Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year

As we come to the final days of 2013,  I am reminded of the following two quotes:

“Never let the things that matter most be at the mercy of the things that matter least.” - Goethe

“Our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world as in being able to remake ourselves.” - Mahatma Gandhi

My hope and wish for you in the New Year is that you take care of the things that matter most to you, and that you continue to remake yourself.

New adventures and new challenges await. Let us all celebrate 2013’s accomplishments, and then welcome 2014 with open arms and great anticipation.  

The best is yet to come!

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Holidays!

This week, homes have been decorated. Special foods are being prepared.  Families are gathering. The miracles of this season can be seen all around us.

Today, I am deeply grateful for all the times we have visited together, learned together, and explored together during this interesting and complex year. I am humbled by all of you who have chosen to share with me your hopes, your fears, your joys, and your challenges.

My holiday wish is for everyone to recognize that they are dearly loved and cherished by many people, and that their life and their work does make a difference in this world.  If each of us can embrace this perspective, then we will realize that we do not have anything to fear about the future.

Much joy and many blessings to you and yours this holiday season. May it be one of your finest!

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

Preparing Personally For The New Year

Are you personally ready for the new year?

Routinely, I witness organizations prepare for the future. Through meetings, project teams and multiple spread sheets, a master plan is built. Then, people focus on the right things as they execute the plan.

However, I rarely see a leader who pauses and checks to see if they are personally ready for this level of work. We all know that planning the work and working the plan requires disciplined thought and action. But few of us reflect on whether or not we have the personal resources to rise to the challenge. We assume we do, but we seldom check to see if we actually do.

This week, I encourage you to do four things to personally get ready for the new year.  First, call up your primary care physician or nurse practitioner and get an annual physical. You would be amazed by how many people skip this simple step. Then, when they do finally get around to it, they are stunned by what they discover. Our physical health is a very important part of being ready for the new year.

Second, please sit down and evaluate whether or not your personal relationships are ready for the new year. Often, executives share with me that they are winning at work and loosing at home. With all the time they spend at the office, few have invested an equal amount of time in building and maintaining their relationships with their children and partners. It is always a sad day when I learn that another leader has sacrificed his or her family life and relationships to meet a Wall Street number. While some can be repaired, many suffer from the long term damage.

Third, plan your own personal life like you do your work. Start by setting your own personal goals for 2014. Determine how you are going to measure progress and then develop a system where you will check every 90 days about whether or not you are making progress. Setting goals and holding yourself accountable to personal goals is a master skill and a significant part of being a fine leader.

Finally, make time to have a spiritual life, not just a job. Attend regularly the church of your choice. Study spiritual material and reflect on what they mean to you and your family.  Seek out mentors who can help you have a greater perspective. By investing time in your local spiritual community, you will tap into a wellspring of insights and new thinking.

The new year will come and it will include it’s own challenges and celebrations. Being prepared personally will make a major difference in how much you enjoy it.

P.S. For those of you who are interested in creating a high-performance culture in your organization in the coming year, I encourage you to read the following article “The Keys to Building a High-Performance Culture” posted on-line on 12/12/13 at the Gallup Business Journal website.  Here is the link:

While the article focuses on research done with 3,477 business managers and 30,000 employees in businesses in the Gulf area, the six crucial components of a high-performance company are easily transferable to other business in other parts of the country.  The six keys are as follows:

1. Implement an effective performance management process.

2. Create empowerment and authority.

3. Increase leadership capability at all levels of the company.

4. Develop a customer-centric strategy.

5. Increase communication and collaboration.

6. Enhance training and development.

There are more details about each of the above keys in the article so I encourage all of you to read and discuss it with your leadership team.  Now is a good time for this depth of thinking and exploration.

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

Preparing For The New Year

As we come to the end of the calendar year, I have one question for you.

What do you want to be known for in 2014? 

It seems like a simple question on one hand. Yet, with further reflection, it is actually quite important and can be complex, too.

First, the answer to this question and your current strategic plan should be in alignment, i.e. the outcomes of your strategic plan and the answer to the above question should both line up.

Second, your quarterly expectations, goals and priorities as a leader should be moving in the direction of your answer to this important question.

Third, every strategic review should be focused on helping your organization to move more efficiently and effectively toward this answer.

So, this week, step back from the day to day work, and answer the above question. Then check on alignment between your answer and your current strategic plan. This is another great way to prepare for the new year.

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Quick Reminder

Friday, December 6, is the registration deadline for the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

We will meet for this unique learning opportunity at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa on the following dates:
- March 4 - 5 - 6, 2014
- May 6 - 7 - 8, 2014
- September 9 - 10 - 11, 2014
- November 13 - 14, 2014 

If you and/or members of your team are interested in the 2014 training, then please click on the following link for more information: 

Or you can click on the this link for the registration form:

I look forward to your participation in the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training.

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

An Odd Time Period

After many years of doing this work, I have come to the conclusion that the time period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is just an odd time period. Some organizations go into massive planning mode hoping that they can catch up and get prepared for the new year. Others just coast between the holidays, hoping that every one will show up at work and that all of the shifts will be filled. Whether you and your organization go hyper-vigilant or become hyper-mellow, the key as a leader is to make sure you are well prepared for the new year. Therefore, I recommend three specific actions to happen during this unique time period.

