Monday, December 19, 2011

Wishing you all the blessings of this season

Winter is coming home to the heartland this week, and families across our country will gather and celebrate. Children of all ages will discover warm connections, joy, and love, all gifts of the heart.

As our own two sons travel back home, my wife, Jane, and I stand in the door way with open arms, counting the blessings. In a world filled with such challenges, upheaval and strife, we are tremendously grateful for the simple blessings of clean water, good food, safe shelter, and being together as a family. I am especially thankful for the many opportunities I have had this year to work with each of you in large and small group settings plus our private visits together.

This journey we are all on comes with great troughs of chaos and tremendous mountains of challenge. Yet, as we learn, unlearn and relearn together, we recognize that we are not alone but are in reality deeply blessed by the opportunity to be of service to each other.

From our office to your office, from our home to your home, my family and I send you joy, love and peace during this holiday season.

Wishing you and yours every good thing that the season can bring.

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

Monday, December 12, 2011

Planning for 2012

It is hard to believe, but we are nearly halfway through December. The entire fall just zipped right by. Now winter is moving at the same pace. Blink twice today and the holidays will be gone. Do it again and we will be waking up in mid-February 2012, wondering what happened to most of the first quarter.

Unfortunately, some people are just becoming aware that they need to plan for 2012. With fifteen working days until the New Year, they are stumped by the magnitude of this task. Like deer-in-the-headlights, they are overwhelmed and all they can see is that 2012 is barreling down upon them.

For those of you who are in this predicament or working with people who just realized that they need to map out some goals for the first quarter of 2012, I always remember the advice of Peter Drucker who counseled executives to practice “planned abandonment.” As he wrote, “Make a list of all the things you are doing today that, if you were not already doing, you would not start doing. These are your candidates for abandonment.”

While making a list is not the end of planning, this marvelous exercise can be very helpful whether you are working at the personal, team, or organizational levels. It can be the foundation for great reflection and inquiry. I encourage all of us this week to start thinking about the future and using this simple exercise as the start for a great strategic dialogue.

If you need further help planning for the future, please do not hesitate to call me.

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

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Quick Reminder

Friday, December 9, is the registration deadline for the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

We will meet for this unique learning opportunity in 2012 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa on the following dates:

- March 7 - 8 - 9, 2012

- May 9 - 10 - 11, 2012

- September 12 - 13 - 14, 2012

- November 8 - 9, 2012

If you and/or members of your team are interested in registering for the 2012 training, then please click on the following link for more information: or on the this link for the registration form:

I look forward to hearing from you today.

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

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Power and Importance of Compassion

During certain times of the year, I do quite a bit of public speaking before large and small groups. As many of you know, I also share quite a few stories about my personal journey, and the journeys of others who have gifted me with their stories. The result of this depth of sharing is that people write me or stop me after a presentation and share their own insights, journeys or challenges. Here is a copy of a letter that I received a while ago:

“I wanted to let you know how I enjoyed your presentation.... I could have listened to you all day.

I also wanted to thank-you for what you said on compassion. I felt as though you were talking about me. You see, my 28 year old son died of AIDS.... I also cannot tell anyone because they laugh or make fun of people that have this awful disease. Why people do this is a mystery. When you loose a loved one - it doesn’t make any difference how they died - the pain is still there and it never goes away.

[During our time together as a group,] we went to a dinner show and the girls that sat across from me again showed no compassion. Our waiter looked a little feminine and they started joking about it. Then, AIDS was brought up. I thought to myself, these women just figure that people around them have not experienced this disease. My heart was breaking - this was the anniversary of my beloved son’s death. And they were joking about AIDS. Then my heart went out to the young man’s mother. She was no where around, but I felt compassion. And love for her and I prayed she would never have to go through the AIDS death with her son. Then I thought, this woman across from me has a 12 year old son. I didn’t know my son’s destination when he was 12, and I prayed that she would never have to go through an AIDS death with her son either.

Please never leave compassion out of your presentations. Maybe some day people will listen to someone like you. Then people like me can hold their head up and share their pain instead of hanging their head and being so alone.”

My hope is that all of us will show more compassion for each other this holiday season. As I often remind leaders, there is always more to the story. Our work life and our home life are all one life.

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

A Drop in the Ocean

Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Go, go, go.

Do, do do.

Meeting, meeting, and more meetings.

Our lives as leaders are packed to overflowing with expectations, challenges and complexity. Some say it comes with the position. Other’s say it reflects a unique time period in corporate leadership. But most of us just wonder if all of this level of work ever really makes a difference. Right now, we all hope that busy and drained is not the new definition of successful leadership.

When I become discouraged and start to question the work load and effort it takes to manage all that comes across my desk, I remember the following words of Mother Theresa:

“I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one . . . So you begin -- I begin. I picked up one person, and maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person I wouldn’t have picked up 42,000. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. but if I didn’t drop in, the ocean would be one drop less. Same thing for you, same thing in your family, same thing in the church where you go. Just begin. . . One, one, one.”

