Monday, December 31, 2012

The Blazing Sun of Hope

Today is the last day of 2012, a year which has been filled with great challenges, sorrows, and a few special triumphs. Tomorrow morning, we start anew. 

As I pause this morning before warping up all sorts of projects and preparing for new ones in January, I am reminded of the following quote by Melvin J. Evans, “The men [and women] who build the future are those who know that greater things are yet to come, and that they themselves will help bring them about. Their minds are illuminated by the blazing sun of hope. They never stop to doubt. They haven’t time.”

My wish for you on this last day of 2012 and for the start of 2013 is that you are illuminated by a blazing sun of hope, where there are no doubts that greater things are yet to come. I look forward to being with you as this grand adventure continues.

Happy New Year!

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

Happy Holidays

The decorations are all up and the presents are quietly getting tucked under the tree. The anticipation of family coming home to visit grows each day. I sit back this morning and realize we are so blessed. In the midst of all that has happened this year and this past week, we are fortunate to have time, space and shelter to gather with our loved ones and to celebrate. 

For me, it is the simple pleasures that make this season special. A hug, a joyous retelling of old stories, a fine meal, the creating of new memories, a quiet moment of support - all of these small acts of kindness and consideration create in me a humble gratitude to be alive and to witness the miracle of this season.

My hope is that each of you will be surrounded by family and friends this holiday season. And that during your busy holiday schedules and celebrations, you will rediscover a deep sense of inner gratitude and peace, realizing that we are all inter-connected to the same source of love, light and wisdom.

My thanks goes out to all of you for allowing me to be a part of your journey this year. I am humbled by the depth of your kindness, sharing, and your willingness to listen and explore new ideas and perspectives with me. Your invitations to join you as you chart your path are most special.

Today and every day this month, I send you many blessings for a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to being with you in the new year.

Joyfully yours,


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

Monday, December 10, 2012

Preparing for the New Year

Around this time of the month every year, it finally hits home to certain people that the current year is about to end and the new year is right around the corner.  Furthermore, it is very common in the middle of December during executive coaching sessions and consultations for someone to tell me that they are feeling unprepared for the coming new year. And once this realization has come clear to them, they often ask me what to do and how to prepare for something that is coming so fast. My response this year will be to refer them to two important quotes.

“Most ailing organizations have developed a functional blindness to their own defects,” notes John Gardner. “They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.” To truly see our organizations as they are rather than as we would like them to be is a great challenge and a great gift. The challenge is to accept reality but not to let it define us. The gift is to receive this depth of awareness and understanding to the degree that we own our problems and recognize we collectively created them. Once we start from the place of acceptance, we can definitely move forward to change this reality.

The second quote is from the late Stephen Covey who wrote, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.” Trust comes at three levels, namely personal, strategic and organizational.  We as leaders need to be constantly monitoring these three levels and constantly strengthening our relationships with others in order that we can communicate cleanly and clearly.  With a strong level of trust in the work place, we can resolve our problems collectively and not allow functional blindness to become the norm. 

Waking up one day and realizing that 2013 is just around the corner is normal. Choosing to stay functionally blind and not building healthy work relationships is dysfunctional.  Our challenge for the rest of this month is to do the following:

- listen carefully to others and learn more about what is actually happening within our organizations, not what should be happening.

- differentiate between technical and adaptive problems so we make smarter choices and decisions as we prepare for 1Q of 2013.

- invest more time in relationship and team building so we can achieve greater degrees of trust and understanding.

When we reflect on the above quotes and do the above actions, we will build a solid foundation for the future, one day and one relationship at a time.

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

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Talent Management and Preparing For The Future

As the negotiations related to the fiscal cliff take place, numerous companies are reviewing their current strategic plans and exploring a wide variety of contingencies in order to be well prepared for every possibility. One challenge from my vantage point as I listen and participate in these in-depth strategic dialogues is whether or not these same companies have the internal talent to execute each strategy or contingency plan they are exploring. 

Over the decades of doing this work, I have learned that strategies and contingency plans will come and go. Market share and profits will rise and fall. At times this will happen due to factors beyond our control.  But an organization that has a self-renewing team of first-rate leaders will always be prepared for whatever challenges come their way.

However, according to a 2008 study by McKinsey & Company, 59% of senior managers fail to spend enough high-quality time on talent management. As the authors of the report state, “Companies like to promote the idea that employees are the biggest source of competitive advantage, yet the astonishing reality is that most of them are as unprepared for the challenge of finding, motivating and retaining capable workers as they were a decade ago.” As I see it, many companies are eager to be well positioned on the other side of the fiscal cliff, but may not have the intellectual capital to generate sustainable results. 

Russ Banham in his article “Human Capital: Achieving Alignment - How to get your people behind your business objectives” in the November/December 2012 issue of the Chief Executive magazine, writes, “Ensuring that human capital is aligned with business goals - and vice versa - has become critical of late, given the recession’s axe-wielding impact on labor.” With numerous companies worried that they might lose top talent, the challenge is to develop high-performance staff before, during and after the strategy development and implementation process.

