Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Importance of Encouragement

James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their superb book, A Leader’s Legacy, Jossey-Bass, 2006, write that “No one likes being taken for granted. No one likes being ignored, overlooked, or dismissed. Friends don’t like it. Spouses don’t like it. Children don’t like it. Parents don’t like it. Employees don’t like it.”

Yet, in the week between Christmas and New Year’s day, people are stretched, worn, and often ignored. The rush up to Christmas is a big push. Along with the standard holiday parties and family events, many people work hard to complete major projects, fundraising, and the defining of 2011 first quarter goals and priorities. Then, after Christmas every one begins focusing on the New Year.

And in between and all around these two big holidays, life goes on. There is still day to day operations. Problems still surface and need to be solved. Customers still need service and still come in with questions. For many employees, it is the same old stuff that needs to get done, just a different day.

In the midst of these on-going and not always very interesting standard operating procedures, some executives, managers and supervisors forget a critical component to short and long term success, namely the importance of encouragement. As Kouzes and Posner remind us in the aforementioned book, “Work is about letting people know they’re important, their hard work and efforts matter, and they’re doing a good job.” Yet, in between Christmas and New Year’s day, many leaders are so focused on the future that they forget to be encouraging on a daily basis.

Some respond to this observation by noting that employees are paid whether or not they do a good job or a great job. A matter of fact in many places they are paid just for showing up! They believe that praise and recognition are not really needed if people just show up and do their job.

But we need to remember that praise and recognition do matter. People who feel “the roar of approval for a job well done” engage with problems, fellow employees and customers in positive ways. They act with a deeper level of commitment and engage in better ways to solve problems.

Now before everyone rushes out to say thanks, give out mission focused certificates of appreciation, or make up laminated plaques with witty quotes on them, let us recall that it is the depth of authentic concern, respect and appreciation that is most important. As Kouzes and Posner note, “We need to accept and acknowledge that nothing really significant can ever be achieved unless people feel appreciated by their leaders. People who are ignored aren’t going to put forth the effort it takes to sustain greatness.”

In the last few days of 2010, pause and take stock of your people. And then, in a thoughtful and respectful manner go out and appreciate those who are making some thing happen and doing a good job in spite of the difficulties that surface. When people know they are making a difference, and when they know that difference is meaningful, they will work hard to push through their challenges and keep doing it over and over again. Start today by giving the gift of thoughtful appreciation and genuine support. It is vital to your organization’s future.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, December 20, 2010

Gratitude, Blessings and Joy

“The ordinary arts we practice every day at home,” writes Thomas Moore, “are of more importance to the soul than their simplicity might suggest.” The danger and the challenge for many leaders this winter is to not let the “ordinary arts” at home take a back seat to the “ordinary arts” at work.

Routinely this year, I have worked with executives who have barely won at work and completely lost at home. These leaders after an exhausting day at work come home and collapse, emotionally, mentally, and physically. Wiped out from the pressures of the market and the politics of the office, they have little to give and little space to receive. Their families are worn by this pattern as well. With the holiday season upon us and the image that everything and everyone is suppose to be perfect and happy, many are feeling the tension that their home lives are just not living up to the image of perfection.

The following ordinary arts are ones we need to practice every day at home. They are not flashy or fancy. They will not become a New York Times best-seller book. But from my experience, their simplicity can make a world of a difference.

First, be grateful for the meals you share with others and for the gift of good food.

Every day on this planet, there are people who want clean water and good food. There are mothers and fathers who want to feed their children and themselves. Many, due to circumstances beyond their control, can not do this. When we sit down this holiday season with our loved ones and our families, let us remember that we are deeply blessed to have good food and clean water.

Second, do not take your loved ones and families for granted.

This fall our youngest son was in a bicycle accident that lead to an ambulance ride to the emergency room. When the doctor sat down with him before he was released from the hospital, he told our son that if he had not been wearing his helmet, he more likely would not have survived the accident. That morning before all this happened, he had surprised me for my birthday by getting up very early to join my wife and I for a day hike along a nearby lake. One minute he was here and whole. That night he was injured and recovering. This holiday season realize how little control we have over the world and how precious our loved ones and families truly are.

Third, showing up and being present are the best gifts to give this holiday season.

In world of executive leadership, there never is enough time. Booked morning, noon and night with meetings, deadlines, travel and appointments plus always attempting to keep up with the endless stream of e-mail, we can find ourselves missing some very precious and important moments, such as a school play, a children’s choir, a quiet moment with an aging parent, or a phone call from a sister or brother. These simple experiences are the foundation of our lives. Ordinary and every day, they truly make the difference in the short and the long part of this journey.

This week and throughout this year into the new one, I encourage you to be humbly grateful for the gifts and blessings you have, the people who are a part of your life, and time you have to enjoy it. As always, I am deeply appreciative for the opportunity to be of service to you and your organizations in 2010. I look forward to what we will discover and achieve in 2011.