First, take all of your direct reports out for lunch or coffee. Do your regular coaching work but also do some more in-depth visiting. Focus on learning as much as you can about this person even if you know them well.  As Marcus  Buckingham noted in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005, “To excel as a manager you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and that your chief responsibility is not to eradicate this uniqueness, but rather to arrange roles, responsibilities, and expectations so that you can capitalize upon it. The more you perfect this skill, the more effectively you will turn talents into performance.” More in-depth coaching and visiting time between the Thanksgiving and Christmas can help.

Second, get out from behind the desk, and visit the front line where the actual goods and service are delivered. This is not a walk-through, smile, and shake hands time period. It is instead a time period for in-depth exploration. In particular, look to see if the mission is alive and well or only a document on the wall or in a notebook. Check out whether or not the core values are expressed authentically or whether people are choosing to to do the standard “fake smile” delivery of customer service. Finally, dig into how well key teams are functioning. This holistic perspective will help you as a leader plan better for the future, and correct misalignments in the present.

Third, push back from the phone, internet and e-mail. With a sheet of paper before you, pause and think big.  Write out an answer to the following question: “If we had the kind of culture we aspire to, in pursuit of the strategy we have chosen, what kinds of new behaviors would be common? And what ingrained behaviors would be gone?” If need be, reread the following article where the aforementioned question came from: Katzenbach, by Jon R. and, Ilona Steffen and Caroline Kronley,“Cultural Change That Sticks”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2012.

The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is an odd time period, but as a leader you can still use it to your advantage. Coach more, visit more, and reflect more. This will be a good way to start planning for the new year.

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Too Much of a Good Thing

Growing up in the Philadelphia area and going to college in Indiana was a bit of a challenge around certain holidays when I was a young man. For example, I could take an all night bus back home for Thanksgiving with the family but given how short the break was and how long the ride, by the time I returned back to college I knew I was going to be pretty exhausted and burned out from all of the travel which was not a good way to go into the last couple of weeks of classes and final exams.

So one year, I decided to stay on campus and find some place local to celebrate. Having friends who were older and lived off campus, myself plus others decided to gather at their house and make a huge Thanksgiving feast. Everyone helped out and we had all of the traditional food. There was turkey, stuffing,  mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, candied yams with the little marshmallows on top, cranberry sauce, rolls, butter, etc.

On the day of the big event while the turkey was resting and then being carved, my college friend, Ian, and I got corralled into making the gravy. We had both watched our mothers do this so it did not seem like it was going to be too hard.  

We started by collecting all of the pan juices left over from the baking of the turkey and straining off the fat. Then, we sauteed some mushrooms in butter in a big frying pan. Once they were the right color, we add the drippings and began to stir as it bubbled. We stirred and stirred and it did not turn into gravy. We were stumped and those who were carving the turkey wanted us to hurry up.

Next, we add a little white flour and we got the right color but it was not coming together like good gravy. Then, we remembered that our mothers tended to add cornstarch to thicken the gravy. So, we found a box in the kitchen cabinet and put some in. Sure enough, it started to thicken.

With the color being right and the “gravy” bubbling away in the pan, plus with ample encouragement to hurry up from the people now carrying the turkey to the table, we added some more corn starch to the gravy so that it would get thick quicker. Our reasoning was simple. The more you add, the faster it will thicken. We did not take into account that we were cooking the gravy and in the process causing some of it to evaporate.  

Once, it was thick enough, we rushed around to find a gravy boat to put it in. However, we were college students and this was off campus housing rather than some one’s childhood home. Being resourceful, we found a big bowl and poured our very thick gravel into it. Proudly we carried the gravy to the table.

After prayers were said by all, the food was passed around. Plates were piled high and then the gravy was sent around. The only problem was that it had continued to cook through the prayers plus cool a bit. Furthermore, Ian and I had added so much cornstarch and flour that the gravy had seized up into one solid block. There was no pouring. The only solution was to slice the gravy and serve it. It did not taste like Mom had made it back home, but we were hungry college students so we ate everything nevertheless.

There are days when we as leaders have to remember that too much of a good thing can at times be just too much. For example, I recently have noticed that some people are going overboard on their coaching.  They think that if once a week coaching sessions are good, then multiple times a week would be better. While this might be a good idea in a few rare situations, the best thing to do in most situations is to coach people and then to let them practice. They have to apply what they have learned in their coaching session and then learn from the application process. Too much coaching, like too much cornstarch in the gravy, can cause a person to seize up and not think clearly. We forget sometimes that one of the goals of coaching is accelerated learning and helping someone to think clearly through their choices plus end up making the right ones.

During the coming thirty days, post Thanksgiving, just remember too much of a good thing does not always generate something better. A light touch always makes a better gravy. Same with people, too.

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Count Your Blessings

This week across the country people will be gathering for Thanksgiving and Hanukah celebrations. Families will come together, share stories new and old, and eat some fantastic food. There will be laughter, tears, much sharing, and reflection. And someone around the table will comment about how fast time is going by and someone else will say how grateful they are that we all came together.