Furthermore, with the talent pipeline being squeezed by retiring Boomers and new entrants who may not have all the required skills to meet the coming challenges, this process of talent development and then talent management may not be very easy. One key to solving this problem is to create a culture at the management level which is built on a foundation of constant learning, particularly given the need to stay productive as we move through another period of turbulence and potential chaos. However, we have to accept the fact that 59% of senior managers do not have the time, and I believe, the energy, to focus on talent management.

One unique solution to this problem is to enroll your key people in the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.  Here they will learn important information about leadership, strategic planning and execution, and organizational change. With new perspectives, understanding, and capacity to execute in these vital areas, senior leadership will have a renewed pipeline of high quality talent, all who will be ready, willing and able to meet the challenges of the coming three years. 

Friday, December 7, is the registration deadline for the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. If you and/or members of your team want more information about this unique training opportunity, then please click on the following link: 

If you and/or members of your team want to register for the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, then please click on the following link:

With the future being so uncertain, now is the time to get prepared. The From Vision to Action Leadership Training is a good place to start.

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

Monday, December 3, 2012

How Successful People Manage Life - part #3

Over the last couple of weeks in this blog, I have been writing about how successful people manage life. Let’s review some key points.

First, successful people take 100% responsibility for their journey. Life may offer tremendous personal and professional challenges and difficulties, but successful people do not expect others to solve their problems. Instead, they proactively seek out mentors, friends, and routine coaching. This depth of visiting gives them fresh perspective and clear insights. During this time of sharing, they filter out peer pressure and popular opinions, and instead assess their own passions, skills and convictions. They also courageously act upon the feedback they receive from their mentors.

Second, they create a family culture more than just a set of family systems. They eat dinner together nearly every night, and avoid “marginal costs” mistakes in their personal and professional lives. 

Third, they are humble, and regard everyone with a high degree of respect. They do not put other people down to feel good about themselves.

Finally, they aim to be faithful, not perfect. They are faithful to those they love and faithful to what they believe.

It is the combination of the above with the other parts I have mentioned over the last couple of weeks in this blog that make certain people successful in a holistic manner rather than some one who is successful at work but continually looses at home.

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

How Successful People Manage Life - part #2

It had been a fantastic morning and a great strategic dialogue about the importance of excellent customer service when I ended with my concluding remarks. As I explained to the group, there are three keys to being a great leader, namely to regularly “sharpen your saw”, referencing the work of the late Stephen Covey, take care of your families and to keep learning. In that delightful pause before a group takes a break, I saw many heads nodding.

Then, just as I putting away my notes, one of the participants turned to me an asked, “Can I talk to you about the ‘taking care of your families’ part?”

“Sure,” I replied. “Would you like to do this here or in your office?”  

“My office, please.”

So we walked down the hall and stepped into her office. I sat down at the conference table and she sat down on the other side. Someone passing by stuck their head in and asked if they could sit in too.

“Be my guest,” she said pointing to a chair. Within ten minutes, everyone was crowded into the office, listening and sharing.

One thing I have learned about how successful people manage life can be summarized by a comment that Christina Smith, Executive Director of Community Support Advocates in Des Moines, Iowa, made at the Spring 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. As she explained, “Our sacrifices need to reflect our priorities.”

While on one hand this could be viewed as a simplistic answer, I do not consider this to be the case. What I have learned is that successful people know their priorities. They do this by continually discovering and continually deepening a sense of purpose to their life. These are not immediate gratification people. They know the things that matter to them most. And they routinely evaluate their priorities.

Furthermore, as Clayton M. Christensen, points out in his wonderful article, “How Will You Measure Your Life?”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2010, once they are clear about their priorities, they then allocate their resources, i.e. personal time, money, energy and talent, to the things and people that in their life connect to their personal purpose or strategy.

The challenge for all leaders is the following question: How well are you allocating your resources to the things that matter the most to you? Successful people do not let themselves experience “commitment creep,” a term that Christensen uses in the aforementioned article. As he explains, successful people do not over-commit. “It is easy to say “yes” to new commitments without reflecting on the long-term costs of honoring the implied promises or the potential conflicts that may develop with existing commitments.” Instead, successful people know the boundaries of a commitment and understand the “exit strategy.” They do not let pleasing others be the sole definition of their success. They also have the courage to undo old commitments, i.e. the classic Jim Collin’s “stop doing” list.

As Donald N. Sull and Dominic Houlder noted in their excellent article, “Do Your Commitments Match Your Convictions?,” Harvard Business Review, January 2005, and I have learned from my own personal journey and by working with many successful people, for every new commitment we take on, we must stop, evaluate and consider to renegotiate other commitments. The goal is to never live in a misaligned manner.

This week I encourage all of us to watch out for commitment creep and to make sure our sacrifices reflect our priorities. These two actions are powerful and transformative.

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

How Successful People Manage Life - part #1

We were having lunch together and had just finished discussing the status of their current strategic plan when she unloaded his problems with his boss. Most of them related to a lack of leadership and clear communication. She also was tired of living in a world of management by best seller and always encountering poorly designed systems that no one was willing to confront and change. Finally, she was continually worried that critical staff would retire, quit or be lured away by their competition. After discussing multiple ways to deal with these problems, she said to me, “I guess I am going to have to be a leadership silo more than a sign post pointing in the right direction”

Right now, many people feel a disconnect between their daily activities and their personal and professional goals. They feel like they can do nothing to change their situation. They are worn by the constant stress of this type of working environment, too.