Go in peace this season; walk in love.


Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, December 13, 2010

Leading With a Good Heart - Part # 3

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. Over time, leaders know about more challenges that they can not visit about 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 this 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, Jossey-Bass 1998, 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 our actions as leaders before moving forward.

At the same time, if we seek to lead with a good heart, then we must recognize the role of purpose within leadership. Over and over this past fall, I have reminded leaders that creating organizational clarity comes with an understanding of why the organization exists. In order to minimize the potential for confusion, we as leaders need to define how leaders and managers should behave and role model, how the organizational culture should perform, and what is our strategy for the future. Once we have these pieces in place, we must align employees around these key points and reinforce this clarity through consistently hiring, managing performance, giving rewards and recognition and dismissing employee who do not work in alignment with these key points.

Finally, we must continue to rekindle 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 and all my clients come to my funeral, they will say I was a great teacher and consultant, 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 with a good heart 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.

This week, remember that people, boards and organizations all want great leadership. We, as those leaders, must lead with good hearts if it is going to happen.

Have an inspiring week,


P.S. For those of you who want to read a good, short and recent article by Patrick Lencioni, here is a fine one shared with me recently:


Happy reading!

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Power of Listening

Every day I am blessed with the opportunity to visit with exceptional leaders. Some I have known and worked with for over 20 years. Others have visited with me about their journeys and challenges for 10+ years. And some have just begun to visit with me during the last couple of months.

When I pause and reflect on these in-depth dialogues, I realize that the most powerful gift we can give another person is the gift of unconditional listening. For it is when we, as people and leaders, show up, pay attention, and seek to truly understand another, we co-create something very unique, namely purposeful space.

Many years ago, I explored this concept with Rob Schultz, currently Executive Director of COVER Home Repair (http://www.coverhomerepair.org/) in White River Junction, Vermont. He explained to me that open space is uncomfortable to enter or to live in. For example, if we build a deck with no railing, we stick to the center of the deck because without a railing the edges do not feel very safe. Yet, once the railing is built, the space is defined and we are more comfortable within it. This happens because the railing binds the space together, and defines it’s purpose. Then, people can move to the edges of the deck and better enjoy the view.

As Rob continued, when a leader defines a time with a colleague or direct report as a place for in-depth listening and sharing, it is like putting a railing on a deck. The quality of the space changes and generates a greater degree of clarity and focus. It is, using his term, “bounded space,” namely space with a clear definition and boundaries.

Having watched executives coach their direct reports and having numerous opportunities to coach a CEO’s direct reports while they watch, time and time again I have learned and witnessed that when the space is well defined and when a leader shows up 100% within it, the results are truly remarkable and powerful. What comes clear to me this morning is that many of the answers we seek within such a space are actually within our grasp but because we, as leaders, are some days so consumed with details related to operational management, the monitoring of strategic variables while promoting innovation, and the analysis of critical data points, that we rarely, if ever, have the time to reflect on critical questions and explore new answers.

Nevertheless, when these leaders create purposeful space and when they provide unconditional listening within it, our attention shifts from the busy and at times unimportant details to the important strategic components of the organization, resulting in the discovery of the right answers to the current challenges. Still, the foundation of this process is the development of “bounded space.”

I encourage you to co-create this kind of space with your direct reports and amongst those who you trust. If you need assistance, please call. I will be glad to be of service.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The One-Two Punch

Successful organizations have a one-two punch. Others have a one punch. In the world of boxing, having a one-two punch means that the boxer has a combination of two quick blows in rapid succession, e.g. a left jab followed at once by hard blow with the right hand.

In the world of business having a one-two punch means having great leaders and great managers. Many companies have forgotten they need both. From my perspective, we need managers who understand leadership and leaders who understand the importance of management.

Marcus Buckingham in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005, explains the difference between managers and leaders in the following manner. “To excel as a manager you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and that your chief responsibility is not to eradicate this uniqueness, but rather to arrange roles, responsibilities, and expectations so that you can capitalize upon it. The more you perfect this skill, the more effectively you will turn talents into performance.

To excel as a leader requires the opposite skill. 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.”

As we turn our sights to 2011 and all of the new challenges and opportunities that it brings, please remember that registration for the 2011 From Vision to Action Leadership Training is this Friday, December 10.

For more information about dates, costs and location, please click on the following link: http://www.chartyourpath.com/VTA-Leadership-Training.html. If you are wanting a strong one-two punch in 2011, then now is the time to sign up your key people and help them to become better managers and leaders.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, December 6, 2010

Leading With a Good Heart - Part # 2

Working with exceptional leaders over the course of my career has generated many insights. When I am coaching someone new to the world of senior leadership, I often remind them that their presence, i.e. appearance, words, physical health, and body language, make a major impact to the work they are doing. Given how employees watch senior executives all the time, many leaders miss these subtle but important point. Self-awareness is the first step to being a successful senior leader I remind them.