Many years ago when I was teaching seminars on stress management, I used to ask a series of questions to my students: “How many of you remember your parents? How many of you remember your grandparents? How many of you remember the names of their parents?”

These answers always led the group into a discussion about taking the long view on life. Sometimes the things that seem so big are really so small when we step back from the present moment. Sometimes we get so busy we forget momentarily what is most important.

This week I encourage all of us to learn more of our own family history. Listen again about days gone by. Learn more about your parents’ parents.  Explore their days, their lives and their challenges. By gaining this knowledge, we can put our own life back into perspective and perhaps grasp some keen insights about living well and healthy during this life time.

My hope for all of you is that you will count your blessings this week and be very grateful for all of the friends and family that you have. Much joy and happy celebrations to each of you!

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Timing is Critical

Many years ago, I got a phone call inviting me to northern Minnesota in mid-September to lead an in-depth senior management retreat on the subject of mission, vision and core values. The CEO had booked an entire lodge by a secluded lake for the day and had flown up a top notch chef from the Twin Cities to cater the meal.

The food was amazing. The setting was spectacular. The fall colors were at their peak, and the strategic level dialogue around mission, vision and values was very poor. It is no fun facilitating a group process when clearly something else needed to be discussed. After multiple attempts to get the discussion to a deeper level than superficial conversation, I invited the group to go with me for a walk around the nearby lake.

Once out in nature, people seemed to relax a bit and open up. Therefore, I turned to one of the vice presidents and said, “What am I missing here? This is an important topic but no one wants to participate.”

We walked for a bit and then he replied, “The setting is perfect. The food is over the top, and the subject is important. You are even doing a good job. However, we recently failed an inspection at one of our facilities, and the plan of correction is due to be submitted tomorrow morning at 9:00 am. Most of us were planning on having this day to review the entire plan of correction, coordinate our efforts, and make sure that this does not happen again. But the CEO thought it would be best if we talked about mission, vision and core values instead. Therefore, most of us after this retreat will be burning the midnight oil to make sure everything is in place related to the plan of correction. The retreat is a good idea. It’s just at the wrong time.”

As I continued walking around the lake, I reflected on how many times I have witnessed this take place. At times, it feels like an epidemic of missed opportunities. What should have taken place and what did take place were not in alignment. Talking about mission, vision and core values is very important, but holding this conversation at the right time is also important.

Our challenge as leaders is to pay very close attention to our direct reports and to know where each of them are in their journey with the organization. Great managers build on strengths, and great leaders build on clarity. This week I strongly encourage you to reconnect with each of your direct reports and to better understand what they are working on and what are their priorities.  As I learned many years ago while walking around a lake, timing is mission critical to success.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Recommended Reading

For quite some time, I have been looking for something worth reading and sharing with others. I have plowed through a lot of books and articles and ended up in the land of slightly bored or frustrated by the number of old ideas getting repackaged and being called “new.” For the most part, nothing was thought-provoking or extremely well written to the degree that I would read it again or recommend it to others.

However, I did delight in reading an interview by Melinda Merino of Ram Charan, one of the worlds’s preeminent advisors to CEOs for the past 35 years, about decision-making in the November 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Called “You Can’t Be a Wimp - Make the Tough Calls,” Charan points out that leaders now have to deal with many more variables and constituencies than ever before. In particular, they have to “cut through all of that complexity and to make subjective judgements about highly ambiguous, and constantly changing factors.” Given these difficulties, Charan  explains that “The best executives know which decisions to focus on (and which to delegate), when to make a decision, and what the risk of not making a decision.” The keys to successful decision-making, according to Charan, are to increase one’s ability to have perceptual acuity, i.e. “the ability to see change coming,” along with qualitative judgement and credibility which helps gain acceptance for difficult decisions.

Overall, this is a good article and one worth reading. Here is the link: Check it out and I hope you find it helpful.

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An Interesting Observation

I have been in the business of teaching people since the 80’s. I have spent many hours in front of large and small groups, helping them to become better leaders, managers and supervisors. Recently, I have noticed an interesting thing taking place when people come together to learn. During breaks, people have stopped visiting with each other, and are instead only interacting with their cell phones.

Years, ago when people came to a workshop or seminar, they sought out the content. They also sought out other people. During breaks, participants built networks of support and perspective. Regularly, I witnessed in-depth dialogue and visiting about life’s challenges and successes. People routinely caught up with each other at seminars. They enjoyed the time to share.

Now, when a break takes place during a workshop, the room empties out as people go outside to answer phone messages, to read e-mails, and to text people. Often, the training room is also quiet as people are absorbed in reading their tiny screens with great concentration and concern. Gone are the days of talking with fellow participants. Sharing collectively has started to become a thing of the past. 

The new normal during seminars and workshops is constant texting, posting, connecting, searching and scanning. We are now more distracted than ever by electronic interruptions. It appears that we are attempting to live and work at the speed of software.  

The challenge for many who truly want to learn is to set aside their electronic tether and to become actively engaged in the learning process and in-depth reflection that comes with quality learning. Rather than trying to become more efficient with our electronic devices, we need to relearn how to set them aside for a bit, and regain the ability to think long and hard about issues and topics which we care about.  