I hope as we enter this holiday season that all of us will focus on “one, one, one.” I believe it is a good place to start and that it will make a difference.

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pursuing Personal Excellence #3

The final lesson I have learned about pursuing personal excellence was best summarized by Robert K. Cooper in his book, The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential For Leadership & Life, Crown Business, 2001. As he wrote, “People won't put their hearts into something they don't believe in.”

Given I am a long time listener of National Public Radio’s “I Believe” series, I asked myself, “What do I believe in?” From personal experience and a lot of reading of others much wiser than me, I could answer that question with the following statements: we are all interconnected; we are all interdependent; we are all tied together by a common purpose of creating success for all those we serve. Or I could quote Francis Hesselbein who wrote, “To serve is to live.”

But my “I Believe” statement is more simple and goes as follows.

I believe in spring bulbs.

Each fall, I plant between 200 - 300 bulbs.

Each spring, I eagerly await their arrival and glorious colors.

Each spring, I revel in how they change the earth.

Each spring, I marvel at their resilience to the weather.

Each spring, I delight in how many people walk by the house to see the colors.

Each spring, I love watching how the annual spring bulb display fills people with joy.

Each spring, I marvel at how much happiness, smiles, and hope the bulbs bring to me, friends, family, our neighborhood and guests.

Each spring, I celebrate their resurrection.

Each spring, summer, and fall I plan for more.

For me, spring bulbs are a positive force multiplier.

FYI: Each spring, there are easily over 2,000 bulbs that bloom around our home. They start in March depending on the kind of winter we have and bloom all the way into June. Earlier this fall, I planted over 275 bulbs. I know it will be a great spring in 2012!

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pursuing Personal Excellence #2

One of the first things I learned about pursuing personal excellence I found in a book by Robert Kriegel and David Brandt called Sacred Cows Make The Best Burgers: Developing Change-Ready People and Organizations, Warner Books, 1996. In it, the authors wrote that “Overwork doesn’t work.”

On the first day of our annual From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I tell students there are two myths to leadership. First, their job is to come up with all of the answers. Second, their job is to fix everything. And as a Wisconsin executive once told me: “you can’t fix dumb.” Now, I have a third new myth, namely “my job is to get everything done before I rest.” From years of experience and executive coaching, I have learned and witnessed that overwork does not work. We need to learn to take care of ourselves.

Many years ago, I regularly taught at the University of Iowa’s annual summer school for helping professionals. During the faculty orientation for my first year of teaching, I was reminded that we had to grade all of the students and the typical manner to do this was to give them a final exam. Since I was teaching a class on how to teach stress management to patients and clients, I was not sure what I would put on the final exam. Furthermore, I did not really want to fail any one taking a stress management class. It just seemed like bad karma.

So, on the first day, I told them all of them they would all pass the course if they showed up, participated, did the home work and completed the final exam. It sounded like normal University expectations and no one commented. On the end of the first day, I gave them their initial homework assignment: write down 100 things you want to do before you die. The next morning people came in with their “bucket lists” and told me how difficult this assignment was to complete. Most could only write down 20-30 things.

The second day’s homework assignment was to write down the names of everyone who they cared about at this time period. The following morning I asked if they had put their own name on the list. Very few people ever did this. I don’t remember the other two assignment but on the last day of the class I handed out the final exam. It had only one question, “Can a dying person become healthy?” By now, most people were ready for the unexpected. Still, the exam question did cause many people to rethink their perspective.

As all of us know, we are all living and we are all dying. One question is whether or not we are working to live or living to work. Being a part of something bigger than ourself makes a big difference. In the end, we need to give ourselves permission to not live an overworked life.

The second lesson I have learned in the pursuit of personal excellence was from the same book by Robert Kriegel and David Brandt, namely “Don’t plant seeds in hard ground.” We often forget that real change requires real effort. We often forget that working on something to improve it also means working on ways to maintain it. We also often confuse simple and easy. Simple concepts do not always translate into easy execution. Short term results help build long term momentum.

The third lesson is from John C. Maxwell’s book, Winning With People: Discover The People Principles That Work For You Every Time, Nelson Books, 2004, where he writes about “The Satisfaction Principle: In great relationships, the joy of being together is enough.” More and more, I find people in executive positions who have lost their good friends outside of work. They just get too busy to invest in or maintain these relationships. If we seek self-leadership, then we most reallocate time and energy to building great relationships. Everyone should have one to three people outside their family who they can call for support and perspective 24/7.

The fourth lesson was best summarized by James Autry in his book, The Servant Leader: How to Build a Creative Team, Develop Great Morale, and Improve Bottom-Line Performance, Prima Publishing, 2001. As he writes, “Burnout is not a crisis of time, it is a crisis of the spirit.” Many people grasp this perspective instantly and others do not. The later often ask me if this will make a real difference.

