Monday, August 26, 2013

Quit Trying To Change People From The Outside

Each week during an executive coaching session, someone will tell me about an employee or direct report who is causing problems in the organization or on their team. Some times these individuals have problems with communication. Other days they have problems with solving problems. Routinely, they say one thing and do another. Whatever the case, they end up on the wrong side of the balance sheet and are labeled “a problem person.”

As a result of their actions or lack of action, morale drops, plans have to be adjusted, and systems are not working right. Then, the powers to be make a decision. This person has to change. They need more coaching and “more clarity.”

Next, as an experienced executive coach, I am called to help “fix this person.”  

Oh, for it to be so simple.  

I wish I could respond as follows: “Yes; I can do that. Let me go and get my mental adjustment mallet or my attitudinal correction wrench. An adjustment here plus a tightening of a bolt there, and then this person will be as good as new.”  

But I am not naive. This is not my first time to the rodeo. From experience and a ton of reading from people who are much wiser than me, I have learned two simple truths: Life at times can be difficult, and people do not change that much unless they want to change.

Rather than trying to cram something into another person’s head so they will be better, it is time for us as leaders to find out what is already inside them. Then, when and if they are ready, help them learn a new way of working and living.

This is not the work of a mechanic. It is the work of a gardener. We do not fix people. We instead help them to grow, mature, and gain new perspective.

When some one is rubbing you the wrong way, it is time for you to realize one thing. You can not change them. You can only change yourself.

So, rather than trying to fix your problem people, it is time to be more understanding about what is the source of their problems.  Remember, life at times can be difficult and people do not change that much unless they want to change.  

As Marcus Buckingham, and Curt Coffman wrote in their wonderful book, First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. (Simon & Schuster, 1999), “Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left out. Try to draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.”

This week get to know your problem people better.  Rather than trying to change them, first understand them better. With an open heart and lots of proactive listening, you can discover the right path to help them and yourself. 

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Two Most Important Words

When working with young leaders and managers, I often ask them this simple question: What are the two most important leadership words you can ever say on a regular basis?  The answers often range from “vision and strategy” to “mission and core values.”  While these are great answers, I believe they miss the mark. The two most powerful words are “Thank-you.” 

Every day people are working hard to solve problems, to meet expectations and deadlines, and to fulfill goals. Some days they are wrapped up in project management meetings. Most days people come to work early and then stay late. 

And what is our response as leaders?  Often nothing. 

Some leaders say to me, “That’s just their job. Why should I say ‘thank-you’ for doing their job?”

And from that perspective, nothing should be said. Furthermore, from that perspective, anything that was said would not be taken seriously or considered meaningful either. 

However, I have witnessed great leaders and great leadership. These individuals know that success does not start with positional leadership. It starts with an understanding that people bring their hearts and minds to work every day.  They want to do good. They want to make a difference. They want to make progress. 

But depending on what they experience in the work place, they may shelve their hearts and ultimately their minds, and only bring their hands and backs to the work place. These employees learn from what they experience on a daily basis.  Genuine respect is not about just what is said, but also what is done. 

The foundation for success is to start from a place of humble gratitude for all the effort people are putting in each and every day to do more than just their job description.  For those who are working hard, staying late and thinking creatively, we need to say  “thank-you.’  For those who are struggling with dysfunctional teams, poorly designed systems, and even worst, poorly written goals, we need to say “thank-you.” And for those who are doing things right plus doing the right things, we need to say “thank-you.”

Leaders get what they exhibit and what they tolerate, noted Kevin Cashman.  It is time we exhibit more gratitude and tolerate less dysfunctional behaviors.  Otherwise, we will loose our best people and our best opportunities to live up to our mission.  The choice is ours to make.  

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

Ask Better Questions

Week after week, people meet and try to solve technical and adaptive problems. Nine times out of ten, lots of questions surface in the problem solving process. Some are helpful and some are not. 

As leaders, it is time for us to ask new and better questions during upcoming meetings so we can gain a better understanding of how well other people comprehend the work that we are tasked with doing.

So, here is a list of superb and very unique questions:

- Why does our company exist?

- What business are we in

- What does our strategic plan tell us to do?

- What do you do that is most important at our company?

These questions and the subsequent answers will give you an insight into the level of understanding of all involved. It may create for you as a leader some very important and helpful teachable moments where you can bring clarity to confusion or correct a misalignment in perspective.

