Monday, February 8, 2016

Change Is The Only Constant

Right now all across the country and around the globe, change has become the only constant, and people are reacting in a normal and dynamic manner. Thus, leaders at all levels need to routinely engage in more strategic level dialogues to create continuous clarity and focus. The challenge is that few people understand what is a strategic level dialogue and why it is important. 

In the beginning, think of a strategic level dialogue as a free flowing conversation about context, strategy and operational excellence. The goal is to help people improve their capacity to build, define, share and engage at a more strategic level. When they better understand the why and how elements rather than just the what to do next elements of their job, they can then make new and better strategic choices and transform those choices into consistent communication and action at both the strategic and operational levels.

Nevertheless, many leaders say they are too busy to spend time visiting with people. Now I know that many of them are getting caught in the trap that things are more important than people, but few recognize that the time spent visiting with people in a strategic level dialogue allows their colleagues and partners to better transform awareness and understanding into commitment and responsibility.

Still, I can hear someone in a management and supervisory position telling me that it would just be easier to simply tell people the strategy rather than  engage in a dialogue about it. Here, I refer them back to the work of James Belasco and Ralph Stayer from their book, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead. As they wrote, "The primary purpose of strategic planning is not to strategically plan for the future, although that's an important purpose of the exercise.  It is primarily to develop the strategic management mind-set in each and every individual in the organization. The purpose of the process is not only to produce a plan. It is to produce a plan that will be owned and understood by the people who have to execute it."

We as leaders have to recognize that in many companies, there are dual operating systems, i.e. one for day to day business and one for the design and implementation of strategy. It is the second one that is focused on continual development and communication of strategy. This is the one that will create a strategic mindset, the unification of understanding about context, strategy and operational excellence. When this takes place, we have the potential for creating strategic ownership.

So, how do we actually do a strategic level dialogue? First, it can happen any time and any where. Over coffee or over a meal, the key is to start with some excellent questions like the ones I shared last week in this blog.

Once you have asked a question, listen carefully to the answers. As the late Stephen Covey reminded us, “seek first to understand and second to be understood.” Build a common ground and perspective, and remember to connect everything back to the strategic nexus the union of mission, vision, values and the strategic plan.

Given constant change is the new normal, now is the time to hold more strategic dialogues. Can you afford to have less clarity rather than more clarity in your organization at this time period?

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Ask Better Questions

Week after week, people meet and try to solve technical and adaptive problems. Nine times out of ten, there are a lot of questions that surface during the process. Some are helpful and some are not. 

As leaders, it is time for us to ask new and better questions during our upcoming meetings, especially if they are strategic planning meetings. These questions can help you gain a better understanding of how well other people comprehend the work that we are tasked with doing.

So, here is a list of superb and very unique questions:

- Why does our company exist?

- What business are we in?

- What does our current strategic plan tell us to do?

- Why is this important work to do? 

- What do you do that is most important at our company?

- Why do we need to continually improve?

These questions and the subsequent answers by others will give you an insight into the level of strategic and operational understanding of all involved. It may create for you some very important and helpful teachable moments. You may even bring clarity to place of confusion or correct a misalignment in perspective.

This week, practice asking better questions. You will be surprised by what you discover.

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

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Early Bird Special Reminder!

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

If you sign up between now and 1/29/16, 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 1/29/16, 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, April 6, 2015
-  8:30 am - Registration & Visiting Time
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders successfully scale up for growth?
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders consolidate initial improvements and continue to produce more change?
- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking 
- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do leaders increase effective collaboration?
- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do leaders improve the cascading of key information?
- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday, April 7, 2016
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders prioritize?
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break 
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
-12:00 pm - Adjourn

Recommended Reading: Sutton. Robert I and Huggy Rao. Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less, Crown Business, 2014.

Location: Courtyard by Marriott in Ankeny, 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, January 25, 2016

Do Not Send Mixed Messages

When it comes to getting things done in many organizations, more is said than done. Some people can talk a good talk, but many do not walk the talk. It is this discrepancy that can cause many of the problems that surface during transformation.

Many years ago, I remember an executive who invited me to speak to his entire staff one morning at dawn. "A breakfast seminar for champions, " he called this training opportunity, and I was delighted to participate.

With the sun barely over the horizon, we gathered, and I began. During my presentation, I was impressed with the focus and attention of those gathered. But over the course of the morning, I couldn't help but notice that they seemed to be very reserved, rather than fully participating in it. They were courteous, but cautious.

Afterwards, members of the management team approached me and asked if I had a few minutes to visit with them before going up to meet with the CEO. Not pressured for time, I agreed to sit down for a 10 to 15 minute  visit. Together we walked down the nicely carpeted hallways to the executive wing and into the boardroom, a room that was dominated by a table in the shape of a "T".

"This is where we meet as a team to discuss change and leadership," said the vice-president. "We sit down here as a group, and he sits at the top of the 'T' with a table all to himself. Change is great, but it begins at the top. He thinks he walks the talk, but this T-shaped table sends a different message. If we are going to work together as a team, we all need to sit at the same table with the same kind of space. It's that simple." We visited for a while, and then I went on to the CEO's office.

As part of my conversation with the CEO, I mentioned the table issue. "Huh! I guess I never thought about it," he replied. “But when I look at it from their angle, they are absolutely right. What a crazy mixed-up message I’ve been sending! I’ve been talking about commitment, mission, and values -- but the table says authority, control, and command. That table doesn’t need to be moved, it needs to be removed.'"