My response has always been the same. Listen to the Skin Horse in the book, The Velveteen Rabbit. As Margery Williams Bianco wrote:

"What is REAL?" asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day... "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When [someone] loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"

"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.

"Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand... once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

This is so true. I hope this week you can become more real as you pursue personal excellence.

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

People Before Numbers

My search started during a conversation at the Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. As a small group of us explored issues related to performance management and talent development plus how to prepare for effective succession planning, I not only realized how inter-connected all of these issues were but I also realized that I wanted to know more about how very large companies integrated these elements into a coherent and consistent talent management system.

During the coming weeks and months, I started asking questions about this subject to a variety of leaders in many different organizations. While the answers were interesting, I just did not feel like I was getting my arms around the whole picture. Then, when reading a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, I came across some information about a book published in 2010 that I had missed reading. It was authored by Bill Conaty, former Senior Vice President at General Electric, and Ram Charan, co-author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller book Execution. Their book, The Talent Masters: Why Smart Leaders Put People Before Numbers, Crown Business, 2010, explains that “If business managed their money as carelessly as they managed their people, most would be bankrupt.” Together these two authors explain that talent is the leading indicator of whether or not the success of an organization happens over time. As they explain, “In the fast-changing global marketplace, the half-life of core competencies grows shorter.... Only one competency lasts. It is the ability to create a steady, self-renewing stream of leaders.”

Furthermore, Ron Nersesian, the head of Agilent Technologies Electronic Measurement Group, who is quoted within the book, points out, “Developing people’s talent is the whole of the company at the end of the day. Our products all are time perishable. The only thing that stays is the institutional learning and the development of the skills and the capabilities that we have in our people.”

The book, The Talent Masters, explores in-depth how a variety of companies like GE, P&G, Novartis, Hindustan Uniliver, and Agilent, create and manage their total leadership development systems including such elements as same-day succession planning, performance management, leadership development and career management. The essence of the book revolves around seven core principles. They are the following:

1. An enlightened leadership team, starting with the CEO who really “gets it” and sees talent development as a competitive advantage.

2. A performance-driven meritocracy, a willingness to differentiate talent based on results as well as the values and behaviors behind those results.

3. Explicit definition and articulation of values, citing strong company beliefs and expected behaviors.

4. Candor and trust, leading to better insights into people’s talents and potential, focusing on development needs to accelerate personal growth.

5. Talent assessment/development systems that have as much rigor and repeatability as systems used for finance and operations.

6. Human resource leaders as business partners and trustee of the talent development system with functional expertise equal to the CFO’s.

7. Investment in continuous learning and improvement to build and continuously update the leadership brand in sync with the changing world.

As I worked my way through the book, I enjoyed seeing how the principles played out in different companies and yet resulted in the same consistent and positive results. For those of you who are seeking new insights and perspectives on these subjects and have the time to read 302 pages, I believe you will find this book very worthwhile.

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Critical Leadership Choices During Uncertainty

Michael Useem, in his article, “Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership,” from the November 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review, writes “A culture of adaptability is vital to survive in the armed forces. As business executives cope with increasing unpredictability, they can take a page from the military’s book.” Useem believes there are four leadership precepts to handling unpredictability, namely the ability to meet the troops, make decisions, focus on mission, and convey strategic intent. While seeming elementary at first glance, from my perspective these foundational leadership skills are more difficult than most people comprehend.

In the beginning, meeting the troops means making a personal link with every employee, individually or in gatherings. These direct connections, e.g. a handshake or a brief look into someone’s eyes, make an indelible impression, “serving to focus attention and ensure retention of the mission and message that a leader seeks to convey.”

Making good and timely decisions is “the crux of responsibility in a leadership position.” As Useem writes, “The ability to make fast and effective decisions that draw quickly upon the insights of all those on the front lines is among the defining qualities of combat-ready leadership. It is encoded in a Marine dictum: When you’re 70% ready and have 70% consensus, act. Don’t shoot from the hip, but also don’t wait for perfection. Of course, the 70% is not a strict metric but, rather, a metaphor for the need to balance deliberation and action.” The key is to learn how to make good and timely decisions under ambiguous conditions.

Everyone knows that establishing a common purpose is vital to organizational success. However, making the mission your company’s top priority is not that easy. Operational challenges often trump mission and strategy. Helping leaders comprehend and put into action the mission is a constant struggle.

Finally, Useem notes that making the objectives clear, i.e. conveying strategic intent, requires us to avoid micromanaging those will execute the objectives. As he writes, “Conveying strategic intent is one of the skills essential to aligning people across an organization to reach a common goal - and leaders must them rely on the people’s ingenuity for getting there.”

While warfare and business are vastly different, ambiguity and unpredictability is not. Developing a culture that succeeds in spite of unprecedented uncertainty is a key foundational leadership skill set moving forward.

