Monday, June 11, 2018

How do leaders be both bold and brave during difficult times? - part #2

During the Fall 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, those who gathered entered in to a discussion about the difference between resistance and opposition. The consensus of the leaders present was that resistance is really a form of feedback while opposition is a form of going against something in order to stop it from happening.  As I reflected on all that was shared, I realized that during the Spring 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable we needed to explore and understand the difference between discernment and judgement.

In order to get greater perspective on the difference between discernment and judgement, I turned to the small group of people who I call my “Kitchen Table Cabinet.” These are the people I go to for a big picture perspective on a variety of subjects. They are the ones who make me think and who ask really good questions.

During my first meeting with one of my older cabinet members, I asked the question “What is the difference between discernment and judgement?” 

He smiled and replied, “It is the ability to sort the wheat from the chafe, or the ability to sort the the goats from the sheep.”

I chuckled because this is a typical answer for him. However, as we dived into the subject at a deeper level, he said discernment is “the ability to organize your thoughts after participating in a series of listening post experiences.” As he explained, by listening carefully, a leader is able to discern what is the path forward.

Next, I went to another member of my Kitchen Table Cabinet who has traveled extensively in different parts of the world, and has a long term career in healthcare. He shared that “judgement is your conclusion. It is binary in nature. On the other hand, discernment is about exploring a range of questions and perspectives.” As he continued, when someone is involved in a discernment process, they have to ask the question, “What else could it be happening here?” This requires an individual to have the time and a space to reflect. “The main problem is that people jump to conclusions, judge or decide something without having all of the facts. This rush to conclusions will cause problems or result in unwarranted conclusions.”

After careful thought, I think this is the problem. There is not enough discernment in decision making. There is not enough careful thought being put into place before action. It is as if the world is addicted to going faster and faster, and to choose urgency without reflection. All of us as leaders need to define and schedule time for reflection and to defend this space like a mother with a new born child.

This week, schedule time for in-depth reflection. And then, give yourself permission to take.

As for me, I will now take my annual, late June time for reflection. I will be back in touch with all of you on Monday morning, July 2. 

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

How do leaders be both bold and brave during difficult times? - part #1

When working in these unique times, we need to be bold and brave in spite of all that is happening around us. Boldness requires us to not be afraid of the difficult situations before us. Brave requires us to have the courage to face the challenges of this time. Bold and brave leaders are transformational leaders.

When I think of transformational leaders, I think of the work of Bennis and Nanus who say that these kinds of leaders are managers of meaning, attention, trust, and self. 

But, when I reflect on the transformational leaders I have met and worked with, I have observed that they role model executive presence and compassion on a daily basis. Executive presence begins with self awareness about one’s appearance, words, physical health, and body language. However, it is greater than just self-awareness

Leading with executive presence means being confident and calm in spite of external circumstances. Having inner clarity creates confidence in others to follow. It also means leading with inner clarity rather than external ego.

Leading with executive presence starts with showing up and being clear on the inside. It requires us as leaders to give our complete attention to others and being mentally present when we do it. It also means understanding that others read our reactions and actions very carefully, not just our words. In essence, executive presence is that rare combination of being confident and calm plus being present and attentive. 

Upon further reflection, I believe there is a relationship between executive presence and compassion. Compassion from Latin means “to suffer with.” It is an emotional response of sympathy and a feeling and desire to want to help. Compassion arises from an open heart. It requires us to show up and pay attention to all that is needed.

Executive presence also requires us to understand the difference between self-help and self-knowledge. Self-help is being able to achieve something on one’s own. Self-knowledge is understanding oneself or one’s own motive or character. For us to stay humble and role model executive presence as leaders, we need to know the limits of our knowledge and to realize we can become misguided by incomplete information.

It also requires us to recognize that there are always two models at work in the world of leadership. The mechanical model sees everything as systems and replaceable parts. The gardening model focuses on the culture/environment around those serving and tries to create a more favorable environment for proactive growth. From my perspective, leadership and management based on a mechanical model has the potential to result in leadership and management without a soul. There is the potential for no presence, attention, kindness, or compassion.

When leaders embrace the gardening model, then leadership becomes a craft from German word, kraft, which means “the power that comes from knowing.” Here, leaders learn to be leaders not only by being taught, but by doing it, and by being mentored. This is where you have to get “a feel” for it.

Furthermore, this kind of leadership requires people to be a part of a community, namely a group of knowers who pass along their knowledge in a step by step way from simple to complex.

