Monday, February 28, 2011

The Power of Observation

Retired FBI Special Agent, Joe Navarro in his book, Louder Than Words: Take Your Career from Average to Exceptional With the Hidden Power of Nonverbal Intelligence, Harper Business 2010, notes that when we perceive danger, our limbic system, the part of our brain that controls our survival responses, triggers one of three neurological responses, namely freeze, flee or fight. Since the September 2008 Great Recession began, many organizations have remained strategically motionless, hoping to conserve energy and assess the environment for alternative ways to survive. Although the cities and suburbs we live in today are far removed from the African savanna, the limbic system of the mind is still driving many leaders.

But as 2010 transformed into 2011, I began to realize that some organizations did not freeze, flee or fight. Instead they planned well, grew thoughtfully and continued to develop effective infrastructure and systems for success. When I reflected on what the leaders of these organizations actually did, I realized that there was one common thread, namely they deployed the power of observation.

Richard Pascale, Jerry Sternin and Monique Sternin in their extremely well-written book, The Power of Positive Deviance: How Unlikely Innovators Solve the World’s Toughest Problems, Harvard Business Press, 2010 (see my 9-7-10 book review for more details: or their web site: believe that “at least one person in a community, working with the same resources as everyone else, has already licked the problem that confounds others.” With a documented approach to problem solving based on the assumption that “solutions to seemingly intractable problems already exist,” Pascale, Sternin and Sternin focus less on “What’s wrong? and more on “What’s right?” Then, they build on these solutions.

From my vantage point, this is where the power of observation starts. The best leaders and organizations that have not been caught by their individual or collective limbic systems are the ones who spend considerable time and energy focusing on what’s right and exploring why it has taken place when others have struggled. They do this by noting who is uncomfortable and who is comfortable. They also note who is doing well in a “productive discomfort zone,” using a Ron Heiftez’ term. And from all of these observations, they build upon and support those individuals and teams who are being a catalyst for evolutionary strategic progress. Remembering that “prolonged equilibrium is a precursor to death or stagnation,” an observation by Richard Pascale, Mark Millemann and Linda Gioja in their superb book, Surfing The Edge of Chaos: The Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business, Three Rivers Press, 2000, these senior leaders focus on building understanding and collaboration so that a culture of action is the norm.

One element of this process is their ability to listen well to those who are actively engaged in problem definition, inquiry, discovery, and implementation. When they hear every voice and understand what is being shared, the best leaders and organizations reinforce the new behaviors and make sure they are measurable. They know that the best reinforcer of behavioral change is the ability of people to measure progress and see results.

This week and this winter into spring remember Pascale, Sterinin and Sterinin’s advice from their PD approach that “telling people about a new behavior, tool or strategy is not enough. People have to actually practice in order to internalize things and see the benefits themselves.” This week make sure you give people time and support to practice better observation and better listening.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lessons Learned in the World of Leadership and Strategic Change

During the course of our lives, each of us has a meet brilliant leader and an extremely poor leader. We have meet people with egos so big it was hard to stand next to them and people who were so humble they must have been blessed by an angel. We also have meet people who have struggled valiantly and lost to circumstances beyond their control, and we have meet people, who despite the odds, transformed themselves and their organizations into incredible places of service, excellence and caring. And through these individual and collective journeys, each of us have discovered a few insights and truths. Here are some lessons I have learned from my journey through the world of leadership and strategic change.

First: People do care. Unfortunately, all too often people's capacity to care is buried under layers of cynicism resulting from negative experiences with work or life. But this doesn't change the reality that fundamental to human nature is the capacity to care, and to care deeply. The desire for our lives to make a difference is intrinsic.

Second: People want to engage in meaningful work. Yet, some are taught at an early age that it isn't wise to dream big, and many end up selling themselves short. We all need to meet financial commitments and to create a life for ourselves and our families. But ultimately, people prefer work that is meaningful and compatible with their talents, personalities, and values.

Third: People need community and want community. We have a fundamental human need for the support of others. Every person needs to know there is someone who can offer support when they fail, when illness strikes, or a child is struggling -- and, more importantly, who will take the time to listen. We need community within which to share, to tell our stories, and to test our dreams.

Fourth: It is fundamental to human nature to learn throughout the life-cycle. We exercise this capacity every day. No matter what our educational background, or our intellectual or developmental capacity, we learn every day in formal and informal contexts.

