisions about the future. For them, disjointed incrementalism, i.e. knowing where you want to go but not being sure how to get there, is the new normal.

When surviving a trough of chaos in the midst of a sideways cyclone, building a plan is important. For those suffering from disjointed incrementalism, I have suggested building a bridge plan, namely a short term, 12 - 18 months in length, plan. In situations where there is a high degree of chaos, the goal of a bridge plan is to create the right conditions for more in-depth planning. For example, this may mean cleaning up specific internal problems that might be causing problems related to achieving operational excellence. 

Meanwhile, the larger external picture with all of it’s different and unknown variables can sort itself out and become clear while you as the leader and your team execute the the bridge plan and prepare the internal organization. Once the internal is rebalanced and the external has become less foggy, then all involved can start planning and making better decisions related to the future.

This week, consider building a bridge plan when dealing with an unstable future.

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

Monday, July 6, 2015

Surviving a Trough of Chaos in the midst of a Sideways Cyclone - part #2

Picking up from last Monday’s post, I want to continue to answer the question: How does a leader guide others out of a trough of chaos in the midst of a sideways cyclone?

One critical element to making this happen is to create clarity of purpose. Now, most people think this is the singular act of simply stating the mission statement over and over. However, it is really quite a complicated form of leadership.

First, creating clarity of purpose means that all involved understand why we have initiated the changes that are being made. This involves a great deal of communication about the context for change. In particular, we need to describe the key indicators and information that led people in leadership positions to conclude that change was needed in the first place. Often, the building of a strategic mindset begins by building a clear understanding of the external and internal drivers for change.

Second, all involved need to better understand the mission or core purpose of the organization. This means more than being able to recite it. Instead, leaders need to give the history of the creation of the mission statement, and then they need to unpack the mission statement so all involved understand the depth of meaning within it. This one-two punch generates a great opportunity for strategic level dialogue as people understand the mission in a holistic manner.

Third, leaders need to explain why the work we are doing matters. This is tricky at this time period because some organizations have not explored this element of purpose for a long time. This has resulted in many people feeling like their job is not that important and does not contribute to the greater good of society. And with many millennials, this is a major turn-off to long range employment. They clearly want to make a difference, and if their job is only work, they will starting seeking employment opportunities some place else.

This week, rethink what is driving change and how you are communicating it, unpack the mission statement with all key leaders, and start asking the following question: “What do you do that matters the most?” All of the answers should have direct line of sight back to the core purpose of the organization.

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