Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts on Resistance

Every month, a number of different people ask me the same question: “How do you overcome resistance from direct reports?” Over time, my answers have gotten shorter and shorter.

First, resistance is a form of feedback. Listen carefully to what they are saying. Their perceptions and feelings may not be correct in your eyes or from your perspective, but it is what they are experiencing. Learn from this information.

Second, boast their awareness about the context for change. Most people focus on the changes and the losses that will come with it. Most leaders under communicate the problems that are causing the organization to change. By selling the problems (think William Bridges and his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, Da Capo Press, 2003), we need to present a compelling picture of the risks of not changing or of not meeting expectations, i.e. shareholders, etc.

Third, while clearly restating the purpose for change, we also need to define the levels of control and initiative those involved can exert. Too often resistance comes from not being involved in solving the aforementioned problems. As I always point out, no participation = no engagement.

Fourth, define the goals and the priorities. Make sure they are SMART goals and not just random flip chart paper goals.

Resistance happens. It is normal. Do not be afraid to lead them through this stage of organizational change.

But a least privately, someone each month asks a follow-up question to the subject of dealing with resistance from direct reports. “What do I do if my boss is the problem? What if they are resistant to change?”

Every year since 1998, we have been discussing this question in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, It is a common problem and right now quite a few people are experiencing it.

First, understand what kind of change cycle you are going through at this time period. Is it evolution or revolution? Radical or incremental? Often, those who are the boss frame up the changes differently than those who are doing daily operations. Understand their perception, not just your own.

Second, sit down with your boss and dialogue about performance expectations. Try and figure out what your boss is trying to accomplish and what are their goals. From experience, these may be different. Often, they are trying to lower the chaos around them to a manageable level while still focusing on their goals.

Third, clarify your role in the organization and the changes that are taking place. Many times your perception of your role and your boss’s perception may be completely different. Get clear about this sooner than later.

Finally, clarify your level of control. Most of the time when encountering a boss who is resistant to change, the problem is that you think you have lots of control and they do not want you to have that much control.

After discussing this subject for over 13 years, here are some of the best answers from a diversity of leaders and managers who have dealt with this issue:

- Speak truth to power. Know what you are talking about with facts and figures.

- Ask yourself “why did they pick your boss for the job?”. This information will help you maintain perspective.

- Face your fear.

- Do not give away your ability to choose.

- Deal with your addictions.

For those of you who want to explore this subject in greater detail and from a bigger picture perspective, here is a recently published article by Margaret Wheatley called “Leadership in the Age of Complexity: From Hero to Host.” While the article is not completely focused on resistance, it does offer some excellent insights into why leaders struggle in the world of change and organizational transformation. Years ago, we read her book, Finding Our Way: Leadership for an Uncertain Time, Berrett-Koehler, 2005, for a Spring From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. It was excellent and so is this article. Happy reading!

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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Opening The Door

Our challenges as leaders are great. The problems of this economy are many. The politics within government are divisive. And yet so many people want change and they want it to start happening now. Reflecting on the last thirty days, I am reminded of the following two quotes:

“Change is a door that can only be opened from the inside.” - Old French saying

“It’s not my job to motivate players. They bring extraordinary motivation to our program. It’s my job not to de-motivate them.” - Lou Holtz, former head coach of the University of Notre Dame football team

First, I believe that many people forget that change involves stepping outside one’s comfort zone. And while fear or the threat of imminent disaster can motivate people, it does not motivate them in the same direction and as well as clarity, support and empowerment. We have to help people open the door from the inside to make real change happen, and this is a difficult personal action. It requires being around people with whom we trust, believe have perspective, and offer support.

Second, I believe that while many want to create effective and sustainable change, too many people experience a daily work environment that is constantly de-motivating them to change. With a lack of real support, trust or empowerment, motivated and committed to change kinds of people are constantly battling poor leadership and even worse poorly designed systems which prohibit that which the organization requires. The result is a rampant case of cynicism and the development of silos with the work environment.

So, how does one get people to open the door from the inside?