In short, it is people who are our primary resource during change, and successful individuals and companies understand this. People run the world: people in positions of greater and lesser power, people from various backgrounds and experiences. People bring the sum total of who they are to their work -- their experience, their creativity and ideas, and their tapped and untapped potential. And if we are to capture this vast potential and utilize it for the greater good, then we as leaders, managers, and supervisors must remember these lessons learned and share them with others. For it is in the sharing that a deeper level of awareness and understanding transforms us and those who listen.

This week we live in a world where monumental struggles are taking place. I think daily about the people of Libya seeking freedom, the people of Christchurch, NZ seeking solace and hope in the aftermath of Tuesday’s earthquake, and the people of Tucson who are still recovering from the events that took place earlier this winter in their community. What matters the most is that people all over the globe seek to live a life that is meaningful. They seek the opportunity to care and be caring, to learn and in turn teach, to live and in turn create community. When we embrace these truths, we transform ourselves and the journey of change.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Tarzan Swing

Tarzan, a heroic adventurer who is loyal and generous, is a fictional character raised by wild apes. He may be best know for his ability to use branches and hanging vines to swing at great speed through the jungle as he seeks to solve a life threatening problem for some one or some animal. Be it in comic books, movies, video or computer games, Tarzan supposedly represents the best of noble leadership, especially as someone devoted to helping those less fortunate. But in the work place today, we may not see many Tarzans but we sure do see a lot of Tarzan swings.

As I continually remind clients and students of mine, there is a point in the journey of strategic change that I like to call “The Trough of Chaos.” While more recently it has felt like the Grand Canyon of Chaos, there is a time and a place in change when motivation drops, resistance surfaces and people feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of what is happening. As they slowly move through their shock, grief and anger, employees arrive at a place where they are not as afraid as before but also where they are not completely hopeful, committed and focused. In this fragile situation, people tend to do what I call the Tarzan Swing. At one point, they are caught in the moment of OMG or WTF and within minutes they can pendulum swing to the place of “ It’s too late to panic, so what do we do? Let’s work together and get this over with.” This swinging back and forth from shock, dissatisfaction and resistance to the desire to explore new ideas, resolve problems and collaborate well with others is normal.

The hardest part is that this emotional swinging back and forth can drive some leaders bonkers. While they are wanting their employees to continue forward progress, many leaders do not understand that most employees can only take so much change and process so much change before they are overwhelmed, or as I some times like to say “their circuits are overwhelmed.” As someone from the power industry once reminded me, you can not push 220 volts through a 120 volt system without something getting burned up.

For some leaders, the solution to this problem is to get angry and stomp around like they are having a temper tantrum. Other leaders think doing the work themselves will solve the problem and they often burn-out or become very cynical over time. And finally some leaders just want to start whistling the theme song from the 1960’s cartoon show, “George of the Jungle,” a parody of the popular Tarzan story where George is depicted swinging on vines and repeatedly slamming face-first into trees and other objects even as the theme-song warns him to “watch out for that tree!”

The key to solving this normal but at times difficult, employee Tarzan Swing is to become better at three specific leadership actions. First, remember the words of Marcus Buckingham in his book The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005: “To excel as a leader .... 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.” The key is to be able to provide a clear sense of strategic direction in combination with a definitive reason why changing is less dangerous than staying the same.

The second key to dealing with the Tarzan Swing is to improve your ability to coach. In the beginning, spend more time discerning whether those who are swinging need help shifting their perspective, i.e. they just don’t have enough understanding about what is going on, and thus need to comprehend the bigger picture or larger context, or whether or not they are swinging because they don’t have the skill set, i.e. the capacity to plan and to execute a plan. From my experience, having superb coaching skills is mission critical when people are doing the Tarzan Swing.

Finally, the third step is to build and maintain exceptional teams. People in the Trough of Chaos swing less when they have the trust, the support and the confidence of a highly functioning team.