Yet I routinely meet people who have similar complex situations and are successful. What I have learned from visiting with them is that they begin to change these challenges by first turning to introspection, i.e. a reflective looking inward and an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings. From this place of deep introspection, they proactively choose to only work for organizations that align with their personal values. This makes their work relevant on a personal and professional level. It helps them cope differently. They also know their own core values. The combination of introspection and identification of personal core values provides them with a high degree of clarity and centeredness in the midst of difficulties.

The question for all of us this week is simple: Do you know your own personal core values? The answer could unleash a high degree of clarity and focus.

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Successful People Manage Challenging People - part #2

Successful people manage challenging people by only making commitments with others that they know they can keep. While this may seem elementary, I have witnessed it many times and have realized that is is a critical differentiator in many situations. In particular, what successful people understand is that there are two great challenges to being a leader. The first is impact awareness and the second is precedent awareness. As stated in The Law of the Whole, i.e. change in one part changes and influences all other parts, the difficulty when dealing with challenging people is to recognize that our actions with these individuals can impact more than just them and can set a precedence for future situations. Therefore, the key is to only make commitments you can keep and not set a precedence in the process.

Furthermore, successful people respect other people’s time, and others respects their time. Time management is a huge issue for people in leadership positions. When dealing with challenging individuals, it can be even more difficult, especially because challenging people can become the source of  constant interruptions to a well planned day. Successful people recognize that time management and information management are interconnected. Challenging people may not fully comprehend how important the flow of information is within the organization or make assumptions about what is or is not important. Clarifying the expectations around the flow of information is important and one way to do this is during regular coaching sessions

However, we need to help those who participate in coaching to understand that coaching is a structured dialogue about purpose and strategy. It involves questions, analysis, action planning and follow through. In coaching, we may not always be able as coaches to solve the problem. Instead we have emphasize the choices. 

Dealing with difficult people is normal. The key this fall is to remember to clarify our commitments, and respect the interconnection between time and information management. When we do this, it will make a major difference in what gets done each day.

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

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Building a Strong Bench

Quite a few years ago, John Maxwell wrote a wonderful book called The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork: Embrace Them and Empower Your Team (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001). In it, he shared The Law of the Bench: “Great teams have great depth.” As he explains, today's bench players may be tomorrow's stars. The success of a supporting player can multiply the success of a starter, particularly when there are more bench players than starters. Furthermore, a bench player placed correctly will at times be more valuable than a starter because a strong bench gives the leader more options. Finally, he explains a strong bench is usually called upon at critical times for the team.

However, these days many organizations have little to no bench strength and very tired starters who could use better support from their bench. While this may seem like a chicken vs the egg challenge, with the question being “which do you develop first?”, the true answer is “both.”  We need our current starters to become better starters and we need very good bench strength to meet the upcoming economic and customer challenges of 2013 - 2015.

One unique way to solve this problem is for key people on your team to enroll in the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. This in-depth training meets once a quarter in 2013 and covers the topics of leadership, strategic planning and execution, and organizational change.

For more information about this special training opportunity and how to register, please click on the following link:

If you are currently concerned about the bench strength within your organization, then now is the time to build it before you need it. The future is just around the corner.

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

Monday, November 5, 2012

How Successful People Manage Challenging People - part #1

It was in the middle of an executive coaching session over the phone when she  told me her boss was drunk on power. Every day, there were multiple missed communication opportunities with her boss, and many work-arounds given her boss’s behavior. Her boss often was a micro manger and got “way down into the weeds.” Furthermore, she reported that every one was trying to get on the boss’s good side. When she visited with an outside consultant, he told her that her boss just churns and burns people out. As he explained to her, “learn to live with it or move on.” 

As she shared about working with such a challenging person, I thought of the following line from Jim Collin’s book,  How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009, where he shared the first line of Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” 

Everyday, we meet challenging people. In the beginning we need to remember that people at work need to cooperate with each other, be reliable, accountable, honest and effective. What successful people realize is that in order to be all of these elements at work we must have healthy levels of collaboration, respect and understanding with each other. We also need to remember that we are not going to change our basic personality structure or that of the person who is challenging. Awareness of this can make a world of difference.

First, after significant amount of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that successful people understand how others learn. While no one has a better learning style than anyone else, there are three basic types of learning, namely analyzing learners, doing learners and watching learners. Knowing this basic information helps tremendously when dealing with difficult people. Often they are difficult because they are just different than our preferred manner of learning. As one young supervisor shared with me this past summer, “I realized that I am a doer leading a group of analyzers. No wonder they have been so difficult to work with.” Another supervisor in this same training event shared with me that “I realized that I am a watcher leading a batch of doers.”

For those struggling with their boss, Peter Drucker reminded us to divide bosses into “listeners” and “readers.” The later likes to read before they discuss. The former likes to discuss and ask questions before they read the full report. In short, knowing how people learn and process information is critical to dealing with them effectively.

