Monday, August 27, 2012

A Paradigm Shift

I remember the arrival of the books, In Search of Excellence and The One Minute Manager. Tom Peters and Ken Blanchard at one point ruled the world of management and leadership. 

I remember reading The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when it was hot off the presses. Stephen Covey and mission statements also captured the attention of the business world.

I even remember the arrival of re-engineering, TQM, CQI, six sigma, lean manufacturing, and Kaizen. Every one of these concepts were wildly embraced by many people. 

Wave upon wave, I have watched best seller, red hot solutions arrive, cool off, and for some even fade away. 

From Who Moved My Cheese? to Sacred Cows Make The Best Burgers, I have seen my share of books and ideas come and go, too.

What intrigues me this week is that underneath all of these hot and fast selling perspectives is a fundamental paradigm shift. At the heart, it is a simple one, namely that more and more people want to move away from reactive leading and managing, and instead move into a more proactive form of management and leadership.

While I recognize that there will always be new and better ways, the key for me is that all roads still lead to the same end goal, namely a life at work and at home that is engaging, healthy and fully aligned with what we believe.

Our challenge this week and this coming fall is to consciously choose systems which support this paradigm shift toward a more proactive form of leadership  in a thoughtful and consistent manner. Just remember: many roads, same destination.

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

The New Cult of the Young

For the past few years, people have shared with me how the Millennials, the generation of workers born roughly between 1980 and 2000 who are now are entering the workforce in droves, are changing the definition of young. Some have called this group of an estimated 90 million people to be “adultolescents,” half adults and half adolescents.  But being a former history teacher, I tire quickly of hearing that young people are changing the world. This has been said of every generation by an older generation since the birth of time.  

What interests me more is the transformation of the definition of “young” that is being put forth by the Baby Boomers. With America’s 78 million Baby Boomers approaching their “sunset years,” and controlling 70% of the wealth in the United States, they still have tremendous power to influence society. From their perspective, 60 is the new 40. And with the rise of technology and medical intervention, this can actually become close to reality. 

Furthermore with more and more aging Baby Boomers having stable incomes and the ability to participate in activities formerly reserved for a younger demographic, this group does not see a rocking chair and a nursing home as the next step in their journey. Nor are they interested in moving into a retirement community for shuffleboard or a daily round of golf. Instead, they are seeking an active and “younger” lifestyle with many adventures and activities. They also want to do these younger activities within a community setting of like minded people. Therefore, we will continue to see the rise in what developers are calling “affinity housing”, i.e. niche communities where boomers can opt to grow old along side others who share a specific interest. For example, this could look like a planned community for music-industry retirees or a community that is designed for retired professors. There will be multiple variations on this theme. Remember this is the generation that created 12 different versions of Coca-Cola. To me, it appears as if many want to retire and relive their college years with classes, seminars, and a diverse set of group activities.

Given the above, our challenge as leaders is quite unique. On the one hand, we will have one large group of people who will not retire until they are pass 70 years of age, some by choice and some by economic necessity, and others who will leave the work force as quickly as possible to reclaim the glory days of their younger years. Whichever is the case, the definition of young is changing and we as leaders need to know that 60 year olds acting like 40 year olds or younger, and 20 year olds acting like teenagers is going to make the work place and the market place quite interesting in the years to come.

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fast Food vs. Slow Food

When one travels as much as I have over the years and one has grown a huge garden full of fresh veggies every summer (except for this summer given the drought in the midwest), there comes a point in one’s life journey where the quality of the food really does matter.  I have eaten more than my fair share of rubber conference chicken covered in a bland white sauce with old dried herbs sprinkled across it, sitting next to glazed carrots, a sprig of parsley and a pile of mashed potatoes with a large pad of butter on top. Old hard breads in a basket and a glass of iced tea with lemon round out the standard conference food.

Next, when I am on the road or in an airport hurrying to my next flight, I pass an ever growing array of fast food places, promising me wholesome and healthy food. But as I step away from the counter with my bag in hand and look at what I got that took just moments to deliver to me, I am always disappointed. The pictures outside and inside the place look good. The actual product looks and tastes like it had walked all the way from Texas to the midwest, and then was pummeled into something called “food.” With fast food, fast living and even faster technology, I have become more and more disappointed with the decline in quality. 

Yet, at the same time, I am very intrigued in the rise of the slow food movement and the tremendous amount of interest in food and cooking. Founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986, slow food is an international movement that strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and products plus encourage the farming of plants, seeds and livestock of a specific ecosystem.  With a focus on sustainable foods and the promotion of local small businesses, slow food believes that “everyone has the right to good, clean and fair food.”

What intrigues me the most is the value of the word “slow.”  In a world dedicated to living at the speed of software, I think it is time for many executives to realize that the creation and development of strategy and then an aligned organizational culture is a slow process, requiring considerable listening, thoughtful communication and deliberate patience. Rather than being accomplished quickly, strategic alignment and integration is the work of the gardener rather than the computer technician.  Speed and economy of scale may be helpful with many things but in the business of developing clarity and healthy work relationships, slow and thoughtful always beats fast and efficient.

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

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Teach Concepts, not Techniques

Every day I spend time coaching and teaching leaders about how to solve their current problems and how to prepare for the future. 

Every day, I battle a mindset driven by poorly written “best-seller” books which promote unrealistic, quick fixes and fast solutions. 

Every day, I continually remind executives of the John Maxwell’s insight: “Leadership develops daily, not in a day.”

Recently, while rereading the June 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review, I came across the following quote by Marcus Buckingham: “Leadership concepts are scalable, because a concept is easily transferable from person to person.... in the hands of an individual leader, a concept turns into a practice, a sequence of behaviors, a set of techniques.” 

