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