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