Max Dupree, former CEO of Herman Miller, wrote that “the first duty of a leader is to define reality.” Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't. HarperBusiness, 2001, called this “confronting the brutal facts.” As he writes, “when you start with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of your situation, the right decisions often become self-evident. It is impossible to make good decisions without infusing the entire process with an honest confrontation of the brutal facts.” Furthermore, he adds, “a primary task in taking a company from good to great is to create a culture wherein people have a tremendous opportunity to be heard and, ultimately, for the truth to be heard.” This will require us as leaders to “lead with questions, not answers,” and to “engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.” While defining reality is hard work, it must be done in such a manner so that people’s confidence and absolute faith that they and the organization will be successful in the end, regardless of the reality before them.

One critical element of helping people open the door up from the inside starts at the executive team level. As Edgar Schein, a former professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, wrote in the April 1995 edition of Executive Excellence magazine, “Organizational learning is not possible unless some learning first takes place in the executive subculture.” While many do not want to admit it, there is an executive subculture within many companies, and often it is the source of the problem. Filled with big egos and little true perspective, these individuals often reinforce a good-old-boys perspective of entitlement and grandiosity. For some, the company works for them rather than they working for the good of the company. Thus, the best CEO’s are constantly leading their executive teams through in-depth learning in order to prevent a misaligned sub-culture and to help them develop a more realistic and motivational work environment. They understand what Kevin Cashman wrote, namely, “Leaders get what they exhibit and tolerate.”

As we head in to September, let all of us remember that the development of a clear and united executive team in combination with the on-going development of a high-trust culture will make a world of difference. This fall we need people to open the door and stay motivated for the work ahead.

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Blinding Flash of the Obvious

Tom Peters would often share in his lectures about “a blinding flash of the obvious,” namely an insight or perspective that would make your head spin. Having worked with numerous groups and people over the course of the summer, I think we all need some more blinding flashes of the obvious. Here are a few for your review.

First, let’s remember Collins’ brilliant insight that “Good is the enemy of great.” There are times when this should be handed out at the start of every meeting for the next 30 days so people will quit settling for “good” and instead have the discipline, fortitude, courage and clarity to seek great over good. Too many times this summer, I witnessed good and even OK as acceptable standards and behaviors in many companies. It is a far cry from greatness when we let mediocrity be acceptable.

Second, we need to continue working on a key idea from James Belasco, and Ralph C. Stayer’s book called Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring To Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead (Time Warner, 1994). As they write, “Transfer ownership for work to those who execute the work.” Brilliantly simplistic and yet so many people haven’t a clue about how to do this. Most forget that when we create “an environment for ownership where each person wants to be responsible for his/her own performance” then we are creating the opportunity to transfer ownership to those who do it on a daily basis. It is the ownership environment that holds the key to be prepared for the future.

Finally, back to Collins in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't. HarperBusiness, 2001, where he writes “all good-to-great companies began the process of finding a path to greatness by confronting the brutal facts of their current reality... When you start with an honest and diligent effort to determine the truth of your situation, the right decisions often become self-evident. It is impossible to make good decisions without infusing the entire process with an honest confrontation of the brutal facts.” Brutal facts in combination with some good old fashioned faith and hope make a major difference.

Every day there are moments when a blinding flash of the obvious could happen. Open your eyes to the possibilities and keep educating those around you to do likewise. Remember: common sense is not always that common.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Winning in Tomorrow’s World

“The scarcest resource in the world today,” noted Noel Tichy in his book, The Leadership Engine; How Winning Companies Build Leaders at Every Level, HarperBusiness, 1997, “is leadership talent capable of continuously transforming organizations to win in tomorrow’s world.” Recognizing that at the end of the day, we need better leaders and better people, not just better strategies, Tichy points out that leaders with a proven track record of success take direct responsibility for the development of other leaders. One part of this process will involve a significant amount of time spent coaching.

As one who does this regularly, I think we need to help those who participate in coaching to understanding that coaching happens through you, not to you. Too many times, people treat the act of coaching as something they do to people and do not recognize that coaching is a process of mutual collaboration and structured dialogue.

Next, the best leaders during this structured dialogue routinely explore the subject of purpose and strategy. However, those who coach well know we may not always be able as coaches to solve a certain problem. Nevertheless we can emphasize the choices one can make.

