Monday, February 24, 2014

Wanted: Goals and Execution

Listen to front line supervisors these days and most will tell you that they are barely keeping up with their work. They have no time for strategic goals. It’s all operational goals and it never ends.

Listen to middle managers these days and most will tell you that they are aware of the strategic goals but because they are so poorly or broadly written, they barely pay attention to them. They are nice but unrealistic,

Listen to senior managers these days and most will tell you that all goals, strategic or operational, need to be SMART goals, namely specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.  For them, this is the magic formula for success.

Listen to CEO’s, Presidents and Executive Directors, and most will tell you that even with SMART Goals the organization is struggling to make things happen in a timely manner. They are frustrated by the pace of change and the lack of results.

And when I listen to all of these voices, I smile and point out that SMART Goals need to translate into SMART Execution. First, many leaders, managers and supervisors fail to execute, because they assume that all SMART Goals are owned and understood by those who are going to do the work. The truth of the matter is that many goals are imposed by those who manage the work.

Second, for SMART Goals to become SMART Execution, some one needs to be actively involved in monitoring and coaching the progress on the SMART Goals. Most SMART Goals are written and shelved. They are not monitored on a regular basis and people are rarely held accountable for them.

Third, as SMART Execution takes place, we need to realize that other people’s perceptions may take time to change. We all carry preconceived notions of other people and other departments. We are prejudiced by experience and information, i.e. we carry a preconceived opinion or perspective without just grounds of sufficient knowledge. While SMART Execution may be taking place, we need to understand that changing perceptions takes time and awareness. We forget that most people during constant change are not very aware of what is happening inside or outside the organization as much as just coping.

This week, help people to write better SMART Goals but also help them to translate them into SMART Execution. They key to success is for you to become a better leader rather than for them to become a better worker. It all starts with regular coaching, supervision, and monitoring of their progress on these goals. 

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Living and Working In Prolonged Uncertainty

We live, work and lead now in a world of hyper speed, connectivity and vigilance, which often results in constant interruptions, reactive leadership, and even organizational paralysis. 

Every week now I hear leaders tell me during executive coaching sessions that “the whole world is just a mess.” And privately, they haven’t a clue of what to do next or where to go in order to fix it.

I remind them that when people, teams and even organizations are outside their comfort zone and feeling like the world around them is in chaos, they need three things, namely support, perspective and a safety zone to dialogue

While being a senior leader can be lonely, one does not have to choose to be alone.  This is why many leaders come to the From Vision to Action Executive Roundtables.  Twice a year, leaders from a wide variety of organizations come together to share their challenges, their solutions and lessons learned. It is a place for in-depth listening and dialogue, 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.”

The Spring 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable is on on April 9-10, 2014 at the Courtyard By Marriott in Des Moines/Clive, Iowa

Here is the agenda for your review:

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

8:30 am - Registration
9:00 am - 10:15 am - Feeling Lost In Prolonged Uncertainty
10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Rethinking The Maps We Use
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking 
1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - Navigating the World of Excellence
2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - Building Bridges In the Midst of Complexity
4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday, April 10, 2014

9:00 am - 10:15 am - Staying Centered in the Midst of Constant Interruptions 
10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break 
10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
12:00 pm - Adjourn

If you are interested in coming, here is the link for more information and the registration form:

For all who are coming, I recommend you read the following article: “Lost And Found In A Brave New World” by Margaret Wheatley from Leader to Leader magazine, No. 68, Spring 2013. Here is the link:

It may be a messy world with a tremendous amount of chaos, but with support, perspective and a safety zone to dialogue, we can move forward. 

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Re-exploring the Strategic Mindset

When asked recently about what I think leaders need to be working on this winter, I have responded with two answers. First, they need to embrace a strategic management mindset. Second, they need to commit to operational excellence.

Believe it or not, many senior leaders are no longer focused on 2014. They know that if something new or better has not started by now, then more likely the more pressing problems left over from 2013 will consume what is left of 2014. Inertia and old stuff always slow down new initiatives during the first quarter of a new year.

However, the best leaders know that this is the perfect time to think through 2015 - 2018. Some are even planning out as far as 2020 - 2025.  All of them are doing this because they comprehend what it means to embrace a strategic management mindset.

Many years ago, James Belasco and Ralph Stayer in their book, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead, noted the following: “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.”