One way to learn the above skills sets is to enroll in the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. This in-depth training meets once a quarter in 2012 and covers the topics of leadership, strategic planning and execution, and organizational change. For more information about this unique training opportunity and how to register, please click on the following link:

Uncertainty, ambiguity and unpredictability will be a major part of our future for many years to come. Being prepared can generate improved leadership capacity which will translate into a culture of readiness and commitment. I look forward to your participation in the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

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

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pursuing Personal Excellence

The dinner meeting took place in a very fancy restaurant. The food was good and the wine was excellent. The conversation flowed well. Just before desserts were served, the woman executive to my left turned to me and said, “We talk work life balance but we do not live it. We are constantly running on half empty given the pace.”

It made we think of the young minister and the old Vermont farmer who met on a Sunday morning in the middle of a wild snow storm. Being this was his first sermon in the community, the young minister asked the old farmer what he should do given the old farmer was the only one to show up that morning. The farmer paused and said “When I drive a wagon of hay out to feed the cows and only one shows up, I feed it.”

The young minister smiled and launched in to a grand church service with hymn singing, an altar call, devotional readings, a long sermon and then more singing. When he was done, he ran around to the back of the church to say good-bye to the only person who had shown up on his first morning. When he greeted the old Vermont farmer, he asked for feedback on his first service. The farmer replied, “When I drive a wagon of hay out to feed the cows and only one shows up, I don’t unload the whole wagon.”

More and more people right now are emptying their whole wagon at work and coming home at night drained and exhausted. Given what they are finding at home, many are starting every morning on empty, too. “I just can’t keep up” is becoming more and more of a common problem that I hear in executive coaching sessions. In short, quite a few people are exhausted right now from unloading the whole wagon every single day.

Quite a while ago, I explained how this current economic recession has lead to an emotional recession, citing the work of Dave Ulrich and Wendy Ulrich in their book, The Why of Work, McGraw-Hill, 2010. Now, I believe the emotional recession has lead many to a purpose recession. People just wonder what is the purpose of it all. They can not find any meaning in the work they are doing. As a young man many years ago, I learned that it is only work if you want to be some place else. Right now, a lot of people are questioning what they are doing and they are wanting to be some place else.

Justin Menkes, author of Better Under Pressure, Harvard Business School Press 2011, writes that today’s leaders need realistic optimism, a subservience to purpose, and the ability to find order in chaos. I agree and also believe that today’s leaders need to purse and rediscover personal excellence.

“Personal excellence is not the about leading others; it is self-leadership” writes Christopher P. Neck and Charles C. Manz. And I agree completely. For me, personal excellence is the combination of inner strength and inner clarity. When it comes to personal excellence, here are our normal choices I am witnessing during all of my recent travels and consultations. First, many just ignore it. They are too busy to focus on self-leadership. Second, some resist it, especially if they have to change their habits. Third, some just give up on the concept all together and just go with the flow, no matter where it leads. Finally, those with inner courage and strength, commit to personal excellence and embrace the journey.

This week, ask yourself if you are ready for personal excellence and self-leadership. If so, then now is time to no longer except running on empty as normal or healthy.

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Understanding The Customer Experience and The Law of the Native

During recent executive coaching sessions, I often hear someone talk to me about the importance of transforming their organization. The phrases, “raising the bar,” “expanding our bandwidth,” “thinking outside the box,”or “pushing the envelope,” are often stated with great passion. The desire to achieve a new level of performance is quite strong, especially given the current economy.

When asked by these dedicated people what they can do to be successful, I often suggest they read a book such as the recently published one by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen called Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011. I also might suggest they spend time listening to the voice of the customer. But more recently, I have suggested they do two other things.

First, focus on the customer experience, and second comprehend The Law of the Native. Every day in for-profits and non-profits customers have an experience. In some organizations, these experiences are superb, but in most they are disorganized and fragmented, resulting in a low level of confidence and engagement.

Furthermore, many leaders forget to listen to their employees who are creating these experiences. As the The Law of the Native states, “Unless you know the territory, you are not a native.” Every day employees struggle with poorly designed systems and poorly trained managers. Most come to work wanting to do good and make progress. Yet, many experience few opportunities to make progress on things they consider meaningful, and suffer poor management along the way. The result is a disengaged staff who are attending work but not truly committed to the work they are doing. They want to do good, have fun and make money, and instead are pendulum swinging between frustration and active disengagement.

Recognizing how common this situation is at this time period, I was delighted to read an article by Kevin Peters, Office Depot’s president for North America, called “How I Did It... Office Depot’s President on How “Mystery Shopping” Helped Spark a Turnaround,” November 2011 Harvard Business Review, To understand why sales was falling, Peters went undercover and visited 70 stores in 15 states. He talked to customers and observed their behavior. What struck him the most was how often customers walked out of the store empty-handed. The result is that Peters began a process of transforming Office Depot.