Many years ago, I taught a workshop at a major national conference. Once I got there, I discovered that my mentor who had taught me the material I was teaching was keynoting the same conference. When I saw him that morning, I apologized for not discussing this situation with him in advance. He replied that it was not a problem and that we should have lunch together after his keynote. Once the noon hour had arrived and we were seated together for lunch, he explained to me that everyone notices who you are speaking with at any given time once you start leading and teaching. In particular, the key is to realize that everyone notices whether or not it is authentic or just for show. Just before we got up from lunch, he reminded me to “never guild the lilly.”

A year later, I returned to teach at the same conference. When it came time for the noon meal, I went to the same place to eat. Since very few had arrived in the dining room, I found a nice quiet table to prepare for my afternoon workshop. In the midst of my thoughts, someone behind me asked if they could join me in this quiet place. I arose and responded “yes.” Much to my surprise it was Bernie Siegel and his wife, that year’s keynote speakers, who sat down with me. Over the course of lunch, the three of us talked about many topics including children, health and the funny things that cats do. Upon reflection years later, what impressed me the most was their genuine nature and the health of their relationship. They were people of high authenticity. I have learned from this and numerous other experiences that presence begins with self-awareness, continues with authenticity, and ends with respect.

The second thing I coach up and coming senior leaders about is the importance of perspective. Often, leaders loose perspective in the area of context. In the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I call this context blindness. Here, we can see the whole organization but we can not see the environmental context within which the whole organization is working and moving through at any certain time period. For example, during a SWOT or PESTAL analysis within strategic planning, it is common for me to hear people talk about baby boomer parents, who are sometimes called helicopter parents. However, until very recently I had not heard much talk of Gen Xers as parents. The new term for them is stealth fighters. Google the term sometime this week and you will discover some interesting new perspectives.

For me as an executive coach, I believe the loss of perspective often comes down to intellectually laziness. This is not about the ability of many executives to consume vast amounts of information. I see this on a daily basis. But it does come down to the lack of willingness and ability to see something from different perspectives. In short, the key to being a successful leader is to see and understand the past, the present and the future possibilities all from different perspectives.

This week, be more conscious of presence, and practice looking at ideas from different perspectives.

Have a good week,


Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Digital Lifestyle

Today, many famous pop stars like Lady Gaga, Justin Timberlake, and Alicia Keys, are staging “digital deaths” in support of World AIDS Day. They will be signing off Facebook and Twitter to draw attention to the disease. The campaign, called Digital Life Sacrifice, includes ads that show Kim Kardashian and others lying in coffins to symbolize their digital deaths. These celebrities will sign back on when the Keep a Child Alive charity, which raises money for families affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India, raises $1 million.

Recently, I experienced my own “digital death.” With our oldest son, Ryan, living and working in the Flagstaff, Arizona area, my wife, Jane, and I plus our younger son Jacob, decided to drive down and spend the entire Thanksgiving week with him. We had a marvelous time together, hiked every day, and spent Thanksgiving Day in the Grand Canyon sitting on a ledge eating lunch half way down the South Kaibab Trail. It was a great week of vacation for all of us.

As I prepared for this trip, I thought a lot about whether or not I should take my office lap top computer. My challenge was that if I did, then I would be checking on work e-mail and projects regularly and might never really get into the vacation spirit and the family time. Not having a phone where I can check e-mail, I realized that I could spend an entire week off-line. With family time being very precious and important to me, I decided to skip the computer and just take a good book.

Once we were on the road, I quickly realized that I was suffering from digital withdraw symptoms. I so regularly check the web and e-mail when in the office and on the road for work that it felt very odd to not be in touch via this medium. I also realized how out of touch I was becoming with current events, people and projects without a computer.

However, once the withdraw symptoms passed, I started to see a lot of interesting things. First, we are now living in a society that is centered around a 24/7 digital lifestyle. Everywhere you go, you can see or hear someone on a cell phone. Some people do not look or talk to people directly in front of them as much as talk and interact with people via their cell.

For example, when we were hiking in the Sedona, AZ area, we encountered someone standing on a ridge conducting a business call. It was interesting to see how unplugged they were to the natural beauty all around them and more plugged into solving a problem at work. I also was particularly interested to meet a young teen while hiking in the desert who was more concerned about her phone not getting damaged than whether or not she was safe going down a steep rock face path or having had enough water to not get dehydrated.

Second, it became very clear to me that young people (30 and under) want access to all kinds of information when they want it. Furthermore, their work and personal relationships are digitally dynamic. This became very clear to me during a Thanksgiving potluck with our oldest son’s friends and colleagues. Everyone checked their cell phone numerous times during the event and responded via text and calls on a regular basis. When seated around a table, the first thing many did was to put their cell on the table next to the plate.

Now, on one hand, none of the above is headline news. It is the new normal, particularly if you live a digital lifestyle every day. But if you take a week off from this lifestyle, and watch it all happening around you, then it becomes very interesting.