Remember: no matter where you are in the journey of strategic change, you may encounter short or long periods where people are pendulum swinging between shock and clarity. In these situations, do not freak out. Just stay calm, continue to explain the strategic direction, continue to coach well, and continue to build and maintain your teams. If you start to do some Tarzan swinging yourself, give me a call and we can line up a couple of executive coaching sessions to help you regain a sense of balance and perspective.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, February 21, 2011

Helicopter Parents and Helicopter Bosses

As the 78.3 million Baby Boomers born between 1946 - 1964 move toward their later years, i.e. the Silver Tsunami, many of them have been called “helicopter parents.” This term was originally coined by Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay in their 1990 book, Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. Sometimes also called “over-parenting” or “Black Hawk parents”, the term reflects how parents hoover closely overhead and try to solve all of their children’s problems. Institutions of higher education have seen this situation occur for quite some time, and now HR professionals regularly share with me how parents of young employees are actively involved in their children’s work place challenges.

From my vantage point, I have watched and met helicopter parents. I also have meet just as many helicopter bosses. As parents drop off their children for college and choose to stay all through new student orientation, I am seeing more and more executives who delegate a project and then just stay around to see if problems come up. Most of the time, this is a not a good situation.

First, we need to realize that while their intentions may be good, helicopter parents and helicopter bosses do not create a long term healthy work place or life journey. Risk management is an important skill set that must be learned. Constant supervision and oversight does not yield the ability to make smart choices.

Furthermore, helicopter parents and helicopter bosses are not teaching healthy problem solving and workplace etiquette. As Ron Alsop in his superb book, The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace, Jossey-Bass, 2008, notes, it is important to “help Millennials [the 92 million children born between 1980 -2001] become more comfortable with ambiguity by teaching them how to break down problems into manageable units and how to determine which data is most relevant to the solution.” Most of the problems with younger employees reflects employers who have high expectations but themselves display poor leadership skills, e.g. poor communication, delegation, or team building skills.

If we are going to be successful at work and if we are going to retain brilliant young people, then the first change that needs to take place is a reduction in helicopter parenting and helicopter management. In every office across the country, we need to build a clear context for what is and what is not the core values and the culture of the work place. Next, we need to communicate and reinforce these norms on a regular basis. Then, recognizing that we live and work in an extreme technology based, multitasking work place where attention deficit disorder is at times the new normal, we need to deal with the people and problems that cause misalignments between expectations and reality. Finally, we need to retrain people about how to delegate and how to coach.

In a work world where there continues to be wavering levels of optimism and a continued level of economic uncertainty, we need leaders who will lead and manage well. We do not need helicopter parents or helicopter employers whose supposedly loving actions actually result in both short and long term problems. This week practice communicating clear expectations, delegating clear outcomes and providing positive feedback which builds clarity and confidence. Do not get caught hovering over your staff.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Friday, February 18, 2011

An Inspiring Book

At a recent From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, I talked about the need for less motivation and more inspiration. The former comes from the outside while the later comes from the inside. At the time, I explained how the reading of Greg Mortenson’s book, Three Cups of Tea, had rekindled in me the understanding that one person can make a difference no matter how great the challenge.

This past week I found another book that fueled this inner fire and gave me hope in the midst of all our local, regional and global challenges. The book is Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal, William Morrow, 2010, by Connor Grennan.

In search of adventure, twenty-nine-year-old Conor Grennan traded in his day job for a year-long trip around the world. He started off this journey in November 2004 with a three-month stint as a volunteer at the Little Princes Children’s Home, an orphanage in the village of Godawari in Nepal.

Arriving in the middle of a civil war, Grennan questioned his choice for a volunteer project when he first met the “herd of rambunctious, resilient children.” Still, with time he found a challenging and rewarding pathway for working with all of the young ones. He also discovered an unthinkable truth. The children were not orphans at all. Child traffickers were promising families in remote villages to protect their children form the civil war - for a huge fee - by taking them to safety. They would then abandon the children far from home, in the chaos of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

Thus began a new journey as Conor Grennan became committed to reuniting the children he had grown to love with their families. Facing the dangers of a bloody civil war, the need to launch a non-profit organization called Next Generation Nepal (, a journey through the mountains of Nepal just before winter’s arrival, and the challenges of not knowing the local or national language, the author pushed onward to keep his promise to help these children reconnect with their parents.

At times tragic, joyful and funny, Little Princes is a testament to the power of faith and the ability to love. It is a beacon of hope in a world of difficulties. It reminds us of the importance of being committed to big ideas. I highly recommend this book for those of you who are seeking inspiration and fresh perspective. It is a joy to read.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Accelerated Convergence

Currently, four organizational trends are moving faster and faster toward the same point. Their convergence will cause strategic problems for years to come.

