Monday, October 25, 2010

Learning and the Crisis of Confidence - Part # 1

THEME: Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

Monday morning: October 25, 2010

Dear friends,

This past summer, my wife, Jane, and I continued taking ballroom dancing lessons, something we started last winter. Our youngest son, Jacob, who has been a member of the ISU competitive ballroom dancing team joined us. Twice a week for an hour, we learned and practiced such dances as foxtrot, tango, waltz, etc. Being a student like this continues to be quite eye opening experience for me. It was a weekly trough of chaos as I struggled to keep up with all of the new information.

Upon reflection, I have realized that learning is mentally exhausting. While this may sound like I am the oracle of the obvious, a delightful term I learned from my older brother, it is still an important realization. There are points in the learning process when it is too much information to process. Routinely my feet and my head could not absorb and figure out what to do. I needed to review, review, review, and then practice, practice, practice just to keep up. I also realized that I will be a beginner for a long time.

But what I learned along with mental exhaustion is an old Hoosier saying: “Knowing it ain't the same as doing it.” Retention is limited and the power of praise is huge. It can mean everything to the learner. Furthermore, we have to realize that pride and vanity can be the greatest obstacles to learning more than stupidity. “Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one’s self-esteem, ” writes Mike Meyer.

At the same time, we as leaders need to remember that people learn in different ways. And that no one has a better learning style than anyone else. There are three basic types of learning: analyzing learners, doing learners, and watching learners. Analyzers understand a task by taking it apart, examining its elements, and then reconstructing it piece by piece. They crave information, and need to know all there is to know before they are comfortable with it. The best way to teach them is with ample classroom time, role play with them, and do a post-mortem through analysis. Remember that they hate mistakes and do not like to “wing it” before doing something.

A Doer, on the other hand, likes to be thrown into a new situation and wing it. While an Analyzer learns before doing, a Doer learns through doing it. Role playing seems fake to them. With a Doer, just define the outcomes and get out of the way. Mistakes are the raw material for learning.

Finally, Watchers are imitators. Their best way to learn is not through taking a task apart and learning each part. Instead, they need to see the total performance and watch experienced performers do it.

To understand how your key people learn, ask the following questions from: Marcus Buckingham’s book, “The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success”, Free Press, 2005: When in your career do you think you were learning the most? Why did you learn so much? What’s the best way for you to learn?

This week remember that learning takes time and energy. Also, remember that different people have different ways of learning.

Have a marvelous week,


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

Monday, October 18, 2010

Work Your Plan: Implementation vs. Entropy, Order and Complacency - Part # 2

THEME: Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

Monday morning: October 18, 2010

Dear friends,

Some days we get so busy that we forget there is a difference between management and leadership. John Kotter notes that management makes systems, people and technology work well day after day, week after week, and year after year. This includes planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, and problem solving, plus taking complex systems of people and technology and making sure they run efficiently and effectively.

Leadership, on the other hand, notes Kotter, creates the systems that managers manage and changes them in fundamental ways to take advantage of opportunities and to avoid hazards. This includes creating vision and strategy, communicating and setting direction, motivating action, aligning people, plus creating systems that managers can manage and transforming them when needed to allow for growth, evolution, opportunities and hazard avoidance.

When I reflect on what John Kotter wrote, it is clear that mangers maintain systems that work well on a day to day basis. They are trained in order and execution. Yet, we must remember that systems that are working well over time tend toward entropy or the lack of forward momentum plus complacency or the lack of urgency. Therefore, we have to accept the fact that managers are trained to maintain something that will ultimately not work well over time. Furthermore, they are not trained, encouraged or rewarded in any way to constantly improve or change things. Thus, many times we are setting managers up to fail and be frustrated on a regular basis due to the natural tendency of systems to move toward entropy and complacency.

So, what happens when organizations have different amounts of management and leadership? When organizations have high competencies in management and leadership, they’re able to meet challenges today as well as tomorrow. However, most organizations are usually lacking in one or the other. When management exists without leadership, the company is often unable to change. And when leadership exists without management, the company is only as strong as its charismatic leader. Most of the time, organizations are overstaffed with managers, but lack enough leadership to help them deal with constant change. It reminds me of some farm wisdom that I learned many years ago when I first came to Iowa: if you keep doing what you are currently doing, you keep getting what you currently got. To avoid constantly ending up at the place of entropy and complacency, we as leaders and managers need to do some things differently.

