Monday, February 27, 2012

Key Skill Sets For Young Leaders

Years ago someone shared with me a simple truth: “We don’t know what we don’t know.” It is common for young leaders to have no reference point for what to do next in certain situations, because they often encounter many situations that are new to them. Still, with the right kind of coaching and learning, they can overcome these challenges and end up doing well in the midst of these challenges. The key is to teach them four key skills.

First, we need to help young leaders learn how to create and clarify direction. This sounds simple and yet may be the most difficult skill to learn. A good place to start is to have a young leader read the following book: Blanchard, Kenneth, Donald Carew, and Eunice Parisi-Carew. The One Minute Manager Builds High Performing Teams, (Wm. Morrow and Company, 1990). In this very quick read, one learns that leaders use different skills to handle different situations. The authors also give a nice foundation about how to create and give direction.

Second, young leaders need to learn how to prioritize. The fastest way to do this level of learning is to review with them Stephen Covey’s model for putting first things first. It begins with learning how to differentiate between what is urgent and what is important. Click on this Wikipedia link and you can learn a lot more detail about how this works: Here is a YouTube video on the subject as well: Helping young leaders understand what are the “big rocks” as presented in the YouTube video will help them learn how to prioritize.

Third, many young leaders do not know how to coach. They also have not received much good coaching over the course of their career, too. In the beginning, we need to educate young leaders that there are two kinds of coaching, namely transactive coaching and transformational coaching. The former focus on the teaching of key skills and the later is about developing a specific mindset. Both are important. The key in the beginning is to be more mindful of when we are doing which kind of coaching.

Fourth, we need to teach them how to resolve issues. For starts, I encourage all young leaders and those who are coaching them to read the following book: Patterson, Kerry, and Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High (McGraw-Hill, 2002). I have yet to meet people who were born to deal with conflict well within the work place or home. Yet, with some key information from the aforementioned book, they can get better at dealing with these issues. It also is important for young leaders to know that avoiding toxic people issues will cause more problems than dealing with them. They also need to know that not dealing with misaligned systems will also cause major problems.

Every day, successful, young and experienced leaders learn something new. However, after visiting with them for many decades, I can assure you that every one of them is good at the following four skill sets: giving direction, clarifying priorities, coaching people, and resolving problems. These skills are the foundation of successful leadership and management.

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

Monday, February 20, 2012

The End of Brain-Numbing Meetings

It is common for young leaders to report to me that their team meetings do not go well. In their hurry to get everything done, their team meetings become one more thing to check off on the proverbial list of things to do. The difficulty is that they cram everything plus the kitchen sink into these gatherings, resulting in a profound waste of time where people leave butt numb and brain dead.

When asked how they can change this situation, I always return to the same list of action steps.

First, start every meeting by asking about what is going right. This gives you, the leader, insight into what people think is “right” plus it changes the entire tone of the meeting. Starting positive is a good beginning.

Second, review the entire agenda with the group so they know what needs to get accomplished. This follows the philosophy of planning your work and then working your plan.

Third, stick to the agenda. Do not wander down unproductive side alleys. Lead the meeting.

Fourth, do not mix operational/tactical items with strategic agenda items in the same meeting. And if something comes up that ends up being strategic, save it for another meeting.

Fifth, given what has been discussed, end every meeting with a clear agreement on what are the next steps and who will do them by when.

Finally, if the meetings are still barely tolerable, I have encouraged many young leaders to read the following book: Lencioni, Patrick. Death by Meeting: a Leadership Fable . . .About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2004). To date, everyone of them who has done this has reported to me that it was worth the time and effort.

Brain-numbing meetings are a major waste of time, and few of us have ever experienced a very well run meeting. When we do, it is amazing. Realizing this simple fact, more senior leaders need to take charge and role model how a good meeting should run. This helps younger leaders grasp a new perspective.

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

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Power of Short-Term Wins

“My team is not working very well together. What should I do?”, asked the young team leader.

“Did you clarify whether or not you are building a team or a single leader work group?”, I responded.

“Yes, a team.”

“Did you choose the right people for the team?”

“Yes. I carefully choose each one and made sure we had SMART goals to work with.”

“Wonderful; I am impressed. Now, did you set them up for some short-term wins as they worked on their SMART goals?”

“Opps. I forgot about the short-term wins. I need to go back and look at our timelines and action plans. I think I have us working too hard and too fast without any noticeable progress until way out in the future.”

“Don’t worry,” I remarked. “It happens to the best of us.”

Many young leaders forget that short-term wins create forward momentum, build confidence and undermine cynics and resistors. First coined by John Kotter in an article called “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail” in the March-April 1995 issue of the Harvard Business Review, short-term wins require careful planning and thoughtful execution. Many young leaders get so focused on doing something and getting it done that they forget the importance of short term wins.

For those of you who want to read more about short-term wins or coach someone about this subject, I encourage you to read the following short piece on John Kotter’s web site <>, or check out the aforementioned article <>. Either way, helping young leaders improve their short-term wins will make a major difference when working with struggling teams, departments or the whole company.

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

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Wonderful Book

The other night after getting everything done on my To Do list, I realized that I had a free hour or so before bed time. While I could have filled it up with watching TV, I instead picked up a book that my wife had given me for Christmas and began to read. As I moved through the opening pages, I was completely captivated and realized that I had stumbled on to an excellent and thought-proving resource.