I challenge all of us when we go to a meeting, workshop or seminar to put aside our addiction to instant-access and instead dive deeply into thinking carefully and thoughtfully about the world of leadership and the future. It is time to regain perspective and realize that relationships and learning are more valuable than e-mail and text messaging.  While this may be a big step for many, it is an important one if we want to make a difference in the world where we serve and work.

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What Great Leaders Know

Every year, I meet thousands of people in leadership positions. Whether we cross paths in training sessions, conferences, meetings or executive coaching sessions, the best of the best all know one simple fact. Great leaders do not create followers. They create partners and colleagues.

When people come and work for a company, they bring two things with them, namely their willingness and their ability. The former is based on their commitment to, and motivation for the work. The later is based on their knowledge and skills. Hopefully, they will have a supervisor, manager or leader who can build on their talent and help the individual make progress and be successful. 

However, after decades of working with great leaders, I have learned that these individuals also do two other things with their employees, namely offer support and perspective. Both of these elements significantly influence people’s willingness and ability.

Our challenge this late fall into early winter is to help good leaders to become great leaders. We need them to learn to work effectively and efficiently, not just keep everything and everyone under control. This means that they must create clarity about the standards we all hold and clarity about the mission. In short, they need to learn a form of leadership which will result in people becoming engaged and feeling like they are a valued member of the team.

One way to help good leaders to become great leaders is to enroll them in the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Through this challenging, interactive curriculum which blends lectures, selected readings, small and large group discussions, and how to skill-building exercises, participants in this four part leadership training gain critical knowledge and skills which improve their ability to be become better leaders.

Now is the time to sign people up for this unique and in-depth learning experience.  For more information on how to register for the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

Great leaders are role models and mentors. They inspire people and guide them to a whole new level of performance. If you are seeking people who will create partners and colleagues, then now is the time to get them involved in the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. 

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

More On Adapting to Complexity

Moving through complexity is not easy for the leader or the follower. both get stretched in the process. Still, there are things leaders can do to help all involved stay engaged, focused and effective.

First, constantly check for understanding rather than awareness amongst the followers. Leading and following through complexity is an iterative process, a process in which repetition of a sequence of steps and key information yields results successively closer to the desired result. The key in the beginning, the middle and the end is to not create information overload, which is a normal situation for leaders and followers. We can avoid this situation when we assist all involved in seeing how what we are doing now will assist them in what they will be doing later on. In essence, we as leaders need to help people connect the dots between today’s decisions and actions, and tomorrow’s results.

Second, we must consistently set up the follower for short term wins. I can not emphasize enough how important this is in the building of confidence, clarity, and competence in the life of the follower.  We also must praise often when the follower gets it right. By reinforcing right action, we also are reinforcing right thinking which again boasts confidence and competence.

In short, always remember that success breeds success, and confidence breeds commitment.

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Adapting to Complexity

Last December, our oldest son gave my wife a hiking trip in Arizona for her birthday. Once we coordinated schedules and settled on doing this trip in late May, I went deep into planning mode.

First, I created an initial gear list that she and I would need. Referencing back to my major hiking days in the 70’s, I began collecting all sorts of stuff from the attic. Finally, having not hiked in the southwest since my college years, I asked my oldest son for help. His list included some things that I was not thinking about such as nylon hiking pants, a very wide brimmed hat to keep the sun off my bald head and tender, fair skinned ear tips, and under-armor t-shirts. We also borrowed gear from our younger son who had recently worked in the back country in the southwest for six months as an Americorp volunteer. This included a dromedary with hose and mouth piece for carrying water.

Second, I started preparing my body and my mind. Every day all winter long, I walked very fast for 30 minutes, seeking out all the hills in our small town.  Given I grew up in an outdoors focused family with scouting roots, lots of summer camp hiking, and being a former back packing leader in the 70’s, I knew this trip could be challenging. Therefore, I was a bit apprehensive about the physical challenge that could surface when hiking in the southwest at 8,000 foot elevation.

Once we arrived in late May, and transitioned to the higher altitude in Flagstaff, AZ for 24 hours, we started to pack out for the trip. As I pulled out my 70’s based gear, my oldest son frequently gave me the “don’t bring that” head shakes. I trusted his opinion given he had been actively involved in outdoor work for many years in the southwest. Nevertheless, I started to feel not very confident, competent, or current as we started off on this multiple day back packing trip.

On the first night of our camping trip, I felt like an 11 year old, Tenderfoot Boy Scout all over again. I couldn’t set up our tent right without help and instruction. I did not know how the stove worked and I did not know what was coming up next. I didn’t even know how to pack the high quality, expedition backpack that my son had borrowed from a friend of his for me.

Still, with his assistance and patient teaching, my wife and I made it through the first night. Our son and his amazing girl friend created some spectacular meals on the trail such as pesto and fresh veggies over noodles, red curry with sweet potatoes, and fresh veggies, mac and cheese with red wine plus desserts like scrambled brownies, jello cheese cake, chocolate nut bars etc.

Meanwhile, I started from the very beginning and learned how to pack my own back pack all over again. While I was not confident, competent, or current, I was trainable. I slowly connected the dots around the terminology of “cannon balls”, i.e. heavy stuff, and “fluffy stuff”, i.e. light things, when packing my pack. When I did get my expedition sized back pack to stand up on it’s own, I was elated.