Second, successful people understand the difference between what others need to know, and what they do know. Successful people understand that their boss or any other challenging person is constantly dealing with stakeholders who have differing agendas and opinions. We, at times, forget that politics are normal in the work place. However, successful people recognize that their boss and others who are difficult to deal with are often managing at the edge of chaos. Successful people know that challenging people can only tolerate so much chaos before they try to shut it or someone down.

The key is to understand the context of the challenging person’s work experience. They may just be coping with things that are not on your radar screen. Furthermore, your assumptions often are the one source of why the person you are working with is challenging. In a world of such economic and political turbulence, we must understand that the boss does not just represent themselves in the community but often are an integral part of the brand identity for many stakeholders. With this in mind, I have come to the conclusion that when dealing with challenging people we need to see the world through their eyes in order to better understand why they are speaking and acting in the manner they are.  As Stephen Covey taught us so many years ago, seek first to understand, second to be understood. It is still applicable today when dealing with difficult people.

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

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

An Interesting Perspective On The Development of Strategy

For many years, I have asked participants in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training to read the book, Leading Change by John Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School and the cofounder of Kotter International. Given Kotter’s eight step model for organizational transformation, first presented back in the mid-nineties, is the national and international gold standard for successful organizational change, it is always important to keep up with his current thinking. Recently, he wrote the lead article for the November 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review on it’s 90th anniversary called “Accelerate!: How the most innovative companies capitalize on today’s rapid-fire strategic challenges - and still make their numbers. Here is the link:

The article begins with the following premise: “Although traditional hierarchies and processes - which together form a company’s “operating system” - are optimized for day-to-day business, they can’t handle the challenges of mounting complexity and rapid change.” Therefore, Kotter suggests the development of “a second operating system, devoted to the design and implementation of strategy, that uses an agile networklike structure and a very different set of processes. The new operating system continually assesses the business, the industry, and the organization, and reacts with greater agility, speed, and creativity than the existing one. It complements rather than overburdens the hierarchy, thus freeing the later to do what it’s optimized to do. It actually makes enterprises easier to run and accelerates strategic change.”

According to Kotter in this article, there are three main differences between his original eight-step method for successful large-scale change and the eight “accelerators” for the development of strategy. The first difference is that the eight step method for organizational transformation is sequential while the eight accelerators for the development of strategy are “concurrent and always at work.” The second difference is that the former is “usually driven by a small, powerful core group, whereas the accelerators pull in as many people as possible from throughout the organization to form a volunteer army.”  The third difference is that the former is “designed to function within a traditional hierarchy, whereas the accelerators require the flexibility and agility of a network.” 

The eight accelerators that create this high degree of strategic fitness are similar in many ways to the eight step model, e.g. “create a sense of urgency around a single big opportunity,” “build and maintain a guiding coalition,” etc. However, this complementary system for strategic development, according to Kotter, is based on the following five key principles, namely “many change agents, not just the usual few appointees”, “a want-to and a get-to not just a have-to-mind-set”, “head and heart, not just head”, “much more leadership, not just more management”, and “two systems, one organization.”

First, while I like the idea of dual operating systems as a way to explain how strategy is developed and communicated, I am not entirely sure that Kotter’s new model is all that new. I have seen numerous organizations over the last 20+ years create this dual operating system model without out calling it something new and different. While Kotter’s new model is very specific in how the strategic development operating system should be created, I think many large and small companies can embrace the idea and then modify it in simple ways to meet their needs. 

Second, I do not know if they need to create an entire networklike structure that runs parallel to their traditional hierarchy to formulate and implement strategy. The best companies that I have seen each have a unique system for the on-going development of strategy. However, from my perspective, the critical part to their successful implementation of strategy revolves around the generation of a deep level of clarity, ownership, and understanding of strategy within the entire organization. It is the clarity that makes the strategy effective not simply having an entirely separate structure for the development of strategy.

Third, I also want to note that in the later half of this article Kotter explains that he has only utilized this new method in eight companies, and that it is critical for the strategic development guiding coalition to be in close communication with the more traditional executive management team. Furthermore, according to Kotter, if a company is based on a control-oriented hierarchy, this new model is quite helpful. But, having taught leadership since the eighties and been involved with countless strategic development projects, I find very few companies with control based hierarchies to be successful and strategically agile. Control based methods of working and leading people are typically the main problem for why the company is struggling strategically. From my perspective, if one changes this form of leadership, then many of the problems will fade away related to strategic development and implementation. 

Still, I do encourage everyone to read this article as over the years Kotter’s perspectives always generate considerable discussion and introspection throughout the world of business. And who knows, maybe in twenty years it will become the new gold standard for strategic development. Until then, keep reading and learning!

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

Monday, October 29, 2012

How Successful Managers Help People Achieve Their Goals - part #2

One unique way successful managers help people achieve their goals is to help them reconcile cognitive dissonance, i.e. the disconnect between what they believe and what they experience or see in reality. Right now, many people in the work place are experiencing cognitive dissonance. This is especially true, notes Marshall Goldsmith in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, because the more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong. As he explains, “people will do something - including changing their behaviors - only if it can be demonstrated that doing so is in their own best interests as defined by their own values.”