Finally, the best leaders who coach people know that this process involves questions, analysis, action planning and follow through. Too often, people think that coaching is only about asking questions. While this is important, we need to recognize that the best leaders also help people analyze what is going on and then help them build a plan of action based on this analysis. Finally, the best always follow-up.

The scarcest resource in the world is transformational leadership. In the journey from today to the future, we need to realize that personal coaching in combination with team development, education about organizational transformation, and the development of effective strategy are all interconnected. And when leaders take responsibility and build the future, these interconnections are strengthened, motivational, and dynamic.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why Teams Fail

Many years ago, the Hay Group reported that teams failed to meet expectations because of the following reasons:

- 55% - goals unclear or changing objectives

- 51% - lack of accountability

- 49% - lack of management support

- 47% - lack of role clarity

- 45% - ineffective leadership

- 40% - low priority of the team

- 30% - no team-based pay

I do not know if these numbers are still accurate in 2011 but I suspect that for many companies, the top four to five problems have not changed much over time. And when we examine these problems in details, one thing becomes clear to me this morning. Not a single one of the them is insurmountable.

Starting today, we all know how to create SMART goals and to clarify objectives. We also know how to hold crucial or fierce conversations where people are held accountable for their words and their actions. We even know how to improve management support and develop role clarity.

But, as many of us have learned in life, knowing is not the same as doing. The above challenges fall into the doing zone and this is where things get more complex. For translating knowledge into action requires all of us to make time for what matters the most, and that is our people.

This week and this coming month, think about your teams and reflect on which ones need your assistance to get better. Then, review the above list and make the right choices. Invest your time and leverage your energy in such a manner as to make it a force multiplier.

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

Being An Architect of Meaning

For over a decade, I have been teaching students during our annual From Vision to Action Leadership Training ( ) that one of the key characteristics of a leader worth following is someone who is an architect of meaning. As I point out, every day people in leadership positions routinely confront paradoxes and wrestle with deep questions about the company’s brand identity, competitive advantage, and strategic direction. Often, they get asked such questions as “Who are we?” and “Where are we going?” They solve these challenges by building clarity at the macro and the micro levels of the organization, and helping people understand their role in the process.

One way of creating this depth of clarity is to routinely ask these three questions. First, ask “what do you do at our company?” because this will determine role clarity. Second, ask “What are your priorities? because this will determine goal clarity. And finally, ask “What do you do that matters most?” because this will determine mission clarity. As Kevin Cashman notes, “As you believe, so shall you lead.” I often translate this into “As they believe, so they shall follow.”

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras pick up on this same theme in their book, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperBusiness, 1994. As they explain, “... we’re asking you to see the success of visionary companies - at least in part - as coming from underlying processes and fundamental dynamics embedded in the organization and not primarily the result of a single great idea or some great, all-knowing, god-like visionary who made great decisions, had great charisma, and lead with great authority. If you’re involved in building and managing a company, we’re asking you to think less in terms of being a brilliant product visionary or seeking the personality characteristics of charismatic leadership, and to think more in terms of being an organizational visionary and building the characteristics of a visionary company.”

As we all know, leaders work on the company while managers work in the company. As summer moves toward fall, we need more architects who design and then build visionary companies. If you need any help in doing this, feel free to call. I always enjoy a good challenge.

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Farm Wisdom

“Farmers do not ask,” writes Mette Norgaard Ph.D, MBA, “which is most important, preparing the soil or selecting and growing the best seeds? Likewise, we should not ask whether we ought to focus on changing the systems and structures or developing the people.”

This coming fall more and more people will be struggling with soil vs. seeds issues. They know they need to change certain systems and structure. They also know they need to develop people in order to have more capacity. However, many executives are reluctant to do either because of the amount of time, resources and energy it will take to do it and to do it well.

While some organizations are suffering from reorganization fatigue, others have come to the same conclusion as John C. Maxwell in his book,, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow them and People Will Follow You, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998, when he wrote: “The Law of the Lid: Leadership ability determines a person's level of effectiveness.” Certain organizational charts will never position the organization for growth because they do not have the right people in the right leadership positions. Certain organizations also will not deal with this issue because they do not have the courage to face problems of their own making. It is always easier to blame the economy or the government rather than take responsibility for our own strategic choices.