In particular, as I watched and experienced this new reality as a non-participant, I began to think about the world of business. Whether we work in a for-profit or non-profit organization, our goal is to build and maintain relationships with our customers and clients. We also want to create brand loyalty when the decision to purchase a product or service takes place. The challenge for us as leaders is to realize that the traditional methods of relationship building and marketing are not going to be effective in the future. For example, radio, newspapers and billboards are nothing more than historical eye candy for the younger generation. On-line social media and networks are influencing more people and in particular younger people at an alarming rate. These current and future customers google their way through life in unique and interesting ways.

As a former history teacher, I know that some changes can not always be understood until a large period of time has passed. For example, I love listening to my father-in-law talk about the transition from horses to early tractors to modern tractors in the world of farming. I also thoroughly enjoy listening to my own father talk about the impact of new technology in the world of communications. For each of these men, there was no way they could have predicted the impact of these changes when they were in their 20’s. Nevertheless, once they hit their eighties, they could look back and see how wildly transformative these paradigm shifts were in the course of their lives.

The key for us today is to realize that change in information technology happens in a unique manner. As futurist Ray Kurzweil explained in the December 6, 2010 issue of Time magazine: “Our intuition about the future is linear. But the reality of information technology is exponential, and makes a profound difference. If I take 30 steps linearly, I get to 30. If I take 30 steps exponentially, I get to a billion.” When we examine the impact of the digital lifestyle and it’s transformative nature, we come to realize that it is moving exponentially and accelerating at the same time.

After a week off from the digital lifestyle, I encourage you to consider putting down the cell phone, the Blackberry, the iPad or lap top for a couple of days and experience life without it. Sometimes a digital death or digital life sacrifice can open our eyes to how much it is impacting our lives and our work places. While famous pop stars raise awareness for AIDS today, I believe we need to realize that our digital lifestyle is changing us as much as we are changing it.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Making the Right Choices

When I first started out as a consultant and a trainer, I got invited to teach a stress management workshop to carpet sales men and women. The audience was polite but not overly responsive. Halfway through I realized that the sales people just wanted to sell carpet, and the seminar was mostly for their boss. She was totally overwhelmed and really needed one to one coaching. Nevertheless, when it was all done, a nice older sales person came up to me and shared that the essence of successful work and living was to “plan your work and then work your plan.” It was good advice 20+ years ago and it is still applicable today. The challenge for many this month is that they do not know the plan for 2011, or even have a plan for the next 90 days. The other challenge is that they are not making the right choices.

Having begun my career in the world of non-profits and education rather than sales, working with small and then larger for-profit companies was a steep learning curve. One day during my early adventures, I was talking with a woman sales executive about why her teams were struggling (mostly a problem with trust and role modeling related to conflict resolution) when she gave me a lecture on sales. “There are three initial variables to sales,” she explained. “They are price, time and quality. You, as the customer, only get to pick two of them. We as the sales organization control the third one. For example, if you pick low price and high quality, then we both know that I control the time element. If you choose fast and cheap, then quality may not be the best. If you want high quality and fast, then you will have to pay the price. They key is to know which variables the customer wants and which variables you can control. After that, the rest of the sales business is about building and maintaining a healthy relationship with the customer.”

Decades later and I still smile when I remember her comments. She was right then and she is right now. Knowing the variables and understanding the importance of maintaining healthy relationships with customers is pretty simple and very basic, but profoundly astute.

Based on my own experiences over the years, I would add to her formula one other element, the quality of the people who work for the company. William J. McEwen in his book, Married To The Brand: Why Consumers Bond With Some Brands For Life, Gallup Press, 2005, states that the initial relationship between a customer and a brand are typically influenced by the quality of the product plus the place, promotion and price. McEwen also notes, based on his research at the Gallup Organization, that the number one driver of customer intent to return to a specific brand is the level of employee engagement. As he writes, “engaged employees help produce engaged customers.”

Yet, if we dig deep into the subject of employee engagement, we always come back to the quality of the people in executive, management and front line supervisory positions. As Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman wrote so many years ago in their book First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Simon & Schuster, 1999, people join companies for what they represent but they stay or leave based on their relationship with their supervisor. Healthy relationships between employees and their employers makes a profound impact on customer service and sales.

However, I am now seeing one problem start to surface in multiple organizations which worries me. Many people in these influential leadership positions do not know about the key variables related to sales and even fewer know what the plan is for 2011. And paraphrasing the carpet sales man I met many years ago, if you do not know the plan, it is hard to work the plan. Therefore, if we want to position our organizations for a strong first quarter in 2011, I recommend we spend the next couple of weeks helping people understand the variables, know what the plan is for 2011, and help them to build and maintain relationships with each other and their customers.