One way successful managers do the above is to help people close the gap between understanding and doing. From my vantage point, I have seen this happen when managers do not tell you what to do or think, but instead help you to learn how to think through your own challenges and problems. As has been noted many times in this blog, people and organizations have very specific needs when they are outside their comfort zone, especially when working on stretch goals. We, as leaders and managers, can help them by making sure the following things are in place, i.e the support of a team, a clear strategic perspective, and a psychological safety zone for strategic dialogue. When this is consistently generated over time, then people do a better job of achieving their goals.

For those of you who are seeking a big picture perspective on how to manage through chaos, you may find the following article helpful: “Secrets of the Flux Leader: How brilliantly managed chaos sparks success inside Nike, Cisco, Foursquare, Intuit and more” by Robert Safian in the November 2012 issue of Fast Company Magazine. Here is the link: It is an article that will make you think given it explores some of the core ideas of Margaret Wheatly, a person whose work we have explored in the From Vision to Action Leadership Trainings and in numerous From Vision to Action Executive Roundtables. This article may not be one that leads you to taking specific leadership actions at the end of reading it, but opening your mind to new perspectives is always worth the time and energy. In particular, I did enjoy the section of the article called “The End of Coddling” which focuses on the leadership of Angela Blanchard, CEO of Neighborhood Centers, a large non-profit based in Huston that delivers $ 280 million of services each year to 340,000 needy people along the Gulf Coast. I just loved her explanation of “FIO jobs”, i.e “Figure it out. That is the job.” Overall, a good article which will make you reflect and think. Happy reading!

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

Monday, October 22, 2012

How Successful Managers Help People Achieve Their Goals - part #1

In the beginning, let us remember the following:

- business is personal.

- people commit to people first, not just plans, goals or objectives.

- on-line communication and collaboration works better once there has been extensive face-to-face communications.

- small leadership actions send big signals, especially when they relate to core principles and values.

One problem I see right now is that too many people are forgetting the above fundamentals when it comes to helping people achieve their goals. We must remember that successful managers recognize that real achievements require real effort. The question for many this fall is the following: Where does this effort come from? 

First, we all know we can not change people. Instead, we can only change the environment around people, and then they change themselves. The key from my vantage point is that the best and most successful managers help people achieve their goals by creating safety. In specific, successful managers create psychological safety. Then real effort follows.

Psychological safety begins when managers ensure “that no one is penalized if they ask for help or admit a mistake,” notes Amy C. Edmondson in her article called “The Competitive Imperative of Learning,”July-August 2008, Harvard Business Review. As she continues, “Psychological safety is crucial, especially in organizations where knowledge constantly changes, where workers need to collaborate, and where those workers must make wise decisions without management intervention.... It is built on the premise that no one can perform perfectly in every situation when knowledge and best practice are moving targets.”

She further explains that “Psychological safety is not about being nice - or about lowering performance standards. Quite the opposite: It’s about recognizing that high performance requires the openness, flexibility, and interdependence that can only develop in a psychologically safe environment, especially when the situation is changing or complex.... Psychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations - which demand trust and respect - without the need to tiptoe around the truth.”

Yet many managers wonder how to actually create this level of safety. As Edmondson explains successful managers do two specific things. First, they “explicitly acknowledge the lack of answers to the tough problems groups face.” Second, they “ask questions - real questions, not leading or rhetorical ones.”

For us here today, the key is to be more aware of the importance of psychological safety and to create work environments where safety and trust are the foundation for all we do.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

How Successful Companies Work - part #2

When you visit or work in a successful company, they all have a special feel to them. It is unique and very noticeable. One element that makes this take place, from my perspective, is that successful companies institutionalize their culture without bureaucratizing it.

Struggling companies always have a system of administration marked by officialism, red tape and proliferation. They lack flexibility and initiative due to excessive adherence to regulations. This is particularly visible in the behavior of those in management and leadership positions, and how they interact with key systems.

Patrick Lencioni in his delightful book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Jossey-Bass, 2012, writes “Human systems are tools for reinforcement of clarity. They give an organization a structure for tying its operations, culture, and management together, even when leaders aren’t around to remind people.” Lencioni notes that this level of clarity takes place when leaders engage in the following activities:
- creating collective focus and clarity through out the organization
- cascading clarity 
- reinforcing clarity through human systems, i.e. performance management
- developing cultural consistency

As to performance management, he explains it this way: “Essentially performance management is the series of activities that ensures that managers provide employees with clarity about what is expected of them, as well as regular feedback about whether or not they are adequately meeting those expectations.”

From my vantage point as a consultant and executive coach, I observe that successful companies practice what they preach. They also constantly reinforce it on a day-to-day basis. For them, the brand promise is a set of core behaviors rather than just words. While we all recognize that the culture is the strategy in successful companies, the key this fall is to not let the dark side of bureaucracy to slip in and take over, thus neutralizing the strategic advantage of a clear and focused culture.