First, when building a new system, define the results you are seeking and define the outcomes you will measure that show whether or not you are achieving the desired results. Sounds simple but 9 times out of 10, people do not do take this action. Still, in the process of doing this, watch out for the tyranny of measurement. The standard perspective is that what gets measured, gets done. However, the measurements in some companies are now becoming more important than the results.

Second, it is common for organizational goals and systems to be in conflict. Therefore, it is important to better define your goals and make sure your systems are in alignment with those goals. Be careful along the way and watch out for the tyranny of goals. In this place, having goals is more important than completely them in a thorough manner.

Next, routinely do a system analysis as part of your strategic reviews. Often during this process, we discover that there is no one who is clearly in charge of managing a system. If this is the case, then define who you will hold accountable to meeting expectations related to this system, e.g. quality assurance, but also clarify how he or she can or can not improve the system if entropy and complacency sets in.

This week, recognize that poor leadership or management can cause major problems when dealing with the challenges of entropy and complacency.

Have a fantastic week,


P.S. Routinely, we, as executives and leaders, have to stand up in front of large and small groups to present new ideas. Some days it is a new vision for the future and other days it is a new strategic plan. Whatever the case, the goal is to develop clarity and ultimately ownership and buy-in across the organization.

However, when leaders present, they also encounter confusing questions, off the wall comments and at times verbal bullets or attacks from people who do not want to change. John P. Kotter and Lorne A. Whitehead in their new book, Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea From Getting Shot Down, Harvard Business Review Press, 2010, notes that these attack strategies by naysayers, nitpickers, and handwringers fall into four categories:

- death by delay: endlessly putting off or diverting discussion of an idea until all momentum is lost.

- confusion: presenting so much distracting information that confidence in a proposal dies.

- fear mongering: stirring up irrational anxieties about an idea.

- character assassination: undermining the reputation and credibility of the presenter.

In their new book which opens with a short fictional story, very much like the work of Ken Blanchard and the current, more popular form of Patrick Lencioni, Kotter and Whitehead outline how to respectfully engage with adversaries and how to stand your ground with simple, convincing responses to common questions. Their method outlined in the second half of the book focuses on how to save a new idea and how to rebut twenty-four common attacks.

Overall, this is a good resource for leaders and managers to read and then review before any major presentation. I thoroughly enjoyed the section in the appendix called “how the method helps large-scale change” which is a quick and delightful summary of the Kotter 8 step organizational change model. For those of you who are familiar with the model, this book is critical to step four, communicating for buy-in. Recognizing that “the single biggest mistake that people make when trying to communicate a new vision of change, and strategies for achieving that vision is under-communicating by a great deal,” this book outlines how to avoid that problem and deal with those who want to shut down change at the point of presentation.

If your time is limited and reading a 190 page book is not possible, then I suggest you read an interview of John Kotter by Jeff Kehoe called “How to Save Good Ideas”in the October 2010 Harvard Business Review. It will not give you the depth of the book, but you will get a nice high level overview of some of the key material about why well intentioned and talented people with good ideas often fail when presenting them to large and small groups. Personally, I enjoyed reading the book and the article because I could really get a more complete sense of what Kotter was trying to do in the book and a better understanding of the key points. I particularly enjoyed some of his thoughts in the later part of the article about writing books, story telling and what motivates him to keep studying leadership and change. In short, the book, Buy-in, will be a good addition to your leadership library.

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

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Strategic Skill Set

Tuesday morning: October 12, 2010

Dear friends,

“The world is too big, too changing, and too varied,” writes Marshall Goldsmith. “As a result, leaders and their followers must make the right decisions on their own because they have internalized the organization’s mission, values, strategy and brand.”

In a challenging world and sluggish economy, more and more executives share with me the importance of organizational clarity. They agree with Marshall Goldsmith that making the right decisions is mission critical to their success. They comprehend that understanding the organization’s mission, values, strategy and brand promise will result in sustainable results. They want employees to believe in what they are doing and to recognize how much impact they have on the overall company’s success. Yet, on a day to day, quarter to quarter basis, these same executive struggle with how to make this happen.

To help them overcome these difficulties, I remind them of two important leadership lessons. First, knowledge comes with a half-life. When I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Instructional Design and Technology from the University of Iowa in the 80’s, I was on the cutting edge of many things but once out in the “real world” I realized I was far behind in the area of technology.