Thinking ahead,


P.S. Thanks to all of you who recently signed up as followers of this blog. I appreciate your doing this. I also appreciate those of you who are sharing these blog entries with others. Again, thanks.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, November 29, 2010

Leading With a Good Heart - Part # 1

Parker Palmer in his book, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life, Jossey-Bass, 2004, reminds us that many years ago at the first sign of a blizzard on the Great Plains, farmers would run a rope from the back door to the barn. They did this because they all knew stories of someone who had wandered off and been frozen to death, having lost sight of home in a whiteout while still in their own backyards.

Today we live in a blizzard of another sort. The degree of anxiety and frustration within the home and the work place is overwhelming. People are feeling lost and wondering what to do next given the economy. Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich in their book, The Why of Work, McGraw-Hill, 2010, write that as the economic recovery slowly takes place, many employees are experiencing an “emotional recession because they have not found sufficient meaning in their work lives, a condition that reduces productivity and commitment.”

From my work with leaders this past summer and fall, I see this blizzard, and this emotional recession taking a huge toll. Over and over, I listen to good men and women who are living a life which is compartmentalized and divided with little soul, spirit and passion. For example, recently I listened to an older executive complain about how his company was setting strategy without including the people who worked directly with the customer. In the midst of this absurdity, he just wanted to return to a time period in his life where the work that he did actually made a difference and was meaningful.

As fall turns into winter, we need to reclaim our work and our ability to lead with a good heart. We need to become leaders who are less fragmented and more whole. We need to become leaders who actually lead.

The first step in this journey back to wholeness begins when we reclaim being architects of meaning. We need to remind others that it is OK to love what you do and it is OK to grieve through the difficulties of this time period. Furthermore, it is OK to be passionate about projects or the mission of the organization. Finally, we need to tell people that it is OK to be tough, but loving.

During a retreat this past summer I listened as Bill Dodds, President of Optimae LifeServices, shared with those gathered that a leader needs to be both a builder and a destroyer. They need to build the people and the infrastructure for the present and the future as well as a destroyer of the dysfunctional parts of the organization that no longer work or support the movement toward the future. But at the foundation of all this work, noted Bill, is the need to have a healthy core, namely a sound mission, vision, and core values plus a well written and adaptable strategic plan. With these tools in place and the right people on the team, an organization can move forward in the midst of its challenges.

We all know that the degree of leadership effectiveness is dependent on three things working together. First, we as leaders need the enthusiasm and dedication of the followers. Second, we need good plans and intelligent strategy which are supported and acted on by followers. Third, we need quality people who work together as a team. In short just like a company, we as leaders need a healthy core too.

This winter there will be more blizzards, and the rope from the back door to the barn will be essential. Nevertheless, this week think about Bill Dodd’s perspective and build a healthy core in your company and in yourself before you need it. In short, remember the old Boy Scout motto: be prepared. The future is just around the corner.

Have a great week,


Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recommended Reading

- Goldsmith, Marshall. “Just Let It Go!: Being realistic about what we can and cannot change,” Leader to Leader, no. 58, Fall 2010.

- Donlon, J.P. “Road to Recovery”, Chief Executive magazine, November/December 2010.

- Lublin, Nancy, “Two Little Words”, Fast Company magazine, November 2010.

- Berinato, Scott. “You Have to Lead From Everywhere,” Harvard Business Review, November 2010.

- Simons, Robert. “Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask,” Harvard Business Review, November 2010.

- Useem, Michael. “Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership,” Harvard Business Review, November 2010.

Good articles abound as we move through the month of November! Here are some that I have read and enjoyed recently.

First, for those of you who enjoy the work of Marshall Goldsmith, a world authority in helping successful leaders get even better, he has written a fine article in the on-line addition of the Fall 2010 Leader to Leader Journal: http://www.leadertoleader.org/knowledgecenter/journal.aspx?ArticleID=837. Here, he talks about the “Great Western Disease” called “I’ll be happy when . . .” and it’s impact on the engagement levels of people running organizations. Drawing on his nearly four decades of being a Buddhist, Goldsmith, one of the 50 great thinkers and leaders who have influenced the field of management over the past 80 years according to the American Management Association, notes that many leaders believe that achieving a goal will make them happy. Goldsmith on the other hand notes that “the goal line is always moving just beyond our reach.... We need goals to achieve anything in life. What is unhealthy is to focus on achieving the mirage of the future at the expense of enjoying the life we are living right now.” In this thoughtful article, he explores this idea of goals, setbacks and decision making. For those of you who want to look in the mirror and do some personal work, this is a good place to generate some important reflection and thinking.