From my vantage point, this level of work means that we as leaders must recognize that real change requires depth of character and competence. The difficulty is that few leaders have received significant coaching and education to improve the depth of their competence. As Stephen Covey wrote many years ago, “Organizational development and change, without personal development and change, is illusionary, even foolish, because market realities are demanding new qualities inside people and new relationships among people.” Well organized ninety day plans, regular coaching and a steady diet of organizational clarity does not sound flashy, hot-off-the-presses, New York Times best-seller list, latest and greatest new management book stuff, but in the test of time we need to remember that the infrastructure for success is as important as the content for success.

This fall, I encourage all of us to spend more time preparing the soil and selecting the seed. Then when it comes time for change, we can all remember: what you feed, grows.

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

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A Long Term Perspective

In April/May 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine, Charles Fishman wrote an article called “Change,” where he shared his “10 Laws of Change.” They are as follows:

1. Change begins and ends with the business - not with change.

2. Change is about people. People will surprise you.

3. There is information in opposition.

4. The informal network is as powerful as the formal chain of command. And you get to design your informal network.

5. You can’t draft people into change. They have to enroll.

6. It’s not a calling. It’s a job.

7. Forget balance. Create tension.

8. No change agent ever succeeded by dying for his [or her] company.

9. You can’t change the company without changing yourself.

10. Even if the company doesn’t change, you will.

In the mid to late 90’s, this was progressive thinking, challenging many to reconsider what they were doing and how they were leading. At the time, most leaders recognized they could not make change happen successfully or sustain the changes they wanted once they were initiated. Fishman’s perspective was eye opening and insightful.

Fourteen years later, most of the above “laws” have been blended into the work of numerous books and articles. On one level, the ideas seem old school and slightly dated. But upon further examination, they can be helpful reminders given the turbulence of the current economy.

As I have the opportunity to work with more and more young leaders, I am realizing that fewer and fewer of them have been exposed to the fundamentals of leadership and change. What for me and many senior leaders are self-evident truths are for these young leaders mind blowing new perspectives. For example, Fishman’s insight, “You can’t draft people into change. They have to enroll.”, is all new material for many young leaders. They have never heard this before and no one shared this with them when they got started. The concept of creating an environment where people want to enroll in change helps them to understand why certain changes have failed in the past and why certain leaders have chosen to go leading change in the manner they are doing it. At the same time, Fishman’s observation, “There is information in opposition.” also shifts the perspective of young leaders and helps them to comprehend that resistance is more about loss than change.

I share Fishman’s 10 Laws of Change here today for three reasons. First, I think we need to proactively use them as we teach young people to lead and deal with change related issues. Second, I think there is value in returning to the fundamentals and reviewing them from time to time. Often, for me, I rediscover a fresh way of explaining a key concept. Third, at times we can get a bit rusty or stuck in our ways. We become unconscious leaders and forget the basics as we push for speed with limited bandwidth to reflect.

This week and this month, I encourage all of us to review the above list and to share it with others. Clearly, it can be a spring board for sound and in-depth strategic dialogue.

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

Three Key Concepts

There are days and even weeks when as leaders we can become very, very busy. For many, this coming fall appears to be one of those time periods. We all know that during the busy time periods we will be in back to back meetings, making many major decisions with limited data, responding to a diversity of critical issues, while simultaneously attempting to keep up with e-mail and other assorted forms of communication.

During such extremely full periods, your path and my path often cross. Sometimes it is on the phone, after a meeting or over a meal. Then, during our visit, someone will ask me a simple but complex question, “So, what am I missing in the midst of all that is happening?” While I could point out that most executives are recovering controlaholics who need to control less and focus on alignment more, I usually share the following three observations

First, your ability to plan must be balanced by your capacity to execute.

Too many times this year I have witnessed groups who plan well but execute poorly. The problem is not the plan. It is the depth of capacity within the organization. While the plan could be modified and often is, the real challenge is the lack of strategic commitment and effort to build for the future.

Second, real change does not take place inside your comfort zone.

We like being comfortable and happy. We do not like being uncomfortable and unhappy. Therefore, when faced with certain challenges we settle for good when we should have strived for great. However, to achieve greatness, we most step outside our comfort zone and confront the brutal facts.