Finally, leadership also is an art, because like true art it is based on the interaction between the artist and the subject/object, i.e. the follower. It is learned by knowing when to speak up and when to be quiet, and by knowing where to look and what to avoid.

This week, reflect on executive presence, compassion and the gardening model of leadership. Find your community of fellow leaders and embrace the journey of sharing, listening and reflecting. It will make a world of difference.

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Map Is Not The Road - a new booklet!

Often, during a break in my teaching, someone will come up to me and say, “That was a great story. Very helpful. You should write it down.” Given all of these requests, I decided this past winter to write down nineteen of the most popular stories that I tell during my leadership trainings.

They are now published in a new booklet called The Map Is Not The Road: Lessons Learned and Lessons Shared While Helping Others Navigate the World of Leadership and Organizational Change.

After 30+ years of doing this work, I believe the reason why people remember a story more than research or statistics is because we are wired that way. We are built for remembering relationships and stories. Statistics, graphs, charts, and research help, but from my experience, a story is a long- term anchor in the midst of change. It becomes cellular and integrated more quickly than anything else. 

Therefore, the more I teach, consult, or coach, the more I find myself sharing a story. It builds perspective. It builds understanding. It builds a common ground where we realize that we are all travelers moving through a constantly changing and unfolding landscape. 

Included in this booklet are the stories I share with others to help them become better leaders in the midst of organizational change. Some are from my own personal journey. Others are stories shared with me. Whatever the source, the lessons learned are powerful. 

For more information about this new booklet, including the Table of Contents, the Introduction and an Order Form, please click on the following link:


And here is the first review of this new resource:

“Geery, this is the book your readers have all been waiting for, for decades!  I cannot remember ever laughing so much in my life at any book this witty and endearing, and yet with profound and meaningful lessons-of-life that will forever reverberate in my heart and thoughts. They are especially funny to all who know, love, and appreciate you as the kind, caring, remarkably creative person and authentic teacher that you are.
I do not find many things in this fragmented world "funny" anymore. But because this book had me totally in stitches, it was a life-changing book in the way that Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn must have been in their time.
My husband and I have read all of your books, several times in fact.  I was one of those people who often commented to you how memorable your wonderful life stories are.  You said that so many others had also told you the same thing.  So, Geery, this is your gift to all of us.  
Thank you, Geery Howe, Master Storyteller, perhaps one of the best -- and certainly one of the most beloved -- of all times!” 

- Melinda and Todd Erickson, Erickson & Erickson, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Happy summer reading to all of you!

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

What is the importance of caring within successful organizations? - part #2

Given all that is happening in the world at this time period, we need to continually create and maintain the bonds that hold us together. After visiting so many organizations over the last two years, I have come to the conclusion that the successful ones are in part successful because they understand something very important. Successful organizations recognize that health is restored in broken systems and broken relationships by creating new connections and strengthening existing ones. As Angela Blanchard wrote, “you can not build on broken.”

As part of the process of creating and maintaining the bonds that hold us together, more people need to move from relationships based on hierarchy to relationships based on connections and a sense of community. The first step in this journey is to build new connections through shared understanding and new experiences. One way to do this is to get people together in small groups and to discuss the following four questions:

- Why did you join this organization
- Why do you stay here?
- Why does that matter?
- What do you hope to achieve during the next 6-9 months?

Furthermore, I believe in celebrating planned organizational short term wins at the group level and personal milestones at the individual level. According to Dan Cohen in his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide: Tools and Tactics for Leading change in Your Organization (Harvard Business School Press, 2005) the characteristics of an effective short-term win are the following: measurable, visible, timely, relevant to all stakeholders, relevant to objectives, relevant to the situation, and relevant to the people who need to carry the change forward. Personal milestones, on the other hand, are significant points in one’s personal development.

This week, sit down with your team and discuss what have been and will be the planned short term wins for the rest of 2018. Then, enter into a discussion about what have been and what will be your own personal milestones in this process.

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

What is the importance of caring within successful organizations? - part #1

Since the events of September 2008, we have been living in very difficult and for many “traumatic” times. These last 10 years have been filled with uncertainty, chaos, and anxiety.

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their very good book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, say that “… post-traumatic growth could take five different forms: finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering more meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities.”

As leaders of an organization, I believe we can not always deliver all of the above but I do believe we can do one very important thing. We can create a culture of welcome and belonging in every organization. After visiting so many different organizations over the last two years, I have come to the conclusion that the successful ones are in part successful because they have done this. In these organizations, we feel we belong. We feel like our voice matters. We feel like our efforts matter. We feel supported. And finally we feel like we are part of a community, a tribe, a team, or a family, which ever term best captures this feeling for you.

