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