Monday, November 28, 2011

A Drop in the Ocean

Hurry, hurry, hurry.

Go, go, go.

Do, do do.

Meeting, meeting, and more meetings.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pursuing Personal Excellence #3

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

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

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

I believe in spring bulbs.

Each fall, I plant between 200 - 300 bulbs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each spring, I celebrate their resurrection.

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

For me, spring bulbs are a positive force multiplier.

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pursuing Personal Excellence #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

People Before Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Critical Leadership Choices During Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 7, 2011

Pursuing Personal Excellence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Understanding The Customer Experience and The Law of the Native

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

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

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

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

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

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

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