For those of you who are talking about transformation and improving sales, this is a great article to read, and discuss with your management team. In combination with understanding the customer experience and listening to the natives, this is a good first step in the journey of transformation.

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Teaching New Behaviors

Margaret J. Wheatley in her delightful book, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time. (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), wrote the following:

“Life seeks organization, but it uses messes to get there. Organization is a process, not a structure.”

“If we deny people’s great need for relationships, for systems of support, for work that connects to a larger purpose, they push back.”

“All organizing efforts begin with an intent, a belief that something more is possible now that the group is together.”

When it comes to teaching people new behaviors and with the above in mind, we as leaders first need to recognize that our behavior is influenced by our identity, the information we receive or do not receive, and the health of our relationships. Second, we must accept the fact that we do not see “reality.” Instead, we each create our own interpretation of what is real. As Tom Asacker in his book, Sandbox Wisdom: Revolutionize Your Brand With the Genius of Childhood, Eastside Publishing, 2000, wrote “Perception is truth.” Third, as every living system is free to choose whether it changes, and every systems contains it’s own solutions, we must remember that every person is free to choose whether they change, and every person contains their own solutions.

Ken Blanchard in his book, Leading At a Higher Level: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations, Prentice Hall, 2006, explains that in order to get new behaviors to stick, those involved need to achieve tangible results as quickly as possible. Teresa M. Amabile and Steve J. Kramer in their article called “The Power of Small Wins”, Harvard Business Review, May 2011, summarized a decade of research which included a deep analysis of daily diaries kept by teammates on creative projects. The two authors came up with the Progress Principle, namely “Of all things that can boost emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work.... And the more frequently people experience that sense of

progress, the more likely they are to be creatively productive in the long run.” Frederick Herzberg, in a 1968 issue of the Harvard Business Review and author of the article, “One More Time: How do You Motivate Employees?”, wrote “People are most satisfied with their jobs (and therefore most motivated) when those jobs give them the opportunity to experience achievement.”

Teresa M. Amabile and Steve J. Kramer in the aforementioned article further explain this in the following manner. “The best thing they [managers] can do for their people is provide the catalysts and nourishers that allow projects to move forward while removing the obstacles and toxins that result in setbacks.” Catalysts are actions that support work and nourishers are acts of interpersonal support such as respect, recognition, encouragement, emotional comfort, and opportunities for affiliation. Still, we must remember that “The key to motivating performance is supporting progress in meaningful work.”

When I am asked how to teach new behaviors, I often reference the following classic answers:

- hire the right people

- initiate necessary turnover

- be patient and persistent

- show how the change/new behaviors are working and why the old ways did not work

- measure and support the sustained performance

My more recent answer may seem simplistic but it is more powerful, i.e ensure that people in leadership positions will support and model the new behaviors themselves. As Max De Pree reminds us in his book, Leadership is an Art, Dell Publishing, 1990: “The signs of outstanding leadership are found among the followers.”

The first step in this process is to support, notice and validate all new behaviors. Simultaneously, role model them in a disciplined manner. However, remember that behavioral change comes with constraints. Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, explain that there are five major constraints:

- loyalties to people who may not believe you are doing the right thing

- fear of incompetence

- uncertainty about taking the right path

- fear of loss

- not having the stomach for the hard parts of the journey

Understanding these constraints is part of the process of teaching people new behaviors.

Second, Ken Blanchard in his aforementioned book reminds us not to equate behavioral change with cultural change. He explains that culture is an integrated pattern of shared knowledge, beliefs and behaviors translated into a collective commitment toward shared values, goals, and practices/systems. Behavior, on the other hand, is a way an individual or group behaves and responds to it’s environment. As Blanchard explains, until we get the aggregate number of people within a group to change, the culture does not change.

One solution, notes Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky in their aforementioned book, is to grow your own personal network outside of the system you are trying to change. This happens when we talk regularly with confidants, people outside the environment in which you are trying to lead adaptive change, who are invested in you, not the issues you are addressing. This can satisfy your hungers outside of work, e.g. support or perspective, so your opponents cannot use them to take you out of the game. When we anchor ourself in multiple communities, we continue to gain perspective.

In short, teaching behaviors is important and complex. Always start with yourself first.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It Is Time To Do Some Good Reading - Great By Choice

My father’s father was an early supporter of scouting. My father was an Eagle Scout and later the Scout Master of our local Boy Scout troop. My older brother was an Eagle Scout. So, when I came of age, it was no surprise that I would enter the Boy Scouts and that eventually I would become an Eagle Scout.

But long before I joined the world of scouting, my father taught me one important truth, “Always be prepared.” If you are going on a day hike, bring rain gear, a first aid kit and extra food. If you are going on a trip in the car, have the tools to fix the tire, a first aid kit, extra clothes and extra food. In short, if you are planning for anything, always think through the possible problems that might occur and “always be prepared.” I just thought this was a Dad thing until I entered the world of scouting and learned that is was the Boy Scout motto. This in combination with the Boy Scout slogan, “Do a good turn daily”, were the foundation of my growing up years.