The first trend deals with strategic direction. More and more organizations lack clarity around their strategic direction. Due to a tremendous amount of under-communication, a tolerance for misalignments, and the absence of an on-going commitment to strategic goals and action plans, these organizations are lost in the strategic wilderness, wandering aimlessly based on the whims of a few or what ever book hits the best seller list.

The second trend deals with resource prioritization. With the current degree of economic uncertainty in the market place at this time period, the tightening of state budgets, and the potential for a federal reorganization looming in the distance, executives, employees, customers and suppliers are starting to question whether or not certain organizations will be able to deliver their core mission with limited or constrained resources. In particular, they wonder if the organization will be successful in this new environment while continuing to adapt to new market changes and expectations. The result of this over time can be brand apathy which is devastating to sustainable strategic action.

The third trend deals with recruitment and retention. As the economy evolves and changes, talented individuals may or may not want to hang in there through the difficulties. Though we do not like to think about it, the truth is that the best employees, the A Players we have, like to work with successful companies more than with struggling companies. This in combination with the on-going demographic changes, e.g. the Silver Tsunami as one example, can result in a real pending talent squeeze in certain organizations.

The fourth trend deals with organizational time. In simple terms, there is not enough time to get done all that needs to get done. People are worn, stressed, and feeling over worked. Furthermore, their commitment to their organization is dropping and/or in question because they are unclear about what to do next, i.e. a lack of strategic direction and even operational direction, in combination with a feeling that there may not be enough resources to do it right the first time. When people have too little information and feel pressured about time, they often default to a scarcity mentality and are not able to prioritize well.

When and if the above four trends converge, we are in for a real mess, an “epic failure” using YouTube terms. And leaders and managers are right in the midst of all of this, attempting to chart a path out of this potential quagmire.

Rather than offer some simplistic solutions, we must acknowledge the complexity before us and not hide from it. These trends are like gravity. We may not like them but in reality, we can not vote to eliminate gravity. It just does not fall into our circle of influence. Still with this in mind, we should not collapse into a puddle of hopeless, anxiety or depression. There are specific actions we can take to manage this emerging reality.

First, during the next 60 - 90 days, do a complete and in-depth strategic review. This should include a market place analysis to make sure you understand what is and what is not happening in your service environment.

Second, once the strategic review has been completed, determine whether or not your current strategic plan is still the right plan for the right time. If you have any doubts, pitch it. With so many strategic variables in play, it is better to have a smaller plan in place than a large and grand one that does not match up with the current and quickly evolving strategic environment in which you offer your goods and/or services.

Third, if you ditch your current plan, consider building an eighteen month bridge plan to help you and the organization move through this time period of economic uncertainty. Better to have a short term clear sense of strategic direction than a long term plan that is yielding strategic confusion during the interim.

Fourth, re-recruit your best players. When entering a time period of challenge, it is essential that you build and maintain a core team of people who have the capacity to handle what may be coming. Work with this team closely and strengthen their levels of trust.

Fifth, discern the difference between technical problems and adaptive problems. For more on this subject, read my blog entry for Tuesday, February 8, 2011 called “Questioning Fundamental Assumptions.”

Sixth, ask for help. When things get tough, it is vital to not isolate the organization or yourself from assistance. Perspective and experience can make a world of difference when accelerated convergence is taking place. If I can be of assistance, do not hesitate to call or e-mail me. In a time period of challenge, the best way to predict the future is to actively engage with it.

As John W. Gardner noted, "We need to believe in ourselves and our future but not to believe that life is easy. Life is painful and rain falls on the just. Leaders must help us see failure and frustration not as reason to doubt ourselves but as reason to strengthen our resolve.... Don't pray for the day when we finally solve our problems. Pray that we have the freedom to continue working on the problems the future will never cease to throw at us.”

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change, Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Silver Tsunami - part #2

Walk around many offices on any given day and one will see quite a bit of white hair, wrinkles, and even some balding men! As the customer base has aged, so has the work force. And this is causing all sorts of challenges.

First, we have two problems hitting the aging workforce at the same time. In some industries, there is a strong incentive to retire and to retire soon. Some hope this will result in a savings because older workers cost more than younger workers. Nevertheless, the incentive programs to get older employees to retire sooner than later can initially be quite costly.