For those of you seeking an interesting article about organizational transformation, I suggest you read “Road to Recovery” by J.P. Donlon in the November/December 2010 issue of Chief Executive magazine: ttp://chiefexecutive.net/ME2/Audiences/dirmod.asp?sid=&nm=&type=Publishing&mod=Publications%3A%3AArticle&mid=8F3A7027421841978F18BE895F87F791&tier=4&id=4AAFC1964D3A4CD8A4286D6924E93000&AudID=F242408EE36A4B18AABCEB1289960A07. Here, we encounter a fascinating interview of Allan Mulally, President and CEO of the Ford Motor Company, discussing how Ford had to transform itself in order to be more competitive and profitable. For anyone who wants to grasp the significance of vision, strategy and brand, particularly the importance of a clear brand promise, then read this article soon. It will embolden you to make better choices in the short and long term.

In the November 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine, I really enjoyed the article “Two Little Words” by Nancy Lublin: http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/150/do-something-two-little-words.html. With Thanksgiving just around the corner, she reminds us that Thanksgiving used to be about giving thanks rather than turkey, football, and the sales on Black Friday. In this short but thoughtful article, she reminds us of the basics, namely saying thank-you to interns and all of the other “little people” like the FedEx guy, the UPS guy, the cleaners, the people who repair the copier, etc. None of her suggestions cost money but they sure do make a huge difference. A great reminder during the busy weeks ahead.

In the November 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, I thoroughly enjoyed the interview of Admiral Thad Allen called “You Have to Lead From Everywhere” by Scott Berinato: http://hbr.org/2010/11/you-have-to-lead-from-everywhere/ar/1. Allen’s insights into credibility, decision-making, mission statements, and leadership are superb. His perspectives on crisis management are excellent. This article is very much worth the time to read.

In the same issue, I found the article called “Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask” by Robert Simons, the Charles M. Williams Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School, to be very helpful: http://hbr.org/2010/11/stress-test-your-strategy-the-7-questions-to-ask/ar/1. The author explains that in order to identify the weakest parts of our strategy, we need to ask some very tough questions. His seven questions help leaders understand where there is confusion and inefficiencies. The seven questions are as follows:

- Who is your primary customer?

- How do your core values prioritize shareholders, employees, and customers?

- What critical performance variables are you tracking?

- What strategic boundaries have you set?

- How are you generating creative tension?

- How committed are your employees to helping each other?

- What strategic uncertainties keep you awake at night?

When I reflect on these questions, I find them to be very helpful and good. They alone could be the first step in either preparing for an excellent strategic review or as part of an annual strategic planning process. Either way, the article is sound and a nice foundation for building clarity. I suggest you pick one or two questions and pose them during your next face to face team meeting or coaching session.

Finally, I suggest you read “Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership” by Michael Useem, a professor of management and Director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in Philadelphia, in the November 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review: http://hbr.org/2010/11/four-lessons-in-adaptive-leadership/ar/1. As the author points out, a culture of adaptability is vital to survival within the armed services. As business executives cope with increasing unpredictability, the lessons learned from the military can be quite helpful. Having spoken on the differences between technical change and adaptive change at numerous From Vision to Action Executive Round Tables and having referenced the work by Ron Heifetz on this same topic, I was delighted to find some new ideas about adaptive leadership by Michael Useem. The essence of the article revolves around four key points:

- Meet the Troops. “Creating a personal link is crucial to leading people through challenging times.”

- Make Decisions. “Making good and timely calls is the crux of responsibility in a leadership position.”

- Focus on Mission. “Establish a common purpose, buttress those who will help you achieve it, and eschew personal gain.”

- Convey Strategic Intent. “Make the objectives clear, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them.”

As the author notes, “We fight very different battles in business. But the armed services provide exceptionally powerful schooling for engagements that are likely to make a difference. By looking far afield, we can often better see what is close to home.” I could not agree more. Take the time to read, share and discuss this article with your senior team.

As always, please share with me any good reading you have discovered. I look forward to hearing from you.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, November 15, 2010

Building Social Intelligence - Part # 2

Dear friends,

Right now we need more leaders who have a global perspective. Mansour Javidan, Mary Teagarden, and David Bowen in their April 2010 Harvard Business Review article called “Making It Overseas” write that leaders need three key attributes. First, they need intellectual capital which they translate as the general knowledge and capacity to learn including global business savvy, the ability to handle cognitive complexity and the ability to understand cosmopolitan outlooks. Next, they need psychological capital which includes an openness to differences and the capacity for change including a passion for diversity, a thirst for adventure, and a degree of self-assurance. Finally, they need social capital which is the ability to build trusting relationships with and among people who are different from us, including intercultural empathy, an understanding of interpersonal impact, and diplomacy.

When it comes to the building of global perspective and social intelligence, we forget at times that it is largely relationship based and acquired through experience. Patrick Lencioni noted this in his book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and their employees), Jossey-Bass 2007. As he explained, people in the workforce regularly experience anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement. As he writes, “In order to be the kind of leader who demonstrates genuine interest in employees and who can help people discover the relevance of their work, a person must have a level of personal confidence and emotional vulnerability.” He suggests that it “is immensely more difficult to decide to leave an organization or a team ... when you feel that others on the team know and understand you as an individual.” Furthermore, he explains that “Human beings need to be needed, and they need to be reminded of this pretty much every day.” They also want to know who they are helping and how they are helping them.