Thus, when I started reading Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen’s latest book called Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011, I was not surprised by their comments that instability is chronic in our society, uncertainty is permanent, change is accelerating, and disruption is common. Furthermore, I loved the foundational question of their book, namely “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?” As one who was raised to always be prepared, I was tremendously curious to learn what the two of them had discovered.

Working over a nine year period with a team of more than twenty researchers, Collins and Hansen studied companies that rose to greatness - beating their industry indexes by a minimum of ten times over fifteen years - in environments characterized by big forces and rapid shifts that leaders could not predict or control. Like his previous research, this team then contrasted these “10X companies” to a carefully selected set of comparison companies that failed to achieve greatness in similarly extreme environments.

As per usual, the study resulted in all sorts of provocative surprises and unexpected findings. For example, “the best leaders we studied did not have a visionary ability to predict the future. They observed what worked, figured out why it worked, and built upon proven foundations. They were not more risk taking, more bold, more visionary, and more creative than the comparisons. They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.” Furthermore, “Innovation by itself turns out not to be the trump card we expected; more important is the ability to scale innovation, to blend creativity with discipline.” At the same time, their research showed that “the idea that leading in a “fast world” always requires “fast decisions” and “fast action” - and that we should embrace an overall ethos of “Fast! Fast! Fast!” - is a good way to get killed. 10X leaders figure out when to go fast, and when not to.” Finally, the 10X companies “changed less in reaction to their changing world than the comparison cases. Just because your environment is rocked by dramatic change does not mean that you should inflict radical change upon yourself.”

For those of you who have read previous material by Jim Collins such as his books, Built To Last, Good To Great, or How The Mighty Fall, you know that his latest book with Morten Hansen will challenge conventional wisdom and deliver some very nice practical concepts. For me, I was particularly impressed with the following three concepts:

- 20 Mile March: “To 20 Mile March requires hitting specified performance markers with great consistency over a long period of time. It requires two distinct types of discomfort, delivering high performance in difficult times and holding back in good times.”

- Fire Bullets, Then Cannonballs: “A bullet is a low-cost, low-risk, and low-distraction test or experiment. 10Xers use bullets to empirically validate what will actually work. Based on that empirical validation, they then concentrate their resource to fire a cannonball, enabling large returns from concentrated bets.”

- Zoom Out, Zoom In: “10Xers zoom out, then zoom in..... When they sense danger, they immediately zoom out to consider how quickly a threat is approaching and whether it calls for a change in plans. Then they zoom in, refocusing their energies into executing objectives.”

There are numerous other key concepts in the book which are immensely practical at this time period given all that is happening the world and in this economy. However, the above three, in my opinion, need to be integrated into strategic planning during the next 90 days so more companies will be better prepared for 2012. As Collins and Hansen explain, “... greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstances; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline.” As they continue, “... it’s what you do before the storm comes that most determines how well you’ll do when the storm comes. Those who fail to plan and prepare for instability, disruption, and chaos in advance tend to suffer more when their environments shift from stability to turbulence.”

As my father always said, “be prepared.” With the rise of complexity, globalization, and technology, all of which are accelerating change and increase volatility, it is time for leaders and executives to go out and purchase a copy of this book, and then read and discuss it with their senior management teams. Being prepared is no longer a choice; it is a prerequisite to success.

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

Monday, October 24, 2011

Developing Role Clarity

It was a wonderfully sunny day as we sat down to lunch in a very nice restaurant. The CEO had invited me and one of the senior vice presidents to sit down with him to discuss the future. Once the meal was ordered, the CEO said to the SVP, “I think you should work with Geery on a regular basis for a while as we plan for the future.” The SVP then turned to me and asked me for a list of names of the companies I had worked with before he would commit to the process. I just smiled and mentioned that I did not play the name dropping game. However, I would be willing to give him a list of executives he could personally call and talk to about my work. Then, the SVP looked at the CEO who shook his head and said, “No; don’t go there.”

“Just get started,” he explained to the SVP, “I have worked with Geery and he will ask you the tough questions that need to be asked. It will not be easy, but it will be valuable.”

The SVP replied to both of us that he wanted to work on performance management, turnover, and profitability plus team development at the divisional level, too.

I smiled and asked the first question. “With that in mind, what is your role at this organization?”

The CEO smiled. The SVP struggled with his answer. And thus the journey began.