With some older workers leaving the work force or being encouraged to retire, we also run into the problem of a massive brain drain. With white hair, usually comes some perspective, wisdom, and lessons learned. There also comes some clarity about why certain things work the way they work. Quite regularly now, I listen to older employees explain how a certain system was built or problem was solved 10+ years ago to the amazement and illumination of everyone in the room. This loss of perspective will cause many problems at a strategic and operational level. Some people retiring should be put on retainer so, when needed, their wealth of experience and knowledge can be tapped to solve new or emerging problems. They also could be valuable mentors for up and coming new people.

The other problem with the aging work force is that many 50+ year olds can not afford to retire. Their long term savings were wiped out in the whole September 2008 affair. Thus, they are going to be working for a very long time, especially if they need healthcare benefits.

This aging workforce translates into many people not being able to be upwardly mobile in the work place. Senior people will stay in order to rebuild their retirement savings. Mid-level managers who want to become senior leaders can not find a space to continue their career. Therefore, supervisors can not become mid-level managers, and so forth. This new “glass ceiling” is very demotivating for young workers who have excelled at climbing up the proverbial corporate ladder in a relatively short period of time. Now, many have complained to me in private: “When is that old person just going to move on? Isn’t it time?” The answer for many older workers will be “no” and for many younger workers the wish will be “please go and go now.”

When we step back and look at the problems of an aging workforce, we realize that there are major strategic elements in play. From succession planning to service delivery continuity, from career management to financial resource management, the Silver Tsunami is not going away. This week plan to discuss these issues at your next strategic review. It is a problem that will grow in magnitude during the coming years.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Baked, Roasted, Broasted and Fried

With pockets of the for-profit economy starting to move in the right direction, and with non-profits feeling the pinch of curtailed state spending, many people in leadership positions are feeling burned out. Having struggled through the last two years of economic uncertainty, they come to this point of 2011 worn to the core, knowing that they need to lead even better than they did during the last eighteen months.

Many executives recognize that now is the time to “to transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future,” referencing the words of Marcus Buckingham in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005. They understand that they must “describe our joint future vividly and precisely.” And yet they are overwhelmed most days with operational silos and with people showing strategic blindness. Furthermore, every where they turn there is a crisis that needs their attention. In short, many leaders are feeling scattered and exhausted.

Every week now, I meet more and more of these people in one to one executive coaching sessions who have barely anything left to give to the challenges before them. Battered by stupidity and complexity, they are frustrated, angry and tired. They want solutions and all they keep getting are more and more problems.

Routinely during the last couple of weeks, they ask me two questions: “Am I the only one who is experiencing this?” and “What should I do?” To the former, I answer “No; most if not all leaders right now are feeling baked, roasted, broasted and fried. Some more than others. It is part of the new normal called being busy.” As to the later, the answer takes time to explain.

First, when worn to the core, we need to pause and remember the words of Kevin Cashman, namely “We lead by virtue of who we are.” With leadership as “authentic self-expression,” another Cashman observation, we must accept the fact that we can not give what we do not have. If we are to provide clarity, then we must have clarity. If we are to provide guidance and direction, then we must have direction. If we are to provide fresh perspective, then we must have fresh perspective. The first step is to acknowledge we have a problem. If we lack clarity and direction on the inside, there is little chance we can provide it on the outside with any degree of authenticity.

The second step is to rebuild inner clarity and direction. This inner recovery process can only take place if we are willing to give ourselves permission to rest. It takes energy to lead and right now few people have lots of energy in reserve. When caught in an endless cycle of “go”, we can not always be the leaders we need to be, people who help the organization stay true to it’s strategic nexus, the sum of it’s core philosophy and strategic plan. When regular rest takes place, i.e. more rather than less evenings each week when work is put on the back burner and family, friends and self come to the forefront, we generate a deeper sense of awareness and purpose, two vital elements to recovery.

The third step is to be more disciplined in our planning. “The problem with the future,” notes Arnold H. Glasow, “is that it usually arrives before we’re ready for it.” Therefore, I tell more and more people these days to take charge of their calendar. “Personal leadership,” writes Stephen Covey, “is cultivating the wisdom to recognize our need for renewal and to ensure that each week provides activities that are genuinely recreational in nature.” One way to prepare for the future and to recover from the past is to follow Covey’s time management advice: “Make specific appointments with yourself to work on goals, treat an appointment with yourself as you’d treat an appointment with anybody else. Plan around it. Channel other activities and requests to different time blocks. If that appointment has to be changed, reschedule it immediately. Give yourself the same consideration you would give anyone else.”