This week in order to build leaders with a more global perspective, we need to mentor and coach key people about the importance of intellectual, psychological and social capital. When we do this, it will make a world of differences.

Have a wonderful week,


Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Retaining Key People

Tuesday morning: November 9, 2010

Dear friends,

“When push comes to shove, we’ll deal with that problem.”

I hear this nearly every week now when working with executives regarding strategic planning. The phase when “push comes to shove” means that a problem will be confronted when it reaches a certain level or crucial point. Originally the term came from rugby in the 1950’s, where, after an infraction of rules, forwards from each team face off and push against one another until one player can kick the ball to a teammate and resume the game.

Today, we have a problem that has reached a crucial point. We must retain key people in key positions or the pressures of this economy could cause an organization to enter into a very difficult and extended period of decline.

Weekly now, I talk with these key individuals and discover that they are very frustrated with their organizations. The reasons vary from place to place, but they report to me that they are frustrated by the lack of leadership, effective communications, operational excellence, or strategic vision within their organization. But what ever the problem, these key people all end up at the same place, a feeling of dissatisfaction and disengagement.

Joel Kurtzman in his book, Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve The Extraordinary, Jossey-Bass 2010, shares six different ways to retain leaders. He recommends that we “identify them early, and make sure they know it,” “celebrate their accomplishments,” “educate them about the organization and its capabilities,” “give them access to the team at the top,” “respond quickly with a counteroffer if they plan to leave,” and “reward them with new challenges, not just more money.”

But as I review this well thought out list, I always think about the subject of coaching. In a chapter called “Recruiting Supportive Coaches: A Key to Achieving Positive Behavioral Change” from the book, The Many Facets of Leadership by Marshall Goldsmith, Vijay Govindarajan, Beverly Kaye, Albert A. Vicere, Marshall Goldsmith presents the results of an extensive literature review about the effective strategies involved in helping successful people get even better. As he writes, “Successful people are much more likely to accept coaching from those whom they respect and whom they see as successful.” Furthermore, “successful people are less likely to value coaching from those whom they do not see as successful.” As he continues, “This phenomenon tends to occur even if the content of the coaching from the less successful people is very similar.... This made us realize that when dealing with successful people, the source of the coaching can be as important as the content of the coaching.”

At the same time, Goldsmith explains, “Another clear finding of our literature search is that positive behavioral change is much more likely to last if the individual who is trying to change has a "support group" (or at least "support person") who is assisting in the change process.” As he continues, “Your best coaches may often be people whom you respect and who impact your life on a daily basis.”

With the above in mind, we as executives must come to understand that the degree of commitment in the work force reflects the degree of respect within the work place and the degree to which people believe they are part of the team. But in a business world that is focused on pursuing growth, promoting innovation, maximizing efficiency and getting things done using procedures, systems and process discipline, the concepts of respect and team spirit seem pretty old school, if not ancient history.

Nevertheless, these softer skill sets, from my perspective, have a great impact on retaining key people. For in the beginning, middle, and end of organizational change, we at times forget that people bond with people before they commit to plans or great ideas. And right now key people are experiencing a high level of dissatisfaction with the lack of respect and team work within the work place.

One solution is to teach people to become better leaders. By educating them about how to take the long view or bigger picture perspective along with how to successfully manage the details related to strategic implementation, we help them to build a work environment based on respect and team work where employees want to contribute. This kind of education is unique and very effective.

In the late 90’s, I created just such a training in order to help key people become better leaders and to help key leaders retain their best people. It was called The From Vision to Action Leadership Training. This in-depth, year long training course encompasses four quarterly sessions, and helps participants gain valuable skills, knowledge and perspective about leadership, strategic planning and execution, and implementing organizational change.

For more information about how to register for this unique opportunity which starts in March 2011, including cost, dates and location, I encourage you to click on the following link: http://www.chartyourpath.com/VTA-Leadership-Training.html.

From experience and the extensive amount of well-written books on the topic, we know that retaining leaders is vital to short and long term success. Before push comes to shove in your organization, now is the time to invest in those individuals who can create a work environment where we retain and attract the talent for today’s challenges and tomorrow's opportunity.

I hope you can join this level of learning in 2011.

My best,


P.S. For those of you who are wanting to improve employee engagement throughout your organization, look no further than this recently posted article (11/2/10) at the on-line Gallup Management Journal web site called “Leading Engagement From the Top” by Jennifer Robison: http://gmj.gallup.com/content/144140/Leading-Engagement-Top.aspx

The article reports about the recently conducted research by Sangeeta Agrawal, a Gallup Consultant and Jim Harter, Ph.D., Gallup’s chief scientist of workplace management and well being, about the impact of executive engagement on managers. In a well written two page article, the researchers discover through detailed analysis what are the specific ways senior executives can improve managers’ engagement. Without copying the entire article word for word, the first thing is to concentrate on mission or purpose.