Third, awareness is not understanding.

Volumes could be written on this one short sentence. It is a powerful insight. In my mind, it ranks up there with the Iowa farm wisdom I learned many years ago, namely “What you feed, grows.” While awareness is important, understanding takes time, reflection and dialogue. If we are to create understanding, be it during planning or execution, then we have to step outside our own comfort zones and engage in an in-depth dialogue with others. Because it is through this process of sharing that we generate great understanding and greater clarity.

Busy is normal. It happens. But the best of us keep learning and sharing in the midst of it.

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Next Wave of Change

Thousands of years ago, people would carve important words into stone. Then, they would put them in places where people could see them and be reminded of their importance. Right now, I would like to carve the following words into the lintel above the door of quite a few companies:

“ Few corporations are able to participate in the next wave of change, because they are blinded by the business at hand.” - Edson De Castro, CEO of Data General, 1978.

Day after day this summer, I am witnessing countless organizations that talk strategy but do not have a strategic plan. They also talk big picture but mostly focus on minutiae. They talk change but constantly reenforce status quo. In short, one could say that they are being “blinded by the business at hand.”

One solution to this problem is to break out of the daily consumption of operational details, get away from the office, and come to a From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. Here you will find a group of dedicated people seeking to improve and transform their organizations. You also will discover individuals who want to discuss, explore and reflect on the next waves of change and consider how this will impact their work as a leader and their organization. In short, through in-depth learning and candid peer-to-peer discussions, you will learn new ideas, perspectives and solutions.

The next From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable takes place on September 22 - 23, 2011 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa.

Here is the agenda for your review:

Thursday: September 22, 2011

- 8:30 am - Registration

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - Aligning Culture and Strategy

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

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Improving Middle Management Effectiveness

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

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - Developing Role Clarity

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

- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm -Teaching New Behaviors

- 4:30 pm -Adjourn

Friday: September 23, 2011

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - Pursuing Personal Excellence

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

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

- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Recommended reading: Collins, James C., and Jerry I. Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperBusiness, 1994.

Here is a link to the registration form:

For those of you who are seeking new solutions, now is the time to sign-up.

I look forward to seeing you at the Fall 2011 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Red Queen Lives On!

We were sitting in his newly remodeled, corner office with lots of sun light pouring in through the windows. The entire layout had changed since my last visit, including a new desk, conference table, decorations on the wall, photos and even a nice big plant. Stylish and modern, it was impressive.

Once I had been shown around, I settled into a new chair at the conference table and pulled out my blue notebook and a pen. It was time to get down to business. My first question during this executive coaching session was an important one, namely “What do you do that really matters the most?”

His answer wandered for the most part and indicated that he had not studied successful companies much. It also pointed out that he did not fully understand his role as a Senior Manager in the company. Referencing the work of Jim Collins in his book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap. . . and Others Don't. HarperBusiness, 2001, this person was a Level 3 Leader, namely a “Competent Manager” who “organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.”

Not being afraid of asking the hard questions, I asked him another important question, namely “What is strategy?” He replied, “It is a place we need to get to.” And I thought to myself, “The Red Queen lives on.”

In the natural world, the predator and the prey must constantly change or go extinct. Companies and their competitors are also in a constant evolutionary dance, too. When one evolves a slight edge over another, the other responds by developing it’s own edge. For example, some McDonalds are serving expresso coffee. In turn, some Starbucks are offering a dollar cup of coffee.

Evolutionary ecologists call this the “Red Queen Principle.” Named in 1973 by Leigh Van Valen after the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass, who observed to Alice: “In this place, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.”

We have not explored this concept in much depth since we talked about it at the Spring 2008 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. However, given current events within many companies, the status of the world economy and the threat of a double dip recession within the United States, it is time to re-examine this concept again. Right now more and more executives report to me that they and their companies are working as hard as they can to be profitable and they feel like they are running in place. For some, their strategy is clear but not being implemented effectively. Others have the opposite problem with daily operations trumping strategy. Still, the Red Queen Principle does not go away.

While there are no simple solutions to such complex challenges, there are specific actions that a senior team can take when confronting such a situation.