From my vantage point this fall, I am seeing more and more problems based on a lack of role clarity at the senior team level. Gallup notes that role clarity is more important than task clarity. I would add that I believe role and goal clarity are more important than task clarity, too. When it comes to role clarity for the CEO, I always recommend people review the following article: Lafley, A.G., “What Only the CEO Can Do,”, May 2009, Harvard Business Review:

Furthermore, I believe all members of the senior team also need help in this area. First, senior managers need to be an architect and builder of strategy, They also need to recognize that the infrastructure for success needs to be built and monitored, not just the development of goals. Second, they must be a watchman for constant alignment between mission, vision and core values and the execution of the strategic plan. Accountability to goals, the shaping of values and standards, and the defining of goals and expectations need to be constantly monitored. Next, they must be a “genius of the and,” referencing the work of Jim Collins and Jerry Porass in their book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperBusiness, 1994. Finally, members of the senior team must be professors and coaches who manage and groom the talent in their area of responsibility.

While the work of role clarity is never easy, it is important. Asking the question is always the first step in the journey.

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

Monday, October 17, 2011

Improving Middle Management Effectiveness - Part #2

Picking up where I left off last Monday, the role of the middle manager is mission critical to more and more organizations. Yet, rather than take them for granted, more and more companies seek to improve the performance of the these key people. Last week, I explained the importance of teaching them active listening skills. This week I want to focus on a few more ideas.

First, help middle managers understand that it is important to welcome new ideas and perspectives. Too often, I have witnessed middle managers and even senior managers working with middle managers shut down different perspectives when they are not their own. This destroys personal trust at the team and the individual level but also can damage strategic level trust. The key is to welcome new ideas and be open to listening to them. Too many times, we manage by ego rather than by utilizing the strategic nexus.

Second, invite feedback but clarify the non-negotiable issues and the process of decision-making. Too many times, people use feedback and constructive criticism in the same sentence. Some are even calling it constructive feedback. While I prefer feedback and others prefer constructive criticism, the keys to giving feedback begins when we realize that relationships matter. Speaking and listening respectfully plus sharing observations rather than judgements makes a huge difference.

Next, it is important to review expectations and assumptions on a regular basis. Think Q1 in the Q12 from the book, First, Break All Rules and realize that many people do not understand what is expected of them. Finally, when giving feedback, be prepared and organized in your thoughts; this yields clarity rather than reactionary actions. When we as managers and leaders check our own intentions when asking for feedback and check our own intentions before giving it, we do a much better job of it.

Third, remember clarity and ambiguity do not co-exist peacefully. Right now, many organizations and many mid-level managers are suffering from constant change, economic uncertainty, and strategic ambiguity. We forget some days that mid-level managers want black and white answers to their questions, and right now the common response to their questions is the words, “it depends” This answer results in tremendous frustration and anxiety for middle managers.

Therefore, we as senior leaders need to eliminate strategic blindness and context blindness. Remember strategic blindness happens when we do not see our strategy as a whole organization, and instead only execute the parts of the strategic plan that we like. Context blindness happens because we can see the whole organization but we can not see the environmental context within which the whole organization is working and moving through. These are normal problems that mid-level managers have and with regular coaching and feedback can be corrected.

Finally, we need to continue to explore and clarify decision-making. Too many senior leaders and too many mid-level managers do not comprehend the difference between operational decision-making and strategic decision-making. Most think it is the same thing. While the mission, vision and core values may be the same, the critical elements that are considered are different in strategic and operational decision-making.

This week and this fall continue to help your mid-level managers and supervisors understand the importance of welcoming new ideas, inviting and giving feedback plus clarifying decision-making. All of this will make a difference when it comes to executing better in 2012.

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

Thursday, October 13, 2011

You are a leader only if someone follows

“A leader,” writes Warren Buffet, “is someone who gets things done through other people.”

Tom Rath and Barry Conchie in their book, Strengths Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow, Gallup, 2008, note that followers have four basic needs: trust, compassion, stability, and hope. As they write, “the chances of employees being engaged at work when they do not trust the company’s leaders are just 1 in 12. In stark contrast, the chances of employees being engaged at work are better than 1 in 2 if they trust the organization’s leadership - a more than sixfold increase.” This in combination with compassion, namely leaders who clearly care about each of their employees, and stability, i.e. followers want a leader who will provide a solid foundation, make a big difference. Finally, it appears that followers want stability in the moment and hope for the future. In short, Rath and Conchie note, great leaders “stay true to who they are - and then make sure they have the right people around them.”

As non-profits struggle this fall with issues related to funding and for-profits struggle with issues related to consistent profitability and growth, we all need better leaders who understand the basic needs of the followers and also know how to plan and execute strategic and operational change. There are multiple ways to get things done through others. The best leaders know how to create a strategic focus and culture within their companies so work gets done no matter what happens in the economy.

Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't. HarperBusiness, 2001, reminds us of Packards Law: “No company can grow revenues consistently faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth and still become a great company.” We all need the right people working with the right leaders this fall to overcome the challenges before us.