On our first day on the trail, I tried hiking with with trekking poles because they were supposed to reduce the shock on my older knees as we hiked down into a nearby canyon. Beside making so much noise with the poles clicking and clacking over rocks and the like, I felt totally awkward and uncomfortable. I was afraid I might trip over the poles that were suppose to be helping. In the end, I skipped the poles and hoped my knees would handle the stress. I realized that I was close to overload on new stuff and the hiking poles were just a hinderance more than a help.

The second night on the trail my wife and I set up our own tent and I realized again the power of a short term win.  For a brief moment, I felt invincible, and regained a bit of confidence. 

On the third day, I finally started to get the daily rhythm of hiking and setting up camp. The following morning I even figured out how to use the hiking stove and heat up water for the tea.  

We hiked out the fourth morning and upon reflection, I had learned some very important lessons. First, small and/or large shifts in environment, i.e. context, can dramatically undercut the capacity and confidence of the followers. As a follower on this trip, I started from a place of limited ability to fully understand and assess the right path or choices. I also kept second guessing myself and assuming I was making the wrong choices. It also was hard to figure out what I needed because I was not sure and did not have many reference points for this kind of journey. I realized that I was not current with the new technology and modern way of moving through this landscape. I had to unlearn my 60’s/70’s way of camping and hiking, and instead embrace a more modern way of doing things. That was much easier said than done.

Second, without a safety zone and a patient teacher/leader in my son and his girl friend, I often ended up becoming a watcher, overwhelmed by too much external stimulus and information. While the environmental shift to camping in the southwest was normal for my son and his girl friend, it was complex for my wife and I. We had our own physical and mental challenges, e.g. we really did not know what was going to happen next on the trail, and we had to completely trust our experienced son and his girl friend to guide us along the way. We had to take “baby steps” to move through the world of constant change.

Third, moving from one level of effective action to a new level of effectiveness requires tremendous faith in one’s self on the part of the follower, plus faith in the leader and faith in the journey to a new level of competency. This journey  also came with more than a few “ego bruises” along the way. True unlearning and relearning is not easy.

There is an old hiking prayer that goes as follows: “Lord, if you lift them up [i.e. my feet], I will put them down in the right place.” It was not just the lifting them up but also having no idea where we were going other than a name on a map that was challenging. It took me quite some time to connect with interpreting a USGS map again and to translate it into what it means in actuality.

Thankfully each step of the way we had a kind and patience pair of people helping my wife and I along the way.  Their leadership made all the difference between a good trip and a great trip.

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Finding The Right Match between Talent and Outcomes

In the past, I have written often about the importance of matching talent with outcomes. For many leaders in key positions, the work of Marcus Buckingham, and Curt Coffman in their book, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Simon & Schuster, 1999, is the foundation for this entire subject. Yet, it has been fourteen years since the original work was published and it would be good to review the fundamentals in order to be successful during the coming 1-2 years.

Most people start in two places on this subject. First, they focus on discovering what is unique about each person and then attempt to capitalize on it. This is the core of building on talents and strengths. The second area they focus on comes from the Q12 questions, particularly the first one which states “Do I know what is expected of me?” The combination of the two is very important when finding the right match between talent and outcomes.

However, we need to examine the subject of clarifying expectations in greater detail. Here, Buckingham and Coffman tell us to keep the focus on the outcomes, to value world-class performance in every role, and to study your best people. In subsequent writing, Buckingham continues this subject by telling us to define clear expectations. He says the key to doing this is to become a manager who will recognize excellence immediately and praise it, to celebrate incremental improvements, and to show you care for your people.

For me, the critical element this morning to begin the entire process of finding the right match between talent and outcomes starts with a clear definition of what is operational excellence. Tom Peters defines excellence as a workplace philosophy where problem solving, teamwork and leadership results in on-going improvements or continuos improvements in the organization. He says that this takes place when we as leaders focus on the needs of the customer, continually evaluate and optimize our current work place activities, and develop an engaged work force, i.e. one that is positive and empowered.

I believe the critical component to unlocking this process is for all involved to understand the union between excellence and outcomes. From my vantage point, it all comes down to routine performance management and coaching. When this simple, focused, and self-tracking process happens on a regular basis, then we achieve a greater depth of understanding. Here are some questions to help you as a coach make the connection between these two key concepts:

- What actions have you taken to promote excellence and improve outcomes?

- What discoveries have you made about the connection between excellence and outcomes?

- What partnerships have you built to improve excellence and outcomes?

Nevertheless, many leaders, managers and supervisors consider routine coaching and performance management as nothing more than the optimization of status quo. “Many leaders try to optimize what they are already doing in their current business” writes A.G. Lafley and Roger L. Marten in their book, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works, 2013 Harvard Business Review Press. As they continue, “This can create efficiency and drive some value.... The optimization of current practices does not address the very real possibility that the firm could be exhausting its assets and resources by optimizing the wrong activities, while more-strategic competitors pass it by.”

Another line of thinking is to make sure performance management is only focused on best practices. However the above authors note that “Every industry has tools and practices that become widespread and generic. Some organizations define performance management as bench-marking against competition and then doing the same set of activities but more effectively.  Sameness isn’t performance management. It is a recipe for mediocrity.”