For example, my class on how to generate exceptional transparencies was outdated and our introduction to computers was comical when it came to what was happening in many offices and training centers. In essence, the real world knowledge was moving faster than the education system could keep up.

Nowadays, I realize that for many leaders the focus of technology is still on the hardware. I often listen to leaders talk about the rush to purchase the new iPad, Chrome OS Tablet, or latest phone. But in reality, it is the way we are using technology, i.e. computing, that is changing faster than the computers.

Second, some executives are becoming “intellectually lazy.” As Joel Kurtzman points out in his new book, Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve The Extraordinary, Jossey-Bass 2010: “... one of the worst mistakes a leader can make is to become intellectually lazy. Real leaders need to take in enormous amounts of information and knowledge and to process what they take in from the vantage point of their team and from the point of their organization and its mission.” The lazy element from my perspective is not about the ability to consume vast amounts of information. I see people doing this every day. Instead, it is the lack of discipline to analyze the information from different vantage points. The later takes a great degree of effort and thought.

And this is where we are falling short day after day, quarter after quarter. We are not creating a pool of people within our organizations that know how to step back and look at the organization from different vantage points. From my perspective, tunnel focus has become epidemic. Working with knowledge that has clearly passed it’s shelf life, executives see parts but not the whole, invariably causing poor decisions and strategic misalignments.

The solution is to teach people how to reflect, analyze and plan strategically. Then, we need to teach them how to implement this level of work and integrate it into the cultural fabric of the organization. This is no small feat but the best companies do it on a regular basis because they know it is the foundation to organizational clarity, commitment and engagement.

To assist executives and their companies in achieving this level of success, I created the From Vision to Action Leadership Training in the late 90’s. 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. It builds capacity and understanding so executives can have the discipline to analyze information from different perspectives.

For more information about this unique training opportunity, including cost, dates and location, I encourage you to click on the image of our website on this blog page. Then click on the word “Training” on the navigation bar. There you will find detailed information about the “From Vision to Action Leadership Training.”

In a world that is complex and moving quickly, we need people who can lead and manage with a strategic skill set. The From Vision to Action Leadership Training has for over ten years been doing just this. I hope you can join me in 2011 and participate in this exciting learning opportunity.

My best regards,


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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Work Your Plan: Implementation vs. Entropy, Order and Complacency - Part # 1

THEME: Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

FOCUS: Work Your Plan: Implementation vs. Entropy, Order and Complacency - Part # 1

Monday morning: October 11, 2010

Dear friends,

This past spring I was invited to lead a group discussion around the following book: Collins, Jim. How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009. To date, it was one of the highlights of the year. In particular, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this group of leaders grasp the concept of a “flywheel,” i.e. mass x velocity = motion. The tremendous depth of clarity that surfaced during the discussions has generated great results throughout the summer and into the fall.

When I reflect on all that we explored at the Spring 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, and all that has taken place since then plus the quality of the discussions at the Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, it may seem simplistic or trite to write that truly change is the constant now. And when change is the constant, then organizations are in constant motion. The goal of all this constant motion is an ordered flow and specific outcomes. But experience teaches us that with constant motion, we also experience entropy, i.e. the degradation of motion to non-motion. We forget as leaders that when things, people and teams are in constant motion, then they want or tend to move toward non-motion or have the desire to slow down.

Furthermore, when we implement something new at the personal, team or organizational levels, it comes from a new or “disorganized” state and therefore it does not trend toward entropy. However, once something moves through the trough of chaos and continues on toward system integration, then “degradation” of motion takes place and we witness a drop in urgency. With this degradation, we see the rise or the tendency for the complacency to take over. It is not easy to accept that disorder always moves toward order

At the same time, once a system becomes orderly, not only does it no longer move forward with the same level of progress and focus, but it, over time, also trends toward complacency, i.e. a complete lack of urgency. Therefore, we as leaders have to remember the insights Dan Cohen gave in his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide: Tools and Tactics for Leading Change in Your Organization. Harvard Business School Press, 2005, about the reasons why change Initiatives slow down. They are as follows: exhaustion on the part of the leaders, failure to see progress, turnover of key change agents, flagging team morale, and taking too long.