For those of you who are seeking more information on how to change your organizational culture and avoid a growth in bureaucracy, then I would encourage you to read a recent blog post called “The Key to Changing Organizational Culture” by John Kotter, Forbes - 9/27/12. Here, Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at the Harvard Business School, explains that “virtually no one clearly defines what they mean by “culture”.” Of course, as per normal for John Kotter, he explains what it means, i.e. “culture consists of group norms of behavior and the underlying shared values that help keep those norms in place.” Next, he explores where culture comes from and how it changes. While it is a short blog post, it also is a thought-provoking one. Here is the link:

While you are reading Kotter’s ideas on cultural change, I also encourage you to read his Forbes, 7/12/2011 blog post called “Change Management vs. Change Leadership -- What’s the Difference?”. As Kotter points out, there is a big difference between change management and change leadership. The former focuses on minimizing “the distractions and impacts of change” while the latter focuses on “the driving forces, visions and processes that fuel large-scale transformation.” Again, it a short blog post but one worth reading. Here is the link for your reading enjoyment:

In summary, successful companies stay focused on their strategic nexus, the union of their mission, vision and values plus their strategic plan.  This depth of clarity and attention allows them to handle the normal internal and external challenges that surface in any business without having to resort to developing a bureaucracy that tramples creativity, commitment and effectiveness. 

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Walking the Labyrinth of Renewal

Complexity, pressure and challenges abound. Many senior executives are working at full capacity to meet the needs of their staff, their customers, the Board and their stockholders or other stakeholders. With time frames tightening, nothing less than perfect is the new expectation.

The result of this work environment is that more and more leaders are running on empty.  They are exhausted, emotionally and physically, from the pace. They are worn from the number of mixed signals and constant inputs, and they are all worried about the future. Suffering from burnout and a loss of passion, many of them are seeking new ways to rediscover hope, optimism and purpose within today’s complex and ever-challenging work environment.  

As many of you know, it is rare for me when I am traveling to eat a meal alone. Given I was going to be in her area, she called me and lined up an early morning, breakfast meeting. Now it was not like the Oklahoma banking executive who many years ago invited me to have grits, gravy, coffee, and bacon with him at 5:30 am. He was a very nice man, but it was a hard to eat breakfast at such an early hour.

However, this day was different. She picked me up right on time and apologized for the condition of her car in the middle of winter. It was covered with slush, road salt and sand, but I felt right at home given I live in a rural part of the midwest.

“I’m taking you to a favorite place of mine,” she shared. “It is where all the locals go.”

We parked downtown and walked around the block to a small nondescript door, and stepped into complete darkness. Then she parted the black curtains on the inside and we walked into a very small restaurant with maybe 20 tables at most. After surveying the room, we found an open table and sat down. A young man came over and shortly we ordered off the menu.

First, the food was spectacular! It was some of the best and freshest food I had eaten on the road in quite some time. I had a great farm fresh 3 egg omelet with very good cheese, sauteed mushrooms, peppers and onions and home-made salsa plus a  delicious blueberry pancake and a very fresh bowl of fruit.

The conversation was quite lively, too. We explored a couple of performance management issues related to her staff. It was clear that one person needed to be coached out. We also reviewed the status of her strategic goals. I encouraged her to more clearly define their metrics as the information she shared with me related to her goals and their progress was not accurately reflected in her metrics.

Then, she asked me an important question. “I’m overwhelmed most of the time. I have great dreams and visions for the future. But the work load is so time consuming. I can
barely keep my head above water. How do people manage to keep up with all of it?”

I paused and said: “Welcome to world of leadership. For some, it will be a maze and others a labyrinth.”

The word maze is often used as a synonym for labyrinth, but they are not the same. Mazes are multicursal in design; the user has to make choices at many points along the path. Mazes often have more than one entrance, and usually contain many wrong turns and dead ends.

A labyrinth is unicursal, which means that it has only one entrance and leads in only one direction. A labyrinth's walkway is arranged in such a way that the participant moves back and forth across the circular form through a series of curves, ending at the labyrinths's heart or center. 

The unicursal designs associated with labyrinths are thought to predate constructed labyrinths. Pottery estimated to be 15,000 years old painted with labyrinthine patterns has been discovered in the Ukraine. The oldest known constructed labyrinths were built in ancient Egypt and Etruria (central Italy) around 4500 B.C., perhaps to prevent evil spirits from entering tombs. 

The best-known labyrinths in the West, however, are those dating from the Middle Ages. They were built as substitutes for going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a journey that was physically or economically impossible for most Christians in Western Europe during this period. Cathedrals were designated as pilgrimage shrines, and labyrinths were embedded in the stone floors of the cathedrals as part of the shrine's design. 

For example, the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France was installed around A.D. 1200. Tracing the path through the labyrinth, often on the knees, was for many pilgrims the final act of devotion on the pilgrimage. The circuitous journey to the center of the labyrinth represented the many turnings in the journey of life, a journey that required the Church's guidance and support. Medieval labyrinths were circular in shape, the circle being a universal symbol of wholeness, completion, and unity.

On this particular morning we discussed the difference between stress management, i.e. the act(s) of managing physical, mental, or emotional factors that cause bodily or mental tension or even certain diseases, and renewal, i.e. the act(s) of restoring wholeness and unity to one’s life.