The key here today is for us as leaders, managers and supervisors to continually define excellence and to continually clarify the desired outcomes. Then, during regular and frequent coaching sessions help all involved understand why these two issues are mission critical to the organization’s success and how we all can make this take place on a regular basis.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Building Capacity For The Future

Nearly every strategic plan I have reviewed or helped write in the last 12 months has had a section on building capacity for the future. For some, this is based on the realization that key leaders have been, and will continue to retire. For others who are wanting to grow and expand their business, they have realized that they do not have the bench strength in place to support their strategic initiatives. Finally, some companies have realized that they can not continue to offer excellent service because they are loosing key people due to poor leadership. What ever the starting place, nearly every one wants more and better leaders. The difficulty is that few are willing to holistically understand the implications of such a commitment to the future.

First, wanting more and better leaders means that we have to understand that every organization has two operating systems running at the same time. The first is focused on operational excellence and the continual improvement of what already exists. The second operating system is about the on-going development, communication and implementation of strategy. It is the combination of both systems that makes a company viable over time.

However, the greatest challenge in the world of leadership training is that some people want leaders who will make the first operating system run better while others want leaders who can make the second one operate better.  A rare few want leaders who can work to improve both systems. The difficulty when building capacity for the future is that each form of leadership, operational and strategic, requires a very different skill set.  

For example, in the world of operational excellence, an individual who leads needs to be able to focus on short tern results, manage day to day details related to implementation, conserve company resources while being able to prioritize, plus maintain a certain level of consistency when it comes to systems and process discipline. In the later, strategic development and implementation, an individual who leads needs to position the organization for the future. Here, the leader needs to take the long view and maintain a big picture perspective. They need to seek ways to grow the business and expand the organization’s capabilities. They also must know how to question status quo and encourage new ways of thinking and working. In short, an operational leader needs to create an environment where people want to contribute while a strategic leader must paint a picture of the future and how to get there in a vivid and precise manner.

Second, if we are truly committed to building capacity for the future, then we must invest our time, energy and attention to doing this work. However, countless leaders report to me that they are overwhelmed by all they are doing. Time for things like mentoring, coaching and dialogue are taking a back seat to more pressing problems. They may desire doing more capacity building but often find they are simply too busy solving more pressing operational issues related to service delivery. Still, the problem is present and does not go away.

Nevertheless, there is a solution, namely the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Through a challenging, interactive curriculum which blends lectures, selected readings, small and large group discussions, and how to skill-building exercises, participants in this four part leadership training gain critical knowledge and skills which improve their ability to be better operational and strategic leaders. Now is the time to sign people up for this unique and in-depth learning experience.  For more information on how to register for the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

At this time period, building capacity for the future is mission critical to success. Having more and better leaders is vital. The 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training is an important first step to developing a whole new way of doing business. I look forward to you and your team participating in this special training opportunity in 2014.

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

Monday, October 21, 2013

Building and Maintaining Healthy Work Relationships

Recently, I have been in a lot of meeting where the subject of resistance has surfaced. Too many times, I have to point out that the people who are resisting change often care about the organization and that resistance is simply a normal form of communication and feedback. The hard part about these conversations is that I often have to end up asking a difficult, and unnerving for some, but still important question: What is a healthy work relationship for someone in a leadership or management position? Most answers revolve around creating role clarity and making sure all involved are clear about expectations, goals and priorities. These are good answers but I like to go deeper than this when exploring this question.

First, Patrick Lencioni, in a book called The Five Temptations of a CEO: A Leadership Fable, Jossey-Bass, 1998, wrote that there are a series of temptations for those in leadership positions:

- Temptation #1: Choosing status over results

- Temptation #2: Choosing popularity over accountability

- Temptation #3: Choosing certainty over clarity

- Temptation #4: Choosing harmony over productive conflict

- Temptation #5: Choosing invulnerability over trust

Right now, I see more and more young leaders and even some more experienced and older leaders getting sucked into work relationships based on status, popularity and certainty.  I do not fault the young leaders and hope they can read more and receive better coaching over time to correct these missteps in judgement and perspective, but I am disturbed when older and more experienced leaders do not role model a healthier and more grounded understanding of leadership relationships.

There are days now when I wish I could greet each person who is new to the world of supervision and hand them a copy of the above book. I would then say, “please read this in the next 24 hours and then we will start your one to one coaching sessions.” Maybe then we can start off on the right foot.

Next, I would review the core concepts in the book, Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High, McGraw-Hill, 2002, by Kerry Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, and Ron McMillan. As they point out, crucial conversations are normal to the work world and happen when opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong.  “When two or more of us enter crucial conversations, by definition we don’t share the same pool,” i.e. the pool of shared meaning which is a measure of a group’s IQ, and is the birthplace of synergy. 

First, the authors say to “start with heart” and work on yourself. “Remember that the only person you can directly control is yourself.” Next, “focus on what you really want.” As they explain, when you find yourself moving toward silence or anger, stop and pay attention to your motives. Ask yourself: What does my behavior tell me about what my motives are? Then clarify what you really want. Ask yourself: What do I want for myself? For others? For the relationship? And finally ask: How would I behave if this were what I really wanted?

