Monday, September 30, 2013

When Change is the Only Constant - part #1

More and more leaders are starting to realize that their past strategic decisions are now impacting, if not creating, their current challenges. They have come to understand that these decisions and the subsequent implementation of them have created the current strategic infrastructure and current culture within their organizations.

Given change is the only constant now and that we are experiencing the 5 year anniversary of the start of the recession, many leaders and organizations have realized that they must learn to work effectively and efficiently. However, they are encountering a unique problem, namely that followers just want to keep things manageable and under control. Furthermore, most do not comprehend the difference between effective and efficient work. The best way way to explain the differences is to review the following two short questions:

- Efficiency = Are we doing things right? 

- Effectiveness = Are we doing the right things?

The former focuses on creating clarity about work related standards while the later focuses on mission clarity. Both are important and both are interconnected.

Nevertheless, the core challenge of working with constant change is that we, as leaders, may have to protect and unprotect the people and the organization from change. Most leaders protect people from change because it will cause too much disruption within the organization to deliver upon it’s core mission, or create too much disequilibrium within mission critical systems or processes. However, the best leaders know they need to unprotect their people and the organization from change, too. The challenge is that they need to do it at a rate which does not create too much disequilibrium and so that people can absorb it, i.e. what Ron Heifetz calls the creation of the “productive discomfort zone.” The difficulty is that unprotecting people will challenge their priorities, goals, and habits. And they will in turn react in a dynamic manner.

When I note that people will act in a dynamic manner, I am pointing out that at times we as leaders forget what is “normal” when change is the constant. First, we must recognize that people feel self-conscious and uncomfortable during constant change. They are embarrassed by not knowing exactly what to do. They seek out familiarity and/or past reference points in order to manage the “chaos.” They want to create order, plus some degree of predictability, when change is happening in their world. They also experience a loss of confidence and competence. They feel alone even if everyone else is going through the same change with them. Next, they get easily overwhelmed by the pace, and then shut down, deferring to people in leadership positions to make all of the decisions. Finally, they focus on coping and regularly loose sight of the bigger picture and the current context. 

Working and leading in a constantly changing environment is the new normal now. Therefore, it is time for us as leaders to make sure standards and expectations are clear, the mission is primary to our actions, and that we all create a productive discomfort zone rather than a chaotic one. As Ilya Prigogene, Belgian physical chemist and Nobel Laureate noted for his work on dissipative structures, complex systems and irreversibility, wrote: “The world evolves through change; stability is not balance but change.” Remember this week to help people be better prepared for this new reality.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Improving Leadership And Management Is A Daily Process

Recently, I was rereading two articles in preparation for the third session of the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. In the first article called “What Great Managers Do” by Marcus Buckingham, Harvard Business Review, March 2005, the author states that great mangers “discover what is unique about each person and then capitalize on it. Average managers play checkers, while great managers play chess. The difference? In checkers, all the pieces are uniform and move in the same way; they are interchangeable. You need to plan and coordinate their movements, certainly, but they all move at the same pace, on parallel paths. In chess, each type of piece moves in a different way, and you can’t play if you don’t know how each piece moves. More important, you won’t win if you don’t think carefully about how you move the pieces. Great managers know and value the unique abilities and even the eccentricities of their employees, and they learn how best to integrate them into a coordinated plan of attack.”

Right now, as I work with large and small, for-profit and non profit, organizations, I have a discovered a common problem - too many people in management and leadership positions are playing checkers, not chess. They do not comprehend the importance of, and value to their organization of taking the time to play chess. For them, a successful business is based on every one being efficient in how they execute on their goals. Failure is not an option or a learning experience, and all feedback is one way. Furthermore, there is low psychological safety in the work place, and a high degree of accountability, resulting in no innovation, little effective communication, or respect, plus a tremendous amount of anxiety about the future and change. However, if more of these same leaders were to comprehend and understand the importance of “playing chess”, then we would see greater degrees of commitment, motivation and effort through out the organization.

The second article I read in preparation for the third session of the 2013 From Vision to Action Leadership Training was called ““Helping People Achieve Their Goals” by Marshall Goldsmith and Kelly Goldsmith from Leader to Leader magazine, No. 391, Winter 2006. Here, the two authors explore in-depth the common problems around why people give up on achieving their goals. One problem in particular, from my vantage point as a consultant and executive coach, is rampant in the world of leadership and management at this time period. As they explain, “Managers often confuse two terms that appear to be synonymous but are actually quite different: simple and easy. We want to believe that once we understand a simple concept, it will be easy to execute a plan and achieve results. If this were true, everyone who understood that they should eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly would be in shape. Diet and exercise books are almost always at the top of the best-seller lists. Our challenge for getting in shape--as well as changing leadership behavior--is not understanding, it is doing!”

What we forget as leaders and managers of teams, departments or whole organizations is that short and long term change requires real effort. It does not happen overnight and if it did, I suspect it would not be sustainable. The solution is to better educate your current and your potential, future leaders about leadership, strategic planning and execution, and organizational change. 

With the above in mind, now is the time to sign up these key people for 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 work on the whole of the organization rather than just within the organization.  

As many of us know from experience, learning to lead in new and better ways is challenging, particularly for busy leaders. Still, if they understand why this level of learning is important, and how it will be helpful, then they will approach it as a long term investment and development process. As John Maxwell wrote many years ago, “Leadership develops daily, not in a day.”

For more information on how to register for the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

Whether we are learning how to “play chess” rather than checkers, or differentiating between simple and easy, now is the time to prepare more people to become better leaders. The From Vision to Action Leadership Training is a great place to start in 2014.