John Kotter in recent writings notes that the world will always selective order over disorder. Furthermore, he notes that producing order is rewarded and encouraged within organizations. He says that order creates entropy (lack of motion) and complacency (lack of urgency) on many levels. For leaders, an ordered flow, a very desired outcome, always generates it’s own demise because it creates a lack of forward momentum and complacency. In short, the world will select order whenever it gets the chance., but, we must remember that ordered flow also produces entropy faster.

This week recognize that seeking order can generate short term success and long term problems. Entropy and and lack of urgency are normal issues that leaders and mangers need to deal with on an on-going basis.

Have a marvelous week,


P.S. In 2010, nearly every strategic planning process and strategic review that I have participated in has had a discussion about one common problem, namely, what to do about succession.

Finally, after months of looking for a good article on this subject, I am delighted to report that I have found one. In the October 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Anne Mulcahy, former Xerox CEO, writes an excellent article called “Xerox’s Former CEO On Why Succession Shouldn’t be a Horse Race.”

In 2009, Xerox named Ursula Burns as it’s new CEO, marking the end of a nearly drama-free succession process. This article explores how Anne Mulcahy spent nearly a decade orchestrating this smooth transition. Looking back on the long process of choosing and then grooming her successor, Mulcahy explains how she did it and why she started that process soon after she became CEO.

For those of you who look over the horizon and realize succession is part of your near future, then please read and discuss this article. For those of you who think succession issues are a long way off, please read this article and recognize that in order to have a smooth transition one needs to start sooner than later otherwise you could end up with a highly dysfunctional transition and senior team.

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

Monday, October 4, 2010

Plan Your Work: The Intricacies of Strategy - Part # 2

THEME: Fall 2010 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

FOCUS: Plan Your Work: The Intricacies of Strategy - Part # 2

Monday morning: October 4, 2010

Dear friends,

When confronted with complexity this year, many executives are succumbing to a mentality of “We were successful in the past so we will be successful in the future.” This level of corporate arrogance is not serving them well and will cause major problems during future strategic planning. They forget that strategic planning is a really two major processes happening at the same time.

First, strategic planning is the creation of a document that will define short and long term plans to guide the organization into the future. Second, it is the process of generating strategic dialogues throughout the organization about the emerging trends and whether or not the organization will have the capacity, i.e. skill and mind set, to deal with these trends in the future. If both elements are not in place during the planning process then the document and those who will implement the document will not be adaptable to unforeseen variables. Rather the result of the process will be a rigid set of instructions or tactics which has the potential to create organizational vulnerability.

Therefore, when wanting to improve the development of strategy, we need to remember five key points. First, as leaders, we must invest more time in explaining “Why?” and “How?”. If unaware stakeholders are going to move to aware, and if awareness is going to move to understanding, then we need to keep repeating why the organization must change and how it will change. We must, as William Bridges wrote, vigorously “sell the problems.” We also, from my perspective, need to explain how today’s success or current challenges are a reflection of past decisions. Many employees this fall can not see how the decisions of the past are connected to the outcomes we are experiencing today.

Second, we as leaders need to clearly define what is negotiable vs. non-negotiable within the strategic planning process. It is important to remember that the strategic nexus is made up of two parts, one half is the mission, vision and core values and the other half is the strategic plan. The former preserves the core and the later stimulates progress.

Third, strategy is not a laundry list of big projects. It has to indicate a sense of direction and generate short term wins which will build confidence in the people, the strategy and the company. A laundry list is not flexible but instead results in strategy feeling like a burden, thus reducing focus and commitment. A laundry list also can not always be translated into SMART goals which position the organization for the future.

Fourth, when developing strategy, remember to differentiate between ripe, ripening and unripe issues. I was working with a company this summer on a strategic plan and when we came to a certain issue, one of the people in the room noted, “while this is a growing problem, we are not ready to deal with it yet. Our solution to this issue should be in the next three year plan after we have overhauled key systems in this plan.” I was so proud of them for they recognized that all problems need not be dealt with at the same time and in the same manner.

Finally, when developing strategy, Jim Collins is absolutely correct. It will always be “who before what.” Too many times in 2010, I have wondered why certain people were involved in the development of strategy. Their presence may be politically correct but not strategically smart. As one who has observed and worked with groups for many decades, one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel. Be very careful about who you invite into the process.

This week, plan your strategic planning more carefully and remember to think more broadly about strategy. If you need any help, do not hesitate to call.

Have a great week,


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