One way to position your organization for growth and great leadership is to enroll yourself and your key people in the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Meeting once per quarter, this year long course of study focuses on effective leadership, strategic planning and execution plus organizational change. Through an in-depth and integrative curriculum, participants are immersed in current research and real world solutions. For those of you who are seeking great results on a consistent basis, then now is the time to become part of the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

For more information on how to register, please click on the following link: I look forward to hearing from you during the comings days.

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

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Angry People

There sure are a lot of angry people these days. Some are protesting in the streets right now against Wall Street. Others are upset at the government. Some are deeply frustrated with Congress. Many are just fed up with this prolonged period of economic uncertainty and instability.

As one who regularly works with large and small organizations in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, I see this anger and frustration on a regular basis. But what interests me the most right now are the organizations that are not angry or frustrated, the ones who instead continue to improve, make a difference, and actually accomplish their goals.

One element that makes these organizations unique is how they are planning for the future. In particular, they are taking two very unique actions. First, they are actively engaged in deep strategic level dialogues about the customer experience. This is not a passing curiosity with a singular experience but instead a profound and in-depth commitment to understand the total customer experience. From start to finish, they are examining the routine interactions of the customer with the company. They want to know if the experience is one that is in alignment with what they say as a company and what customers expect. They want to know if the experience is generating a greater depth of engagement. They also want to know if it is elegant in the sense of ease of use and practicality. In essence, they want to know if the customer experience with their company is creating value, building brand loyality, or causing more long term problems.

Second, these same companies are willing to examine their core assumptions about the customer, themselves and the future. For example, progressive non-profits are willing to explore a future where Medicaid and Medicare are no longer the major source of their funding. For-profits, on the other hand, are examining a future where bricks and motor office buildings are no longer the foundation of their business. Instead, they are considering what their company would be like if all employees were virtual and all customer service was done through hand held mobile devices. By challenging their core assumptions, these companies are not trapped by the “hubris born of success.” As Jim Collins in his book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009, wrote, “Great enterprises can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. Stage 1 [hubris born of success] kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they loose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.” With the right questions, we can return to the underlying factors for success rather than the arrogance of assuming we will always be successful.

Given the challenges and deep divisions before our society today, there will continue to be many angry, frustrated and upset people for quite some time. However, as leaders, we have choices to make in the midst of these difficulties. Based on what I am seeing currently, focusing on the total customer experience and proactively challenging our core assumptions through in-depth strategic dialogues are wise actions to take in the midst of these challenging times.

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

Monday, October 10, 2011

Improving Middle Management Effectiveness - Part #1

John C. Maxwell in his wonderful book, Winning With People: Discover The People Principles That Work For You Every Time, Nelson Books, 2004, wrote about “The Hammer Principle,” namely “Never use a hammer to swat a fly off someone's head.” Too many times this past summer and fall, I have witnessed this take place between a senior executive and a mid-level manager. It always ends up being a loss for all involved.

Today, the role of the middle manager is very important. We need excellent people to fulfill these roles and they need to have the capacity to do four specific things very well. First, they need to understand the conceptual framework of the company in order to routinely bring clarity and order to confusion and chaos. Second, they need to be deeply immersed in the day to day, tactical operations of the company in order to solve problems better, and work on alignment related issues. Third, they need to oversee multiple projects in multiple stages and maintain a vast network of people and resources in order to manage all of the projects to a successful conclusion or result. Fourth, they need to utilize a diverse set of assessment tools in order to routinely deliver improved performance at the individual and department levels. Today, more and more managers are coaching people who directly impact front line service and product delivery. Their action or inaction is directly impacting the bottom line of the company.

In order to improve their effectiveness, the first thing we need to do as leaders is to teach them to practice the art of active listening. While this seems such a simple concept, I have come to realize that many young mid-level managers were never taught this skill.

Active listening is a communication technique that requires the listener to understand, interpret, and evaluate what (s)he hears. Active listening is a structured way of listening and responding to others, focusing attention on the speaker. Suspending one's own frame of reference and suspending judgment along with avoiding other internal or external mental activities are important. The ability to listen actively can improve personal relationships through reducing conflicts, strengthening cooperation, and fostering understanding.

There are three primary elements that comprise active listening, namely comprehending, retaining, and responding. In comprehending, the listener seeks shared meaning through an understanding of the context of what is being shared, and focuses on reducing distractions to improve retention. In the retaining part, the listener seeks out and pays attention to key information for retention purposes. Finally, in the responding part of active listening, the listener looks for verbal and non-verbal messages and adjust their communication style to meet the needs of the people involved.

The typical ways to do active listening involve repeating, paraphrasing and reflecting. For example, the listener might repeat the message using exactly the same words as the speaker. With paraphrasing, the listener might simplify the message using similar words and similar phrase arrangements to the ones used by the speaker. Finally during the reflection phase, they might restate the message using their own words and sentence structure.

While I recognize that active listening might seem extremely simplistic, spend time this week in meetings with mid-level managers and analyze how many of them actually do active listening. It will surprise you when you discover it is not a common practice these days.

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