I think the greatest challenge of coaching and teaching leadership this summer is not to default to teaching techniques. The key instead is to focus on helping people learn the core concepts of leadership. Not only are they scalable but they can become a foundation for clarity, perspective and exceptional decision-making. When managers and executives learn and share this information, they can better translate it into authentic practices, behaviors and techniques which are customized to what ever situation they are working through. 

But too often right now, I work with managers and executives who have only learned a set of techniques and thus are struggling.  They know what to do and how to do it but they do not understand why they are doing it.  This misalignment in clarity always creates skewed results.  

Therefore, I continually review the core concepts of leadership during my coaching and teaching. I choose ones that have stood up to decades of change, and transitions, especially ones that have been well utilized by many different leaders in a variety of industries. These foundational concepts not only can be scaled up but also can be leveraged to a greater benefit by all.

One way to learn these core concepts is to participate in the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. This annual opportunity creates clarity about leadership, strategic planning and execution plus organizational change. It gives participants a framework for helping their organization improve their performance at the personal, team and company levels. It is full of powerful concepts which are utilized by many successful leaders.

For more information, please click on the following link:

I hope you can join me when the next class begins in March of 2013.

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

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fall 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable

William Taylor, cofounder of Fast Company magazine and author of Practically Radical: Not-so-crazy ways to transform your company, shake up your industry, and challenge yourself (William Morrow, 2011), wrote that there are five truths of corporate transformation. They are as follows:

1. Most organizations in most fields suffer from a kind of tunnel vision, which makes it hard to envision a more positive future.

2. Most leaders see things the same way everyone else sees them because they look for ideas in the same places everyone else looks for them.

3. In troubled organizations rich with tradition and success, history can be a curse - and a blessing. The challenge is to break from the past without disavowing it.

4. The job of the change agent is not just to surface high-minded ideas. It is to summon a sense of urgency inside and outside the organization, and to turn that urgency into action.

5. In a business environment that never stops changing, change agents can never stop learning.

When I read the above, I keep thinking of some Iowa wisdom I learned many years ago: “If you keep doing what you are currently doing, then you will keep getting what you currently got.”  And right now, quite a few organizations are suffering from a diversity of strategic and operational challenges. 

Yet, in the midst of these difficulties, I have been blessed with many opportunities to visit with successful leaders and successful companies. These people are transforming themselves and their organization. They have positive qualitative and quantitative outcomes taking place on a regular basis.

This past spring and multiple times this summer I have been visiting with these leaders as well as reflecting on past visits with other leaders of this caliber. My goal has been to distill what I have learned from them and make these lessons learned the focus of the Fall 2012 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. I am excited and very energized by this level of work and look forward to sharing it with all of you.

Here are the details about the Fall Roundtable for your review:

Thursday: September 20, 2012

- 8:30 am - Registration
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How Successful Leaders Think
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How Successful Companies Work
- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch, Networking & A Walk Around the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site or the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library

Our lunch will be catered by Reid’s Beans, a wonderful West Branch coffee shop and restaurant. Here is a link to reviews on Yelp: for those who are interested.

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How Successful Managers Help People Achieve Their Goals
- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm -How Successful People Manage Challenging People
- 4:30 pm - Adjourn
- 4:30 pm - Optional Wine Tasting For Those Who Are Interested
- 5:00 pm - 7:30 pm - Open House at Geery and Jane’s

Friday: September 21, 2012

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How Successful People Manage Life
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break 
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Location: Brick Arch Winery in ( in West Branch, Iowa

Overnight Accommodations: Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, ( in Coralville, Iowa, or any other hotels in the Iowa City or Coralville area. 

I agree with William Taylor when he wrote, “In a business environment that never stops changing, change agents can never stop learning.”  I look forward to sharing and learning together with you at the Fall Roundtable.

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

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Rise of Mass Customization

Every day in more and more strategic planning meetings, I listen to executives talk about the importance of mass customization. As they explain it to me, every project, interaction and service will be more and more customized to meet the needs of each specific customer.  Furthermore, each product or service will always feel like it has been designed to meet that individual customer’s needs in that exact moment.
While I like the idea of this concept and the potential it could achieve, I am more than a bit cautious of the reality. I comprehend the strategic value of mass customization, but when I reflect on all of my years of working with people I believe it is very difficult to achieve this concept in reality. 
From my experience with companies as both a customer and a consultant, the more something is to be done for everyone, e.g. mass customization, the more it becomes commoditized and slightly shallow or sloppy. For example, I was recently working with an organization as a customer and I know they believed in the concept of mass customization. Thus, I was a bit surprised when a customer service representative gave me a call to ask how my last service experience was with their company. In an overly friendly voice and with an assumption of knowing me, the person began to ask a series of scripted service questions. After the initial greeting and questions, I paused and asked them why they were calling me. They listed my last point of contact and again asked how I found their service. I replied that I was the consultant in the room and not the one who had scheduled the event. While I do have events scheduled with them, I was not the lead contact for this event. Deeply embarrassed, the young man apologized and hung up. Mass customization means that everyone gets the same special treatment but in the end it is not that special at all but more of an assumed specialness.
My fear is that the strategic value was lost in the interaction. And that if this happened to me, it was more likely happening to many others. Thus, I have come to the conclusion when listening to both sides of the equation that mass customization means no customization because it will always lack authentic customization based on a long term working relationship. People in leadership positions often forget that followers bond with leaders before strategic plans and visions. Likewise, I believe that customers bond with customer service representatives as much as they bond with companies or brands. Real relationships take real time to develop. There are no short cuts to success.
Geery Howe, M.A. Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change Morning Star Associates 319 - 643 - 2257