Written by Joel ben Izzy, The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness (Algonquin Books, 2003) is a true story about a storyteller who loses his voice and believes he’s lost everything. Diagnosed with thyroid cancer, a usually treatable form of cancer, in the summer of 1997, Joel awoke from surgery with a strange complication; he could not speak. However, an encounter with his old teacher shows him that he has been given a great gift. Their meeting leads Joel ben Izzy on a journey into the timeless wisdom of ancient tales - a world of beggars and kings, monks and tigers, lost horses and buried treasures. In the end, he discovers many insights, including what he believes is the secret to happiness.

As one who loves to listen to a good story as well as tell one, I was very moved by this book about a storyteller who loses his voice. In my line of work, I have never experienced this and yet can very much image the challenges this would create in my work and my home life. The pain, the grief and the difficulty would be horrendous.

Yet as I read through this marvelous book and the wonderfully delightfully ancient stories blended into his story, I came away feeling uplifted and inspired. The style of his writing, the depth of his thoughts, and the quality of his story telling reminded me of the book called The Other 90% by Robert K. Cooper. However, in The Beggar King and the Secret of Happiness, Joel ben Izzy does not blend in brain research or leadership material as much as share a deep understanding of the personal journey through change.

While I read many books and articles on a regular basis, this particular book has grown on me during the days since I have completed it. Most of the books I read are related to work and thus I take in-depth notes on them. I currently have 97 of them annotated in my computer so I can reference them during executive coaching sessions or when I am designing a seminar. However, this book I will not annotate as much as reread parts of it on a regular basis, and keep thinking about what he wrote.

For those of you who are coming to the Spring 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable on April 12-13 in Des Moines, I know I will be sharing at least one of the “ancient tales” from the book with all of you. It is a delightful one and I have been smiling all week thinking about it. Until then, I highly recommend this book and strongly encourage you to read it.

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Racing Hither and Yon

On any given day, many of us are in back to back meetings, carrying a cup of luke warm coffee, and a stack of paperwork and files from one room to the next. As we race to catch up, our smart phones are chirping away, reminding us that we have more e-mails and text messages to read, phone messages to listen to, and assorted other meeting and deadline reminders to recall. With no time to go to the bathroom, let alone coach, think strategically, or plan for operational improvements, we just keep moving forward, hoping that tomorrow will be better than today. As one executive told me years ago, “I know I am going to have a heart attack, but I don’t have time in my schedule for one today. Maybe I can make an appointment for this in two years.”

On any given day, many of us know there must be a better way to live and work. However, we also are smart enough to know that it will take a great deal of learning, patience and forgiveness. It begins with accepting there is a problem and then choosing to live less in the last minute lane. It also begins with structured learning.

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

If you are tired of running in circles and sitting in non-productive meetings, then please click on the following link: Racing hither and yon can be exhausting. There is a better way of leading. I hope you can join us in March for 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

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Importance of Disciplined Leadership

Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011, note that “we cannot predict the future. But we can create it.” Based on their research, they believe the future will remain unpredictable and the world will be unstable for the rest of our lives.

The common perspective during times of uncertainty, chaos and turbulence was that successful leaders were bold, risk-seeking visionaries. However, Collins and Hansen point out that “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.”

As we all navigate through this prolonged period of uncertainty, more people need to get away from the daily grind, and explore the larger perspective. Through a disciplined approach to key subjects, they need to explore with others what is and is not working and build on this foundation of understanding.

One place to do this level of work is at 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 explore new ideas, perspectives and solutions.

The next From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable takes place on April 12 - 13, 2012 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Des Moines/Clive, Iowa.

Here is the agenda for your review:

Thursday: April 12, 2012

- 8:30 am - Registration

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - Navigating Through Prolonged Uncertainty

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

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Maintaining Operational Excellence During Constant Change

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

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - Building a Learning Organization

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

- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - Improving Front Line Supervisors Effectiveness

- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Friday: April 13, 2012

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - A Return To Personal & Professional Balance

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

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application

- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Recommended Reading: Collins, Jim and Morten T. Hansen. Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011.

Here is the link to the registration form:

If you are seeking new solutions, now is the time to sign-up.

I look forward to seeing you at the Spring 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

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

Monday, February 6, 2012

Teams and Goals

With the right people on the team, it is important for young leaders to create a high degree of clarity. The first step is to explain why the team is needed and what is the focus of the team.

Many young team leaders forget that most team members have two basic questions in mind when they join a team, namely “What are we supposed to do?” and “How will we know when we are successful?”. Creating a clear understanding about goals and metrics is mission critical to success.

As an executive coach, I often work with teams that are struggling. While there are a diversity of problems that can be happening, the most common is that a great group of people are working with extremely poor goals. At this point, I coach a young leader and the team on creating SMART goals, i.e. ones that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Well-written goals make a major difference in team success.

Next, young leaders need to clarify any expectations they have beyond the goals and metrics. For example, are all team meetings mandatory? How are problems to be solved when we disagree within the team? What do we do when we encounter a problem with another team? Taking time to discuss these issues and clarifying what is expected also solves problems before they become problems.

One element that young leaders also do not think about is the importance of shared learning and team coaching. The former can create a greater capacity for improved problem solving, and the latter can help a team improve it’s overall performance.

For those of you who are coaching young leaders, I encourage you to read the following three resources together:

- Developing A New Organizational Culture -

- Turning Challenges Into Achievement -

“Why Teams Don’t Work”, interview with J. Richard Hackman by Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review, May 2009 -

With careful planning in the beginning and on-going coaching, young team leaders can be successful. The key for them and for those who coach them is to remember one simple truth: what you feed, grows. Feeding clarity grows capacity.

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