They continue this line of thinking by refusing the “Sucker’s Choice,” i.e. that you must choose between peace and honesty, between winning and losing, and so on. Instead, they share with us the following term, CRIB. It stands for:

- Commit to seek mutual purpose.
- Recognize the purpose behind the strategy.
- Invent a mutual purpose.
- Brainstorm new strategies.

If more leaders were to commit to a CRIB perspective, we would have healthier work relationships. As David Cottrell in his book, Monday Morning Leadership: 8 Mentoring Sessions You Can’t Afford to Miss, reminds us: “Your job is not to lower the bottom by adjusting and accommodating the falling stars. You should be raising the top by recognizing and rewarding superstar behaviors.” It is time for all people to be super stars by avoiding the temptations of a leader and to commit to mutual purpose.

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

Monday, October 14, 2013

Focusing on Collaboration Rather than Heroics

The senior management team and I were sitting around a table discussing a variety of new strategies for coping with the impact of the Affordable Care Act, when I commented that I did not think the organization was well positioned for long term success. In particular, it had to stop focusing on only trying to fix all of the immediate problems and instead began defining and then solving the more pressing adaptive problems. The COO’s head popped up from his folder full of charts and graphs, and said, “Our major problem is that our leaders are mostly focused on counting things. They have a ‘just tell me what to do and then I will do it’ mentality.  We need to change this first before we can move forward.”

So many organizations today are suffering from the hubris born of success, to refer to a phrase from Jim Collin’s writing.  As Arie de Geus, the former head of Shell Oil Company’s strategic planning group, wrote: “The signals of threat are always abundant and recognized by many. Yet somehow they fail to penetrate the corporate immune system response to reject the unfamiliar.” 

Jim Collins in his book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009, wrote, “Great enterprises can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. Stage 1 [of organizational decline] kicks in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they loose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.” He points out that when an organization neglects it’s primary flywheel, i.e. when the “what” replaces the “why”, then the rhetoric of success replaces understanding why. This results in a decline of the learning orientation within the organization. As Collins explains, “leaders lose the inquisitiveness and learning orientation that mark those truly great individuals who, no matter how successful they become, maintain a learning curve as steep as when they first began their careers.”

Therefore, we as leaders must have the capacity to work with complexity and uncertainty. It will all come down to improving the decision-making process throughout the organization. Noel M. Tichy and Warren Bennis in their excellent article called “Making Judgment Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership” in the October 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review, note that there are three stages to effective decision making. In Stage #1, the Preparation Phase, effective leaders  sense what is happening in the internal and external environment and identify the problems. Next, they frame up the issue that will demand a judgment call, and then align their team members so that everyone understands why the call is important. From my vantage point, this is the stage in which most leaders are doing a very poor job. Rarely do they frame up the issue and then mobilize and align people well before the call.

In Stage #2, the Call Phase, the moment of decision has arrived. While many think of this as a single moment of rational analysis based on knowable and quantifiable variables, in reality it is a “dynamic process influenced by multiple variables which are often outside of a leader’s direct circle of control or influence.” However, “the best leaders make decisions that influence now but also set up a framework for others to make successful decisions.” I wish more people grasped the depth of the authors’ insights and realized that setting up a framework for making a decision is as important, if not more important than making the actual decision.

In Stage #3, the Execution Phase, once a decision has been made, a leader needs to mobilize resources, people, information, and technology to support the decision. Furthermore, they need to make it happen while learning and adjusting along the way.

I believe there is a critical Stage #4, the Evaluation Phase. Here we routinely evaluating our strategic choices and decisions as a large group and during 1/1 coaching sessions. This strengthens the level of understanding and improves the overall framework for strategic and operational decision-making. 

For us here today, I end this morning’s thoughts with a wonderful question written by Jon R. Katzenbach, Ilona Steffen and Caroline Kronley in their great article called “Cultural Change That Sticks” in the July-August 2012 issue of the  Harvard Business Review: “If we had the kind of culture we aspire to, in pursuit of the strategy we have chosen, what kinds of new behaviors would be common? And what ingrained behaviors would be gone?” It is time we answer this question so we will have greater collaboration and less heroics.

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

Monday, October 7, 2013

When Change is the Only Constant - part #2

Given change is the constant now and people are reacting in a normal and dynamic manner to it, leaders at all levels need to routinely engage in strategic level dialogues with their people in order to create the continuous clarity and focus they desire. The challenge is that few people understand what is a strategic level dialogue and why it is important. 

In the beginning, think of a strategic level dialogue as a free flowing conversation about context, strategy and operational excellence. The goal is to help people improve their capacity to build, define, share, and engage at more strategic and holistic levels. When employees better understand the why and how elements rather than just the what to do next elements of their job, they can then make new and better strategic choices and transform those choices into consistent communication and action at both the strategic and operational levels.

Nevertheless, many executives and leaders say they are too busy to spend time visiting with people about such topics. Now I know that many of them are getting caught in the trap that things are more important than people, but few recognize that the time spent visiting with people in a strategic level dialogue allows their colleagues and partners to better transform awareness and understanding into commitment and responsibility.