The labyrinth of renewal is a journey of transformation, namely the action of going beyond one’s current way of working and living. In this process of transformation, there are three stages. The first stage is separation. Here is where we experience loss, divorce or death because our world is disrupted and at times our ego is shattered by change. We are separated from all that was and can even feel deprived of familiar frameworks for thinking, working and living. In short, at separation we experience fear and chaos

At the second stage, we dwell at the threshold and surrender to the unknown. Victor Turner, the late anthropologist, who Identified these these three stages, calls the second stage as “the time between no longer and not yet.” Here we have died to who we were and are not yet reborn into who we might become. We are at the doorway, the threshold of new potential where we let go of old beliefs and old habits that limit us. It is the time of the great unknown.

In the third stage, we experience the return, a time of transformation and rebirth. For example, a caterpillar, having dwelled at the threshold during the chrysalis stage, now is reborn and transformed into the butterfly. The dying of the old self is reborn into a new level of truth. The strengths discovered in the second phase becomes utilized and shared during the third phase. One can explore these three stages in greater detail by reading the following book, Saying Yes to Change: Essential Wisdom for Your Journey by Joan Borysenko and Gordon Dveirin.

From my personal journey, I have learned the following four lessons about renewal.

Lesson #1: There will always be darkness before light. 

As Joseph Campbell taught us, “One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation.  The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come.  At the darkest moment comes the light.” The challenge is to patiently wait for the light. The challenge also is to embrace one’s challenges and feel the freedom that comes with that embrace.

Lesson #2: Birth and rebirth always begins with the transformation of the self to the service of another.

Letting go of being self-centered and committing instead to being dedicated to another is difficult for many people. But the real challenge of moving from vision to action is to give of yourself to something larger than yourself. This transformation begins with clarity of purpose and service.

Lesson #3: At the end of the journey inward, you will discover that you are not alone, but are in reality surrounded by a community of faithful people, seeking greater meaning, courage and hope.

Again, as Joseph Campbell pointed out, “Furthermore, we have not to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god.  And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves.  Where we had thought to travel outward, we come to the center of our own existence. And where we thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.” 

Lesson #4: We must embrace cathedral thinking.

Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy captured this idea best when he wrote the following: “I recently visited Norte Dame in Paris with my granddaughter. It took 104 years - three generations - to build. The architect who designed it never saw it finished. The stone masons never saw the stained glass windows. They had to have the commitment and faith to dedicate their passion and their life to it. I call that “cathedral thinking.” 

As we move through the aforementioned stages and contemplate the above four lessons, then we will walk the labyrinth of renewal to a greater sense of purpose, passion and clarity in our lives. The journey begins when we embrace our challenges and move forward.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2012

One Bad Apple

Routinely each week, someone in a leadership position when talking about a difficult employee will say to me, “Remember: one bad apple spoils the entire barrel.” Having picked apples and stored them in large baskets during my younger years, I have seen this take place. It occurs because a rotting apple gives off ethylene, which speeds up the ripening of the other apples. It is a mess once it takes place.

The implication for the world of business is the belief that one toxic employee can cause other employees to become toxic, therefore creating a downward spiral of productivity and effectiveness. Many who follow this line of thinking often share the now classic quote from Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, namely “First who... then what.” 

As an executive coach and consultant, I often respond to these comments with a quote by Kevin Cashman: “Leaders get what they exhibit and what they tolerate.” While this may not endear me to some, it is an important point in the discussion of dealing with difficult employees. While the actions of a troubling employee must not be condoned, those in leadership positions can not be excused from their role in what is taking place either. Each party, the leader and the employee, have a responsibility to make change take place.

When reflecting on this subject, I thoroughly enjoyed reading a recent article by Thomas E. Ricks called “What Ever Happened to Accountability?” in the October 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Author of five books on the American military, Ricks writes about what happens when leaders do not fire underperforming executives. Using the U.S. Army as a case in point, Rick examines the changes in the army during the decades between World War II and Vietnam. Based on his new book, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, Ricks explores in this article how a culture of high standards and accountability can deteriorate. He illuminates the contrast between General George C. Marshall, an unlikely figure of quiet resolve who became a classic transformational leader, and the disastrous generals of the Vietnam era.  As he writes, “the honesty and accountability of Marshall’s system were replaced by deceit and command indiscipline.” Citing the personnel equivalent of Gresham’s Law, Ricks notes “that bad leaders drive out good ones, and mediocrity can quickly become institutionalized.” 

This is a wonderful article which gives a brief but powerful history of the army since World War II. It also holds many important lessons for business leaders about the dangers of micromanagement and the importance of turning short term victories into strategic progress. For those of you who want to read the full article, here is a link:

Having the right people in the right jobs makes a tremendous difference in performance and profitability. This in combination with excellent leadership and accountability will make a profound difference.  

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On-line is the New Local

During my recent travels, I meet a young person who was buying their first home. This individual explained to me that they had run into some unexpected problems in the process which were deeply frustrating. Given they were buying a house in one part of the country and their bank was located in another part of the country, most of the communication related to this purchase had been done on-line and over the phone. As I listened, they shared how it might have been easier if they had someone local to visit with about this process.

I have reflected quite a bit on this comment. First, I know there are numerous, very fine banking institutions in their local area, all of whom would be more than willing to help them through this complex process. However, based on his comments, switching to a new bank did not appear to be an option. 