In a time period when more and more leadership is required, acknowledge there is a problem, rebuild inner clarity and direction, and be more disciplined in your planning. Just remember that the road to recovery doesn’t have a fast lane. We have to take it step by step.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Waiting Until The Last Minute

Some days we meet ourselves coming and going. Breathing seems secondary to just running to keep up. Our faithful companion is our Blackberry, iPhone, or Droid. We would be lost with out them.

Some days we just live minute to minute. In the brief moments preceding a deadline, or that incredibly short period before some decisive action must be taken, we pause to think.

Some days, however, we just drink another double expresso and hope that we have the energy to finish the day’s meetings before the evening is filled up doing e-mail.

Nevertheless, there is a better way of living and working. But it takes a great deal of learning, patience and forgiveness. It begins with accepting there is a problem with living in the last minute lane. It also begins with structured learning.

One place many people have turned to over the years is the From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Here, they learn new ways to deal with old problems and successful ways to deal with new problems. Through comprehensive training that meets once a quarter and a set of structured readings in between, participants gain the skills and perspective to become better leaders, who make better plans and who implement those plans even when they have to run into the normal but difficult stages of organizational change.

If you are tired of running in circles and sitting in non-productive meetings, then please click on the following link:

< >

Waiting until the last minute can be exhausting. There is a better way of leading. I hope you can join us in March 2011 for the From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Questioning Fundamental Assumptions

Recently, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend most of a day with some Iowa high school, student government leaders. I was so impressed with their upbeat attitudes, perspective and openness to learning about leadership, communications and teamwork. With these young people as the future leaders of our country, we are in for a tremendous amount of positive and focused effort to make the world a better place.

As I often do with young people, I ask them to introduce themselves to me by sharing their name, grade, what role they play in student leadership and something unusual that I might not guess when I first meet them. I in turn share something about myself that they might not guess about me. As we came around the circle, a young man introduced himself and said he was a good wrestler. I smiled and replied that I was a wrestler in high school, too.

Given my Mom worked where I went to school, going home after school was not an option. I stayed because she stayed; she was my ride home. When I was in sixth grade, I discovered the varsity wrestling program one day after school and during the winter months I hung out with them until my Mom was done work around 5:00 pm. By the time I was in middle school, I often practiced with them, mostly because I did not have anything else to do after school. By ninth grade, I was a member of the varsity wrestling team. I even was a part of the Penn-Jersey championship team at the school one year. Not that I was a very good wrestler; most of the time I was cannon fodder for what ever weight class was missing someone. I wrestled up or down 1-2 weight classes and was told not to get pinned. Sometimes, I was successful.

When I shared with this young man that I was a former high school wrestler, he was stunned. He just looked at me and had that “Really?” look on his face. I guess he could not picture me, a bald 50+ year old presenter on leadership, as a wrestler, let alone some one who was on a champion team. I don’t know what he imagined when someone who wrestled in middle and high school got older but I was not the picture he had in his head. Maybe he had pictured “retired” high school wrestlers with huge biceps, massive thigh muscles, a butch hair cut and an awesome tattoo. Whatever it was, I was not fitting into his mental picture. For this young man, I clearly was an adaptive problem, calling into question his fundamental beliefs of what happened next.

Many people this winter are encountering adaptive problems. So much so that I believe it would be good today to review the difference between adaptive and technical problems. First, we need to remember that the solution to technical problems are already present within the organization's repertoire. On the other hand, an adaptive problem forces the organization to change, lest it decline.

In more detail, technical challenges or problems fall within our current range of problem-solving expertise. It is clearly defined and a leader or manager can implement a known solution. This involves connecting the right person or tool to the problem and applying existing skills, resources and processes.

On the other hand, adaptive challenges or problems require new perspective, expertise and solutions. In the beginning, defining the problem may require learning and often calls into question fundamental assumptions and beliefs. The solution to an adaptive problem can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties. In essence, adaptive problem solving requires new ways of thinking.

One element we forget when dealing with adaptive problems is resistance to loss. As Ronald Heifetz, Ronald, 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, (what I consider to be the best resource out there on this subject) note that finding out what these losses are, e.g. “a changing situation from life and loved ones to jobs, wealth, status, relevance, community, loyalty, identity and competence,” is vital to success.