Still, I can hear someone in a management and supervisory position telling me that it would just be easier to simply tell people the strategy rather to engage in a dialogue about it. Here, I refer them back to the work of James Belasco and Ralph Stayer from their book, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead. As they wrote, "The primary purpose of strategic planning is not to strategically plan for the future, although that's an important purpose of the exercise.  It is primarily to develop the strategic management mind-set in each and every individual in the organization. The purpose of the process is not only to produce a plan. It is to produce a plan that will be owned and understood by the people who have to execute it."

We as leaders have to recognize that in most companies there are two operating systems functioning every day, i.e. one for day to day business and one for the design and implementation of strategy. It is the second one that is focused on the continual development and communication of strategy. This is the one that will create a strategic mindset, the unification of understanding about context, strategy and operational excellence. When this takes place, we have the potential for creating more strategic ownership.

So, how do we actually do a strategic level dialogue? First, it can happen any time and any where. Over coffee or over food, the key is to start with some excellent questions. I like the following slightly modified ones from Robert Simons’ article called “Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask,” the November 2010 issue of the Harvard Business Review. As he wrote:

- Who is our primary customer?

- What critical performance variables are we tracking? 

- Are they making a difference in the quality of our actions?

- How committed are our employees to helping each other?

- What strategic uncertainties keep you awake at night?

Once you have asked the questions, listen carefully to the answers. As the late Stephen Covey reminded us, “seek first to understand and second to be understood.” Build a common ground and perspective, and remember to connect everything back to the strategic nexus.

Given constant change is the new normal, now is the time to hold more strategic dialogues. Remember: you need to have more clarity rather than less clarity in your organization at this time period.

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

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Taking The Long View

The sun was low on the western horizon as I walked out our basement back door with a bucket of kitchen scraps to take to the compost pile. With my shovel in hand, our neighbor’s horses saw me coming their way, and ambled over to the fence to see what was happening. As I approached the two big Belgian breeding mares with their spring born, young ones, they hung their heads way over the fence, hopping that I had brought them a treat as well. 

Given their attention, I stopped by our apple tree and picked up the drops to share with the horses before putting the bucket of scraps on the compost pile. After a couple of shovel loads of dirt to cover the kitchen scraps, I headed back to the house. Pausing before going in, I watched the last rays of the setting sun tickle the tops of the tall trees east of our home, a reminder that another day was coming to a close on the prairie.

Once inside, I wiped the dirt off my favorite shovel and thought to myself, “It is just about time to wrap up this gardening season. Soon, I will need to thoroughly clean, sharpen and oil this shovel for winter storage.”

When I bought my first shovel and my first hand trowel, I thought very carefully about it. In particular, I wanted to have a shovel and a trowel that would last a life time. I wanted them to be the kind of tool that could even be passed on to my children or my children’s children.

For example, when my Iowa gardening mentor passed away, I went to her estate auction and purchased one of her shovels. It is a beauty with years of hard work that have resulted in a very smooth handle. Stamped into the metal on the shovel head are the dates when it was manufactured, April 27, 1886.  I do not use it too often, mostly for splitting woody perennials like ornamental grasses in the spring. Yet every time I do, I marvel at the history in my hands.

During my many years of gardening, I have learned three key lessons, namely one needs to respect the tool, respect the body, and fully understand the job.  Not all shovels can do all things.  Different shovels are made for different jobs.  My rounded point shovel is best for moving dirt and digging holes. My former gardening mentor’s shovel is a trenching shovel and best for splitting things and making sharp cuts for certain types of holes. My hand trowel is only good for small holes.

Doing routine shovel work with a clean and sharp tool is not the work of the digital economy. One can learn about shovel work in a YouTube video but knowing about it is not the same as doing it. Real shovel work and real work with a hand trowel such as the planting of the spring bulbs that I do every fall are whole body experiences, shoulders, backs, fore-arms and knees. Here, one works the whole body rather than simply being a spectator in front a computer screen. 

In this era of of hyper connectivity, hyper speed, and hyper vigilance, the slow work of a shovel or a trowel my seem antique if not ancient. But for those of us who regularly and routinely do this kind of work, we have come to discover that it is the the kind of work that requires a commitment to a more centered life where breath and motion become one.

As the leaves turn from green to golden yellows and brilliant oranges and reds, I believe that we need to create time in our lives for slower, more analog space. Here, we unplug and unwind from living life at the speed of software and instead reconnect with who we are, what we believe in, and how we work. Being mindful of the value of analog work, we rediscover a feeling of being centered in an un-centered world.

Either this upcoming weekend or the next one, I will pull out my shovel, my hand trowel, my trusty knee pads and a bucket of spring bulbs. Carefully, and thoughtfully, I will move around our different flower beds, tucking in these spring miracles. Then once the bucket is empty and the freshly dug places have been re-mulched, I will carry my tools into the basement and begin the process of cleaning them up for next spring. While the bulbs settle into their new homes and make roots for next spring’s celebration, I too will slow down and celebrate the value and importance of physical labor. I will look forward to the reawakening of the earth in the spring.

In the long view, it is the seeds we plant today that will truly result in the harvest we experience in the future. Therefore, I encourage all of you to go out this new month and plant well and wisely. Be they spring bulbs, new experiences, or the building of new relationships, each seed has the potential to transform your life and your perspective.

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