This week, practice asking better questions. You will be surprised by what you discover.

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Need for Bold & Wise Leadership

Julius Caesar described how he handled an unexpected, simultaneous attack by the Nervii, a Celtic-German tribe living in the north of Gaul/Belgium at the time of the Roman empire, at three different points on his flanks, while part of his troops were crossing a river and another part was setting up camp, with the following statement: Omnia uno tempore agenda  - “everything had to be done at once.”

Every day now, I hear from executives and managers who are struggling with the endless levels of change that are place in their industry and in their work place. They feel like everything is happening at once and that everything has to be solved at once.

These same leaders also feel like they are constantly working at the edge of chaos. Most days they can barely keep things manageable and under control. More often than not, they also feel very alone.

Bernadine Healy, former Director of the National Institutes of Health, wrote: “Whenever you face a steepening slope of change, that’s when you need bold leadership. When premises are being challenged, that’s when you need wise leadership.”

Right now we need bold and wise leadership to guide us through these difficult times.  We also need to be surrounded by people who comprehend the magnitude of the challenges before us and also understand the personal and professional difficulties of being an executive and a leader.

This is where the From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable fits into the puzzle. Twice a year, leaders from a wide variety of organizations come together to explore their challenges, their solutions and the insights of others.  It is a place for in-depth listening and sharing, a time to step back from daily operational pressures and to comprehend the large and more strategic implications of all that is happening around us. As previous participants have shared with me, the Roundtable is a place where I can pause, and catch my breath given the pace of change and think.

The next From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable is on September 19 - 20, 2013 at
the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa. Here is the agena for your review:

Thursday: September 19, 2013

8:30 am - Registration
9:00 am - 10:15 am - When Change is the Only Constant
10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Focusing on Collaboration Rather than Heroics
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking 
1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - Building and Maintaining Healthy Work Relationships
2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - Finding the Right Match Between Talent & Outcomes
4:30 pm - Adjourn

Friday: September 20, 2013

9:00 am - 10:15 am - Adapting to Complexity
10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break 
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
12:00 pm - Adjourn

If you would like to sign-up and participate in the Fall 2013 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, please click on the following link:

Once you have filled out the registration form, you can fax it to me at # 319 - 643 - 2185 or mail it to me.

For those of you who are wanting to read something in advance of the Fall 2013 Roundtable, I suggest the following resources:

- Howe, Geery. Developing a New Organizational Culture - second edition, (From Vision to Action booklet, 2013).

 - Katzenbach, by Jon R. and, Ilona Steffen and Caroline Kronley,“Cultural Change That Sticks”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2012.

- Lafley, A.G., and Roger Martin. Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.Harvard Business Review Press, 2013

- Simons, Robert. “Stress-Test Your Strategy: The 7 Questions to Ask,” Harvard Business Review, November 2010.

- Tichy, Noel M., and Warren Bennis. “Making Judgment Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership”, Harvard Business Review, October 2007. 

Happy reading, and I look forward to seeing in September!

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Learn To Better Define Your Problems

On a regular basis, I urge leaders to better understand and define their problems before they go racing off to create a solution. As I have learned over the years, a poorly defined problem and the subsequent solution can create more problems rather than solutions when the solution is implemented. 

The first step as we plan for fall is to better understand the differences in our problems. Basically, there are two types, namely technical problems and adaptive problems. With the former, the solution falls within the current range of problem solving expertise. With the later, the problem requires new perspective, expertise and new solutions, lest the organization decline.

Most leaders with technical problems focus on getting the right person with the right tool so they can create the right solution. Technical problems are solved by applying existing skills, resources and processes.

Adaptive problems, on the other hand, require new perspective, expertise and solutions. One of the major challenges is actually defining the problem. Doing this may require learning and can call into question fundamental assumptions and beliefs about how we work and what we do. Usually defining and solving an adaptive problem may require all involved to change priorities, beliefs, habits and loyalties. In short, they may require a whole new way of thinking. 

For those of you who are intrigued by this level of work, I encourage you to check out the following two excellent resources:

- Heifetz, Ronald, A., and Marty Linsky. Leadership On The Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading, Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

- Heifetz, Ronald, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009.

In the beginning, the key is to learn to better define your problems. Once you do this, finding the right solution can be easier and more effective.

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