Weeks later, I learned that the management team had initiated a progressive and successful movement to a new level of growth. Removing the table had become a catalyst for aligning commitments and reality in a new way.

Remember: Walking the talk means not sending mixed messages about what is most important.

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Power Of The Chair

When visiting with senior executives, we often talk about the “power of the chair.” Many recognize, using a line from the Spider Man movie, that “with great power comes great responsibility.” They know they need to use this power in a very thoughtful manner.

However, recently the discussion about the power of the chair has turned to the burden of confidentiality that comes with being a senior leader. Routinely, senior  leaders know more about what is going on than they can say. Furthermore, they often can not visit about it with any one at work. As these issues surface, e.g. the potential impact of a reorganization, leaders often sit in a room and know who is being coached out, who is being coached up, and who will loose their job due to the reorganization. They recognize that as a leader these choices need to be made. They also know they are not easy.

Recently, many executives have come to realize that having the power of the chair means that they can not choose popularity over accountability or harmony over productive conflict. These two key concepts from Patrick Lencioni’s book,  The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable are critical to their success. They realize that the solution to the burden of confidentially and the wise use of power is to build a very healthy senior team, to find allies and confidents who can listen in a respectful manner, and to always think about the impact of their actions as leaders before moving forward.

At the same time, if we seek personal excellence in our work as leaders, we must continue to rekindle our passion for the work we do. Twice in my life, I have hit the proverbial wall and asked the question, “Is this it?” Once right after leaving my first job as a teacher, I returned to the trades. Over a lunch discussion with co-workers who told stories about the crazy things they did when they were drunk, I asked myself, “Is this it?” 

Once in my 40’s when my business was in a boom period and I was flying and teaching all over the place, I realized that I was never home. I also discovered that when I was home I was mentally still at work. Then, I realized that when I die, all my clients will come to my funeral. They will say nice things about my work, but I wondered what my wife and children would actually say. At times like that, I paused and asked myself, “Is this it?”

Then, in my 50’s this question changed as I changed. Rather than asking “is this it?”, I came to the realization that “this could be it.” I could keep doing this between now and when I retire. It would not be too bad. It was manageable and good enough, just more of the same. 

But with this realization, I kept thinking of Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great where he states, “Good is the enemy of great.” The pathway to leading from the place of personal excellence requires all of us to not accept “just good enough.” We have to reclaim our desire for greatness, passion and wanting to make a difference. We have to not settle into ruts of mediocrity and just roll with the issues. We need to realize that we are the program and the programmer. If we need to upgrade the program, we also need to upgrade the programmer.

One pathway to this level of work is to develop or expand our “circles of trust,”  a Parker Palmer term. With the burden of confidentiality, we need to surround ourselves with others who recognize that leading solo can yield anxiety and fear. We need people in our lives who know how to support without judgement. We also need to build more personal and professional relationships with people who comprehend that discernment happens best through dialogue and reflection. 

Next, we need to proactively build this level of trusting and supportive community so that the front of the house, our work, and the back of the house, our personal lives, are the same house. And if we have this already in place, then we need to proactively maintain it. Too many leaders are now watching their circles of trust decline through neglect.

Remember: people, boards and organizations all want great leadership. We, as those leaders, must lead with good hearts and a clear mind if it is going to happen.

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

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Brave New World

Many leaders right now know that their organization needs to get better. They also know they need to get better. Effort and desire are not the problem. Time may be limited in some circumstances, but the depth of clarity that change needs to take place is still present. The challenge is that they do not know how to start.

Back in the 90’s, I recognized this situation and designed a one year leadership training program to give people in leadership positions the tools and the mindset to transform themselves and their organization. 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 learn where to start and how to sustain the change they wish to make.

After teaching this course for nearly two decades to hundreds upon hundreds of people in leadership positions across the country, I am more convinced than ever that with a good beginning and a clear understanding of what is normal in personal and organizational change, leaders can change themselves and their companies. This is good work and hard work which requires disciplined thought and disciplined action. But it also is worth while work because at the end of the day, I have learned that people want to make a difference, want to do good work, and want to participate in making this happen within the context of a team or work place community.

For those of you who aspire to transforming yourself and your organization, I invite you to join the 2016 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. For more information,, then please click on the following link: 

Or you can click on the this link for the registration form:

There is a brave new world out there for those who seek to make their organization better. Learning how to do it effectively is the first step in the journey to success. 

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

Monday, January 11, 2016

Burning Brightly

I learned an important lesson one evening at a small Midwestern hospital many years ago. I was invited to present a stress-management seminar to a heart-attack support group. As usual, I arrived 30 minutes early to set up. When I walked into the room, the group was already waiting there.

"Am I late?" I asked.

"No, we are early," said an older gentleman. He continued, “Is this going to be one of those stress-management seminars that teaches you to take a deep breath and visualize? Well, we don't want that junk. To get into this group, you must have experienced the paddles being put on you. They nearly lost me three times -- once at home just before the paramedics arrived, once in the ambulance, and once in the E.R.

"Dying is easy: light switch on -- light switch off. It's that simple. I don't want to learn about how to prevent burnout. That's lights-off stuff. I want to know about how to burn brightly. Are you going to talk about that tonight? If so, I’ll stay. If not, I’ve got better things to do this evening."

I pushed my notes aside, formed the chairs into a circle, and shared what I knew about the importance of recreating one's life. I listened to their insights, as we discussed how true change is about wholeness, not parts. We talked about not rearranging our lives as much as establishing new ways of living and working. 

Remember: Burning brightly rather than burning out begins when we rejuvenate ourself on a regular basis.

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