Second, I began to think about how this could be clearly a generational difference. I grew up in a world where your community bank was part of your local community and everyone knew their banker on a one to one basis.  All transactions, i.e. deposits and withdraws, were done at the bank and in person.

However, we live in a world now where more and more people rarely ever go to their bank in person. On-line banking and on-line interactions are the norm to working with a financial institution. For some, this is the only form of banking they have ever known. The perception that “there is an app for that” is the new normal. And banking is just one more app in a collection of apps.

Third, I realized, upon reflection, that many young people do not know how to bank locally. They have no experience of it and thus do not know the value of having a face to face relationship with someone in the financial services world.  And with this realization came my mind-blowing insight for the week. For many young people, doing something on-line equals doing something locally.

While I can not be the first to have achieved this level of insight, the implications are dramatic for so many organizations and institutions. Bricks and mortar institutions will continue to exist but the growing edge of the population will only interact with them in person when there are problems and only after they have tried numerous on-line possible solutions. Furthermore, they will assume that those who work within these institutions are totally up to speed with their individual on-line actions so that their problem can be solved in a seamless and timely manner. 

For us as leaders, the phrase, “think global, act local,” now has an all new meaning when the definition of “local” is defined as actions taken on the internet. It is going to stretch many people and how they do customer service. It also is going to require many companies to completely redesign their customer service systems.

For me, I know that I have a tremendous amount of thinking to do before I fully grasp the implication of on-line being the new local. Still, I know today that we are entering a whole new era as more and more young people work and live from this perspective. 

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Prevailing Against Extreme Odds

Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, (HarperCollins, 2011), wrote “... we believe the future will remain unpredictable and the world unstable for the rest of our lives, and we wanted to understand the factors that distinguish great organizations, those that prevail against extreme odds, in such environments.”  As typical to their work, they did extensive research and analysis to answer the question “Why do some companies thrive in uncertainty, even chaos, and others do not?”

What interests me this morning is one of their discoveries about leadership. The common myth in corporate America today is that successful leaders in a turbulent world are bold, risk-seeking visionaries. However, Collins and Hansen discovered a contrary finding in their research. As they wrote, “the best leaders we studied did not have a visionary ability to predict the future. They observed what worked, figured out why it worked, and built upon proven foundations. They were not more risk taking, more bold, more visionary, and more creative than the comparisons. They were more disciplined, more empirical, and more paranoid.”

With so many unpredictable and turbulent causing events happening around the world, our challenge this fall as leaders is to proactively create the future rather than to predict it. One unique pathway to doing this is summed up by John Maxwell’s The Law of Explosive Growth: “To add growth, lead followers - to multiply, lead leaders.” As he writes, “Leaders who develop followers grow their organization only one person at a time. But leaders who develop leaders multiple their growth, because for every leader they develop, they also receive all of that leader's followers.”

If you and your organization want to prevail against extreme odds and create the future, then now is the time to enroll key people in the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Meeting once per quarter, this year long course of study focuses on effective leadership, strategic planning and execution plus organizational change. Through an in-depth and integrative curriculum, participants are immersed in current research and real world solutions. For those of you who want to create great results on a consistent basis, then now is the time to become part of the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

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

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

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Successful Companies Work - part #1

I grew up in a world of casseroles. With both my parents working, it was common to have a casserole appear on the table at dinner time. I saw them regularly at church suppers, and once on a family vacation we even stopped and went to a church supper just because there were going to be casseroles and home-made pie.

My question to all of you this morning is the following: “What hot dish is your company bringing to the table?” Inspired by an article by Cynthia A. Montgomery called “Putting Leadership Back into Strategy,” Harvard Business Review, January 2008, I think it is time we ask a series of excellent questions from the article to make us think about how successful companies work:

- What kind of company do you want to be?
- What would the world be like without your organization?
- If your company were shuttered, to whom would it matter and why?
- Which of your customers would miss you and why?
- How long would it take for another firm to step into that void?

As she writes, “Purpose is at the heart of strategy. It should give direction to every part of the firm - from the corporate office to the loading dock - and define the nature of the work that must be done.”

When I reflect on all the different successful organizations I have worked with over many decades, I have come to the conclusion that successful companies have a “living” strategy. This happens because it is a purpose driven strategy. It  is more than a plan; it is a way of life for the organization. Their living strategy defines who they are and what they want to become.

Successful companies create this living strategy by consciously engaging in the following activities: 
- strategic reflection, analysis and review
- strategic decision-making and delegation
- in-depth communication and definition which means communicating context, core philosophy and direction
- proactive listening and dialogue
- coaching and talent development
- implementing routine strategic dialogues which become the platform for real time strategic planning

When it comes to strategic dialogues, successful companies create them by developing a level of intimacy to the process, i.e. the time feels personal and direct rather corporate and impersonal. They also make sure these strategic dialogues are an interactive sharing rather than a time to be talked at. Next, these interactions are inclusive by relinquishing control over content and involving others, and they are intentional because strategy emerges better when there is a cross-organizational conversation.  

Everyone brings a hot dish to the market place. Those who are successful know how to make one that employees are proud to share and customers will enjoy eating. 

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