For the young student leader who could not get his mind around my being a former high school wrestler who was on a champion team in the 70’s, an adaptive challenge requires tremendous thought and introspection. But with time, patience and perspective, it can lead to new ideas and understandings.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Silver Tsunami - part #1

A Silver Tsunami is fast approaching and few people are paying attention to it. This massive sea wave is the result of the baby boomers aging. Currently, 7,000 a day are turning 65 years of age, and as these baby boomers reach retirement, their $2 trillion worth of annual spending power is driving companies to rethink aging. Sit in any office, visit any mall, eat at any restaurant and you will see them. Fifty and older, these individuals are the valuable customers of today and the future.

The Silver Tsunami were the children born between 1946 - 1964. Optimistic to the core, they focused on money, title, recognition and for some the corner office. Many of them felt that job changing put you behind and thus they were company men and women. Having a stellar career was foundational to living a good life.

Now as they age, they approach the future differently than their more traditional parents. The Silver Tsunami wants to live in their own home until they die. They want to have multi-generational experiences on a regular basis. They want to be emotionally, mentally and physically active even if they encounter problems in any one of these areas. They also want to continue being active in the greater good of their churches and their communities.

Furthermore, this is not the generation who thinks of a rocking chair and retirement as a good thing. For them, 60 is the new 40, and with superb medical care and technology, they plan on being actively engaged well into their 80’s and 90’s. There will be little slowing down for older Baby Boomers.

There may be chronic health issues that surface but they expect to overcome these limits and flourish rather than struggle. With pills, surgery and therapy plus a diversity of age specific accommodations and devices, they expect to be doing what they are doing today right up to the end of their lives.

Read any issue of an AARP magazine and you will see a lifestyle that no generation before could have ever imagined. The Silver Tsunami in combination with tons of plastic surgery could be one of perpetual youth. Vigor and vitality are expected.

When I observe and, due to my own age, participate in this Silver Tsunami, I think about the people who are delivering the goods and services required to meet the needs of the aging Baby Boomers. I wonder how well they are listening to the VOC, namely the voice of the customer.

This week realize that a huge part of the customer base is in transition and that the Silver Tsunami will impact your world dramatically. Remember: someone turns 50 in the U.S. every seven seconds. Therefore, now is the time to plan accordingly. The future is happening all around us.

On a different note, for those of you looking for a good, quick on-line article, I encourage you to read the following at the Gallup Management Journal on-line called “Overcoming Barriers to Success” By Tom Rieger, author of the book called Breaking the Fear Barrier which will be published by Gallup Press this year. Here is the link:

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Busy is the new normal

“Good morning,” I often say when I answer the phone. “How are you today?”

Recently, the most common response is “Busy.” For many executives, it is a feeling and an action all wrapped up in one. The feeling is being full to very overwhelmed. The action is engaged and pushing forward. I have come to the conclusion that busy in the world of leadership is the new normal.

On one hand, I am not too surprised by this frequent response. We live in a society now that measures life by seconds and minutes, calendars and appointments, twitter feeds and text-messages. The more we have the better we are supposedly doing.

Furthermore, some people believe that the more running around we do the better we are as a leader. Managing by wandering around is so 1980’s. Now is the time for speed. The new role model for leadership in this decade is the fast and the furious. Multi-tasking at warp speed is expected by all.

Yet, today, I am thinking about an African quote I recently heard: “Western people have the watches; we have the time.” We forget some days in the midst of our hustle and bustle that watches, cell phones, and text messages do not always make life better. They do not save time. Instead, they absorb it.

This is particularly true as we enter this new month. More and more executives report to me that they are caught up in a reactive problem solving mode. The crisis of the moment consumes all energy. Furthermore, many employees are managing everything up the chain of command. They do not want to take the risk of making a decision and getting blamed for poor results or outcomes. And with many leaders operating at full capacity, there is little time for thoughtful dialogue and meaningful interaction. Most report to me that they just make a decision and rush to the next issue. In short, there is only time for busy.