First, initiate a complete and in-depth strategic review to make sure the company has the right strategy for the right environment. If it does, then move to improving the quality of strategic execution. If not, then engage in developing a new and more focused strategy. Selective abandonment of misaligned strategies can be an effective solutions.

Second, clarify what is the company’s brand and competitive advantage. Then, proactively cascade this information deep into the organization in order to help everyone to remain focused on what is most important. Empower key people to act with this in mind.

Third, communicate the importance of customer service and focus on this element at the qualitative and quantitative levels. Remember the research by William J. McEwen in his book, Married To The Brand: Why Consumers Bond With Some Brands For Life, Gallup Press, 2005. As he writes, “every time a customer comes in contact with a company ... the brand relationship can be enhanced. Or it can be diminished. Brand marriages aren’t static; they continue to evolve.” Therefore, he reminds us that “successful marriage management can be achieved only by company-wide commitment and aligned, integrated efforts.” When we work on making sure we have the right strategy, brand clarity and consistent high-quality customer service, then we are working on alignment and integration across the whole company.

In the constant evolutionary dance, there are strategic level changes that need to be made and the operational level changes that need to be made. Dealing with the Red Queen requires both.

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

Monday, August 8, 2011

Today’s Problems and Tomorrow's Challenges

As we enter the last of the summer days, everyone is talking about problems. Technical, adaptive or critical - problems are happening all over the place. And the result of all of these problems is two fold. First, some people are freaking out and running around like Chicken Little saying “the sky is falling.” Others are standing stock still like deer in the headlights wondering what is going to happen next. Neither is a very productive choice.

When problems surface, I recall something I learned from Peter Senge’s writing long ago, namely that today's problems are the result of yesterday's solutions. This is not a popular line of thinking in some organizations because it implies we did not always make the right decisions. However, it does remind us that the choices we make today do have long term implications on many different levels.

One problem that is surfacing at this time period is organizational fragmentation due to past choices and today’s problems. Here the different parts of the corporation act independent of the greater whole. Furthermore, multiple reactions and decisions that solve current problems do not always create capacity as much as organizational silos, resulting in a diminished ability to prepare or even execute on emerging opportunities to grow in the future.

The second problem that is surfacing at this time period relates to structural misalignments. The proverbial “org chart” or “T.O.”, i.e. the table of organization that explains who reports to who, is not working effectively. Remember the Gallup research that states people join companies but quit who they report to. We, as leaders, sometimes forget that structure really does influence individual and group behavior. We also do not like to think about how smart people when reporting to the wrong person and not working with effective systems tend to produce poor work even if they are trying their best. Jim Collin’s research in his book, Good To Great, was right when he stated “who, before what.”

For us gathered here today, we need to do the following things during the next sixty days. First, we need to build stronger teams who can work well together and think realistically and creatively when problems surface. Second, we need to develop the capacity in our organizations so more people can step into leadership positions before major problems or opportunities surface. Third, we need to realign our organization so that the right people in combination with the right core values can improve service delivery. Finally, we need to remember that which got us to where we are today may not get us to where we need to go. Past success can blind us to the significant choices we need to make.

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Brutal Facts

Every day this year, seven thousand baby boomers turn 65.

Currently, 70% of Americans are stressed out about work.

$ 300 billion is the annual cost to businesses due to employee stress.

And if the above was not enough, customers over 50 own the vast majority of U.S. wealth, causing more and more retail businesses to redesign how they do business to accommodate the wishes of an older population.

So as the potential for retirement rises, the stress increases, and the wealth continues to migrate to the older population, a ripple effect is taking place in the world of leadership, resulting in one simple question:

Who will be the next generation of leaders in your organization?

Ideally they will come within based on what Jim Collin’s research shows. Think Built To Last, Good to Great, and How The Mighty Fall.

Home-grown talent has potential.

But weekly coaching sessions and the occasional seminar only can do so much.

Real learning takes time, depth and focus.

Real learning in combination with exceptional coaching demonstrates a 72 percent improvement in performance according to the American Society For Training and Development (ASTD).

The challenge this month is to determine who is worth the investment.

Remember: seven thousand people each day turn 65. They will retire, and they will take with them their leadership skills, knowledge and perspective. One day, their strategic mindset will walk out the door.

So, who will be the next generation of leaders in your organization?