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Giving and Getting

Some leaders give.

Some people get.

A few leaders give to get.

Others just want the getting without the commitment.

But the best leaders, those who are servant leaders, know that you can not give what you have not got.

These people work hard to stay clear, balanced and centered in the midst of their busy days. They lead and work with their minds and their hearts.  

The result? 

They have the time and the energy to give, and to care about giving.  

And those who receive it, know that it comes from an authentic place. Integrity is a word and a feeling when interacting with these leaders. They do not breed false emotions, waste relationships, or implement situational ethics. They do not role model hate, biases, or prejudices. 

When true leaders give, others welcome the gift, and value the insights learned from the time together.

This week work on becoming a servant leader.  Then, you will give from a place of clarity and centeredness, and this will make all the difference in the world.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

Workshops, Seminars and Conferences

Now is the time of year when everyone rushes off to a workshop, seminar or conference. We sit in large rooms with raised stages, podiums and microphones watching endless power point presentations. We feel inspired and hopeful by what we have learned. We return to the work place fired up and committed to changing everything.

The difficulty is that once we are back in the swing of things at the office, we often get overwhelmed and frustrated. At times, the perfect clarity we had achieved at the conference seeps away and the difficulties in the office return.

However, it does not have to be this way. Kevin Cashman in his book, Leadership From The Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life, Berrett-Koehler, 2008, shared an important study by the American Society For Training and Development (ASTD) that demonstrated a 72 percent improvement in learning when coaching follows training.

My advice this week: send people to workshops, seminars and conferences but also commit to 60 days of coaching post the training in order to assist them with the on-going learning and integration of what was presented. The choice is yours. The ROI will be priceless.

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Weakest Link

I have heard it over and over since I was a child: “a strong chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link.”  I have worked some with chains with my father-in-law on the farm, and have learned the danger and difficulties of not having the right chain or a weak link.

The challenge as a leader is to realize that a “weak link” on a team can cause major problems which have immediate and long term impact. The difficulty is that few leaders know how to deal with this situation.  

When asked as an executive coach about dealing with a problem person on a team, I always offer three recommendations. First, visit with the HR professionals in your organization. Often, there is history about this situation and there may be complicating factors. An HR professional can guide you through the process of deciding how to best deal with this situation.

Second, read the following book: Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass, 2002. A weak link on a team often causes problems in the areas of trust, conflict resolution and commitment. This is a good book on how to solve dysfunctional teams. It will give you insights on how to proceed at the team level in a realistic manner.

Third, if you in consultation with your HR professional choose to deal with a weak link, I would encourage you to review the fundamentals listed in this book: Patterson, Kerry, and  Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Crucial Conversations: Tools For Talking When Stakes Are High (McGraw-Hill, 2002). I know from experience that opinions will vary, emotions will run strong, and the impact of what is said will be long lasting. Therefore, remember that the only person you can change or control in any given situation is yourself.

At times, the weakest link can be made strong. People do want to do well at work. Still, which ever pathway you choose to solve this problem, always remember to be clear about the purpose of the work and the integrity of the organization’s core values.  These two elements are what must transcend the current reality.

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Thinking Ahead

“If you are thinking one year ahead, sow seeds.
If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree.
If you are thinking 100 years ahead, educate people.”

- old Chinese proverb

One major challenge happens right after Labor Day for many leaders, namely there is no time left on the calendar for anything.  From now until Thanksgiving, it is a sprint.  Then we pause and consume vast quantities of food, get sleepy, go shopping, watch a football game, and visit with family. Then we wake up the next day and sprint once more until Christmas.

Yet, there are times when we need to step back from the world of rushing to the next meeting or appointment and ask ourself some important questions: 

Am I sowing seeds?

Am I planting trees?

Am I educating people?

I understand that the calendar can be full at times.  There are weeks when every hour is back to back meetings. However, we have important choices to make. We can role model a different way of doing management and leadership. One way is to give ourselves permission to learn, to reflect and to regain perspective.

With this in mind, there is still time to sign-up for the Fall 2013 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable on September 19 - 20 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, Coralville, Iowa. Here is a link to more details about this event: 

If you are thinking ahead, make sure you sow more seeds, plant more trees and make more time for in-depth learning. I hope you can join us in a couple of weeks.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Simple, Yet Powerful Truth

I was reading recently and came across a simple, yet powerful truth: Relationships are more important than things.

There are days in my work as a consultant and executive coach when I wish I could chisel this one statement into the lintel, i.e. the horizontal support, above every door in an office. I also wish it was the screen saver on every office computer. Some how I just wish people would remember that relationships are more important than things.

The hard part is that people at work get so busy with meetings, reports and checklists that they forget about relationships.  They focus on measurements and metrics, flow charts and graphs. All of which are to prove that status quo is working or not working. Big words like optimization and bench marking, efficiency and value added define their focus and their reality.

But in reality, the company may be optimizing current practices but this does not address the very real possibility that the organization may also be exhausting its assets and resources because it is optimizing the wrong activities. Furthermore, these same companies may be bench-marking against their competition. However, we need to realize that doing the same set of activities or processes like someone else but more effectively can be nothing more than a recipe for mediocrity.

Nevertheless, this all could be different if people remembered that relationships are more important than things. Then, when poor choices are being made, people in healthy relationships would speak up and point out the potential problems before devastating consequences took place. Trust and commitment would generate more realistic strategies and goals, preventing incorrect choices and serious organizational misalignments.

However this won’t happen if people in leadership positions do not have the courage to embrace one simple truth: relationships are more important than things.

This week, embrace this simple truth and discover the power of healthy relationships.

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