At the Fall 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable during a discussion on resilience, one of the participants shared that from their observations people who feel like they belong or do belong to a church don’t burn out as much, are able to be more resilient, and don’t feel stuck in life.

While I don’t think there is one singular thing a leader can do to create a culture of welcome and belonging, I think there are three things a leader can do. First, they need to role model respect in all they do. Second, they need to never tolerate disrespectful actions by others. Third, they need to speak publicly about how respect and integrity are part of the company’s culture and the company’s core mission. These three small actions add up to a big impact when embraced by all people in leadership positions within a company.

This week, evaluate how well you are doing the above three things. If needed, make some changes so you are doing them extremely well on a day to day basis. More adversity is coming but the importance of caring is always fundamental to success.

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

How do leaders help themselves and others to learn better? - Part #2

As leaders, according to Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World (Grand Central Publishing, 2016), we suffer from two major problems. They are as follows:

The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

From my experience, I think Newport is spot on. We as leader do tend toward the path of easiest behaviors and seeing busy as the definition of success. Therefore, our challenge as leaders is to role model something different.

First, to overcome the path of least resistance and busyness as proxy for productivity, we need to get a coach, inside or outside the organization, and/or a mentor. These individuals, who we respect, will provide us with feedback and perspective. They will help us to role model learning rather than just talk about learning.

When I reflect on the best mentors I’ve encountered in my life, they all focused on a couple of small but important things. For example, be more conscious of how you choose to spend your energy and time. Choice is an action, and we always have control over how we choose. Greg McKeown in his excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014) builds on this concept and asks us to think deeply about our choices.

I think about this because of a recent experience. I was participating in a graduation dinner for an extended leadership training that I had just completed. The young fellow sitting next to me asked a great question: “I really like this job and I want to stay here for the rest of my career. I have 20+ more years until I retire. How do I not burn out from all of the work?”

The older woman executive on his other side replied, “Keep learning, and recognize that the job will change over time. And that you will change over time in the job too.”

When he was done pondering this insight, I responded. “Be curious in a positive way. Seek to understand more than to be understood. Say to people ‘Tell me more.’ This is a powerful act as a leader. And finally, keep reading.”

He finished his beer and said “I can do this. I thought it would be big stuff but I have realized now that these little things are big things.”

I smiled and nodded. Constant learning is all about doing the little things that have a big impact.

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

How do leaders help themselves and others to learn better? - Part #1

When we zoom out and look at the big picture right now, we are confronted with some uncomfortable information. First, work today is more about reacting and responding to e-mail than actually doing professional activities which create new value. According to Cal Newport in his thought-provoking book, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World (Grand Central Publishing, 2016), a 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 percent of the work week engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent of their time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.

Second, in the normal, day to day, highly distracted work place, we expect everyone to continually get better at their jobs. However, we rarely give people feedback or tools which can help them do this. We also rarely give them regular time or space to learn or improve.

Third, we expect employees to move through the normal group development stages rapidly, namely forming, storming, norming and performing. However, from my perspective, we want improving which takes place after the performing stage, but we do not understand fully how it actually happens.

In short, given the above, we know that leaders can shape understanding or destroy it through their actions. Leaders can create clarity or confusion, especially if they are giving mixed messages. And finally, leaders can create work environments which are based on learning and respect or on distrust and silo protectionism.

The first step to helping people learn is to a build learning ecosystem within the organization. My definition of an ecosystem at work revolves around the notion of a group of people interacting and functioning well as a community. This happens when all involved create and execute their quarterly personal development plans. Recognizing that every 3 year strategic plan needs to be broken down into a 1 year organizational plan, and that all 1 year organizational plans need to be broken down into 1 year division/department plans, the goal each year is to have a 1 year personal plan which is made up of 4, 90 day plans. If this happens, then most 90 day plans are in alignment with the company’s strategic goals. These 90 day plans are focused on performance based goals.

But the big question for us here today is the following: What are the learning goals to help someone improve their performance? Most organizations have performance based goals but rarely set learning goals to improve performance. If they do set performance and learning based goals, then it is vitally important that they get the time and support to execute these goals.

This week, check out whether or not your key people have performance goals and performance improvement based goals. Next, make sure they are getting the time, support, and space to do this level of learning. Our overall goal from this action is to build a shared mindset around continually wanting to get better.

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