From my perspective, it is time we reclaim our time as leaders. We need to get out of feeling overwhelmed and back to a feeling of balanced engagement. We need to not live a life so full of appointments and meetings that we can not think thoughtfully and plan gracefully. We need to incorporate into our lives thoughtful reflection and meaningful dialogue. We need to give ourselves permission to recuperate from extended periods of busy and develop a greater degree of resilience. From one who has learned this personally and from one who has seen this happening more and more in executive coaching sessions during the last ninety days, living busy for an extended period of time means living on empty. And empty is does not generate clarity, commitment, buy-in or ownership.

For us to reclaim our time we need to reclaim our perspective. The faster we go the more we become absorbed in the minutia of the moment. Tunnel focus is a reality that comes with busy. It can cause us to miss the greater context and the greater strategic direction of our lives and our organizations.

We must also accept that speed is addictive, busy is numbing, and full is draining. But we can change this. We can lead our lives. We can lead our organizations. We can regain a sense of balanced living. The first step is to no longer accept busy as an acceptable way of living. The second step is to redefine our priorities, especially our definitions of what is urgent and what is important. The third step is to take charge of our calendars and block out time for more in-depth dialogue and reflection. The fourth step is to give ourselves permission to rest when rest is needed.

When asked “How are you?” this week or next, I recommend you find a new answer, one that shares a feeling more than an action. We are, after all, human beings, not just human doings.

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Maintaining High Performance Over Time

Paul Nunes, Executive Director of Research at the Accenture Institute for High Performance, and Tim Breene, CEO of Accenture Interactive, the company’s digital marketing initiative, wrote a most interesting article called “Reinvent Your Business Before It’s Too Late: Watch Out for Those S Curves” in the January-February 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review: Here they report on the results of their long-running High Performance Business research program, namely 13 financial metrics to assess growth, profitability, consistency, longevity and positioning for the future in 800 companies over a 10-year period.

As they explain in the article, “high performance companies rethink their strategies and reinvent their operating models before debilitating stalls set in.” Based on their research, they have discovered that successful companies reinvent themselves, not just along the growth curve of their current revenues but also along three much shorter, though equally important, S curves.

First, these organizations “focus on the edges. They pay attention to the edge of the company and the edge of the market to avoid the myopia that long-running success engenders.”

Second, these organizations “shake up the top team. They change the makeup of the senior team earlier, and more radically, than their competitors do.”

Third, these organizations “maintain surplus talent. When other companies are cutting staff to cut costs, they go in the opposite direction: they cultivate serious talent with the capacity to grow new business.”

Given the time we have spent exploring the subject of the three sigmoid curves in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, it is always interesting to read new research about them. Today, I was particularly intrigued by the idea of focusing on the edges and talent creation.

These two elements, I believe, are the foundation of the From Vision to Action Executive Roundtables. When we gather in the spring and the fall and enter into in-depth strategic level dialogues with other well-educated and thoughtful executives, we end up seeing the market place and our own companies from different perspectives. This alone is worth the price of admission reports many participants. I have routinely been told by those who attend that one conversation with another participant made them realize that they were missing a critical external factor which could completely change their competitive landscape. These “edge centric” discussions help executives define untapped customer needs and unsolved problems.

Second, numerous times each month I visit with executives who participate in the From Vision to Action Executive Roundtables and who bring 1-3 people with them to a Roundtable. They report to me that when someone new joins them at a Roundtable, it jump starts this person’s development. It helps their on-going coaching because the person has a greater degree of awareness and understanding of strategic issues, thus being able to process new and old information better and keep perspective on what is important rather than what is urgent. The Roundtable also helps this up and coming talent to organize their thinking in new and more productive ways thereby allowing this individual to make better choices.

If this winter, you want to move toward becoming a high performance organization, I encourage you and your colleagues to come and participate in the Spring 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

Here is the information you need to sign up:

Date: April 14 -15, 2011

Location: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa


Thursday: April 14, 2011

- 8:30 am - Registration

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - The Four Leadership Mistakes We Keep Making

- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Positioning For the Future Growth

- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - Breaking Down Silos & Building Bridges

- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break

- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - Consensus and Decision-making

- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Friday: April 15, 2011

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - The Problem With Corporate Success

- 10:15 am - 10:45 am - Break and Hotel Check-out

- 10:45 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application

- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Cost: $ 295.00

1-Day Attendance Rate: $ 195.00

Registration Form:

I hope you will join us this spring and enjoy exploring the edges of the competitive landscape while cultivating talent and capacity.

Remember: “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” - John Dewey

Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates # 319 - 643 - 2257