From my perspective, the best have known this for years. It also is exciting to see Gallup confirm this through their research. As we look to 2011, we must education more managers and help them become leaders who can understand this research and make similar choices in their circle of influence. This is, where I believe, the 2011 From Vision to Action Leadership Training can make a profound difference.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, November 8, 2010

Building Social Intelligence - Part # 1

THEME: Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

Monday morning: November 8, 2010

Dear friends,

When I got out of college, I was lost about what to do next. I had learned a lot of things and had many fantastic adventures but with a major in history, I really wasn’t very career minded. As a result, I ended up working Crew for the Farm and WIlderness Foundation in Plymouth, Vt. Our work consisted of doing maintenance on the physical plant for the six camps the Foundation ran each summer. This also included milking cows by hand, logging, and making maple syrup. I loved this job and I loved living in a cabin in the Vermont woods for a year.

During this first post college experience, the person who was the Crew Coordinator for our group got fired. As a result, I was approached by the Executive Director of the Foundation to be a part of the “new” Crew Leadership Team. Thinking back, I really did not know what I was getting into, but as Lao Tzu the ancient Chinese philosopher once wrote: “If you live in a country run by a committee, be on the committee.” Over the course of the winter, this dysfunctional group met on a regular basis. And by spring, the Executive Director came to me and asked if I would just run the whole thing. So, I did.

When I reflect on this convoluted journey to leadership and what I am seeing now in the work place, I realize that more and more people are in positions where they haven’t a clue about what to do. Often, they are in over their head. They were the last man or woman standing around, and all of sudden they were the supervisor. Or they were the least crazy person in the bunch and someone who actually got some things done so the mantle of leadership was handed to them.

One particular element that intrigues me within these situations is the number of people in leadership positions who also lack any social intelligence or interpersonal intelligence. Popular science writer Daniel Goleman has drawn on social neuroscience research to propose that social intelligence is made up of social awareness, including empathy, attunement, and empathic accuracy, and social cognition and social facility, including synchrony, self-presentation, influence, and concern.

Our challenge on the business front this fall is that we are also running into role ambiguity and, at times, task ambiguity. This in combination with a lack of social intelligence is a very difficult affair. While it would be helpful to train everyone on how to be socially intelligent, and I am sure someone out there offers workshops on this subject, I believe we can start today by clarifying roles, not just clarifying tasks. I have noticed that collaboration improves when roles are clear.

Next, we as leaders need to be both task oriented and relationship oriented once roles are clear. During the early stages of strategic projects, we need to be tasked oriented to create structure and goal clarity. At the same time, we also need to develop internal team “culture” through modeling and clarifying expectations. Next, we need to remember that the precursor to success is extensive networking to build relationships before we need them, and to understand the core strengths and differences of people within the pool of potential team candidates. While the above actions will not fix issues related to a lack of social intelligence, I believe they will help.

This week and this fall, we must relearn the following:

- organizational change is the sum of individual change.

- individuals change better when the work environment is healthy.

- healthy relationships are the foundation of individual change.

- trust and respect are the foundation of all change.

Have a great week,


Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, November 1, 2010

Learning and the Crisis of Confidence - Part # 2

THEME: Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

Monday morning: November 1, 2010

Dear friends,

There is a difference between proficiency and learning, and it causes a lot of problems when it comes to execution at either the operational or strategic levels. First, learners are not as proficient as experts. If you want to get better at something “new” or “different,” then you need to pay the price for people to become proficient. However within most work places, we are truly afraid to make mistakes and to have others, who report to us, make mistakes. Still, learning means making mistakes and tolerating people who fail.

Recognizing that a learner is not very good the first couple of times in applying a new concept or utilizing a new tool, we have to recognize that an orderly work environment does not always support people who make mistakes. Furthermore, many learners focus on surviving today and do not consider implications for tomorrow. This is particularly true when these individuals work in an environment that is filled with fear rather than clarity and trust.

Alan M. Webber in his article, “Why Can't We Get Anything Done?” in the June 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine reminds us that what you want is “better than”, not optimal. Your job is to do something today that's better than what you did yesterday. And to do something tomorrow that's better than what you did today.

After many lunch and dinner meetings this past spring, summer and early fall, I have learned the following lessons from listening and working with exceptionally fine leaders who are moving through complex work environments which require tremendous learning. First, no goals = no focus. Second, every day employees project their expectations on to us as leaders, hoping we will meet these expectations. Third, we need to clarify our own roles first and before we clarify our expectations of others. Finally, reward people more at the start of change than at the end of change because moving from no movement to movement (think Jim Collin’s flywheel) is more difficult than movement to more movement.

This week, think about the difference between proficiency and learning. Support people to learn from their mistakes rather than to keep repeating them.

Have a super week,


Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257