Choose wisely.

Plan wisely.

It will make a difference.

Then, enroll these key people in the 2012 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

Here is a link for more information about this unique learning opportunity:

The future of your company will depend on who is leading it.

Tomorrow is only a day away.

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Young Leaders and Fresh Perspectives

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach and visit with the Coconino Rural Environment Corps ( in Flagstaff, Arizona. Promoting stewardship, encouraging personal development, and carrying on the tradition of the Civilian Conservation Corps with hard work, dedication and pride, the Crew Supervisors, Assistant Crew Supervisors, and the various office staff that guide and support them, work with youth ages 15 to 18 and young adults, aged 18 to 25, who are interested in environmental, resource conservation and land management related careers. Through direct, hands-on service work such as trail construction and maintenance, or forest restoration for wildfire fuels reduction and forest health, the Crew Supervisors and their Assistant Crew Supervisors spend eight days out in the field doing hard physical labor with AmeriCorps volunteers. Hot, dirty and physically demanding, I listened and learned from these inspiring young leaders about compassionate professionalism.

Over the course of the day, it became clear to all of us gathered that effective leaders do not create followers; they create partners. They accomplish this by proactively building on the unique strengths and talents of each of their people. As Marcus Buckingham in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005, wrote: “great managing is not about transformation - if you dedicate yourself to transforming each employee into some predetermined perfect version of the role, you will wind up frustrating yourself and annoying the employee. Great managing is about release. It is about constantly tweaking the world so the unique contribution, the unique needs, the unique style of each employee can be given free rein.”

While the world may seem turbulent, troublesome and divided this week, I can assure all of you that after visiting last week with the young leaders and those that support them, I came away feeling hopeful and inspired. Through their dedication and hard work, the world will be a better place for all of us. If you have the time and energy this week, I encourage you to seek out young leaders in your organization and to visit with them. They are an amazing group of people.

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

In The Age Of Uncertainty

We live now in a time period of complexity and uncertainty. Every where non-profits are battling over what little money is available at the state and federal levels. Meanwhile, for-profit companies are wanting to excel and to grow profits, but are extremely reluctant to hire more staff. Furthermore, customers are deeply frustrated with the lack of real customer service, And, of course, your competition is "hungry" for the opportunity to serve your customers where ever and when ever possible.

From my vantage point, some organizations are spending countless hours rearranging the deck chairs on a ship to no where as they attempt to solve these adaptive problems. They do this by continuing to consolidate out-dated systems hoping that this will result in some degree of innovation or efficiency. This is happening because of limited balance sheet growth and a desire to avoid the risks that come with completely pitching and redesigning entire systems to meet the new expectations and options for service delivery.

Next, I continue to witness new technology at the hardware and software levels out-pacing management’s capacity to comprehend their implications, let alone figure out how to integrate these opportunities. In Board rooms and during senior team meetings, it also is common to hear people talk about the continued need to centralize key systems and functions within the company as well as create more efficiency though systems improvement

As to balance sheet management, heaven only knows when the funding streams that government and non-profit agencies count on will be stable. I am certain that they will continue to be in massive flux for quite some time period as witnessed by what is happening related to the raising of the debt ceiling at the federal level. Meanwhile, leaders must continue to figure out how to remain profitable in the midst of these difficulties.

Finally, we must come to peace with the notion that fragmented service delivery will not be tolerated by customers or employees. Developing a unique and meaningful business relationship with customers where they and the staff are engaged is going to require us to finally put to rest top-down, command-and-control leadership. This model of “Father Knows Best” leadership can not handle disruptive and ceaseless innovation that is required nor the transformative power of information technology and communications.

As we move through this time period of complexity and uncertainty, I am reminded of Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Right now too many senior management teams are living an in-box management perspective with little proactive planning. They are reacting to behavioral problems related to operational issues rather than developing a strategic mindset. Clearly, it is time for more people and companies to rediscover or to develop a new vision, i.e. a statement of what they hope to achieve as an organization. These new or renewed visions will give direction and meaning to the journey ahead. They will create inspiration that is necessary for on-going follow through. They will create clarity rather than persistent confusion. In short, it is time for us as leaders to re-inspire, reorient and realign our organizations. It is time to focus forward.

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