The big question for us to today is “What is a strategic mindset?” To understand this question, you have to understand that adaptive problems reflect a change of context or environment while technical problems often reflect a change in standard operating practice. With a strategic management mindset, it is the “genius of the and,” referencing an old Jim Collins term, where a leader knows the importance of making sure all involved have clarity of context, strategy and operational excellence.

Now to the last one of the above three, let us remember that Tom Peters, who is the one who started us all off in the search of and understanding about operational excellence, defined it as a workplace philosophy where problem solving, teamwork and leadership resulted in on-going improvements or continuos improvements in the organization. This took place when we focused on customer needs, continual evaluation and optimization of current work place activities, plus developed an engaged work force, i.e. positive and empowered.

This week, I encourage you to embrace a strategic management mindset, and commit to operational excellence. This will help you and the organization move through the normal turbulence and cabin fever of February.

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

Monday, February 10, 2014

Dying With Our Mouths Open

Over and over, I explain to struggling leaders that many of their problems begin with their form of communication. Some just scratch their heads and look at me with utter confusion. “I communicate all day long,” one young leader recently shared. “I am attempting to create organizational clarity which can be cascaded deep into the organization. Still, they are just not getting it.” I nod and explain that the more we communicate as leaders, the less we understand.

During the first session of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I ask the group to read the article called “The Leader of the Future” by William C. Taylor from the June 1999 issue of Fast Company magazine. In it, Ron Heiftz states, “leaders die with their mouths open.” 

Routinely now, I see more and more leaders with their mouths open and their brains on overload.  They are running a mile a minute and spouting off a variety of confusing key messages. Their followers just watch it all go by, and then shrug and get back to what ever they were doing. They have learned that soon enough their leader will breeze through again on their way to another meeting, and focus on something completely different.

When leaders are struggling around communication, I often encourage them to pause and ask the following three questions of their direct reports:

- What is going right in our organization?

- What do you care about in our organization on a daily basis?

- What do you do that matters the most?

The key in the first question is to understand how some one views the organization.  What we pay attention to influences how we work every day.

The key in the second question is to understand what motivates them at work. On a daily basis, most people care about what they are doing. Our job as a leader is to build off of this foundation and hopefully be able to align this person with the strategy and vision of the organization.

Finally, the key in the last question is to see if the person believes in what they are doing each day. If it is just a job, then you will know it by their answer. If, on the other hand, what they do is in full alignment with the mission of the organization, then you have someone who, with the right leadership actions, can make a world of difference.

Excellent leaders know they need to talk less and listen more on a day to day basis. When they listen to understand before being understood, plus seek the input from different people and honestly value different perspectives, they are creating a powerful work place culture, one that can rise to every challenge.

This week, focus less on talking and more on listening. It will be the start to becoming an exceptional leader.

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

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Living and Working in Turbulent Times

“The challenge for leaders in every field,” notes William Taylor in Practically Radical: Not-so-crazy ways to transform your company, shake up your industry, and challenge yourself, William Morrow, 2011, “is to emerge from turbulent times with closer connections to their customers, with more energy and creativity from their people, and with greater distance between them and their rivals.” 

Clearly when one steps back from the daily grind and looks at the bigger picture, we are clearly in “turbulent times”, and we have important choices to make as a result.

As Taylor continues, “We are living in the age of disruption. You can’t do big things if you are content with doing things a little better than everyone else.”

Our challenge then as executives, managers and supervisors is to create organizations that can cope with disruption and still stay focused on the right things.

As Ilya Prigogene, Belgian physical chemist and Nobel Laureate noted from his work on dissipative structures, complex systems and irreversibility, “stability is not balance but change,” 

So what is the problem?

Management guru Jim Collins puts it this way: “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.” 

If you are seeking to avoid mediocrity and chronic inconsistency in your organization, then now is the time to sign up your key people to participate in the 2014 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. We need more leaders at all levels who have the capacity to think strategically and who can execute effectively given the challenges before us.

For more information about this unique learning experience, please click on the following link:

Turbulence and disruption are not going away. Having an improved capacity to deal with it is the right choice to make 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

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Need For Collaborative Leadership

Over the years, I have visited with many leaders and witnessed many leaders in action. Some have been good and some have been poor. Occasionally, some have been excellent. When I reflect on the best ones, I see a growing pattern in their actions. These top leaders understand the declining power of positional leadership and the rise and importance of collaborative leadership, especially when it comes to solving adaptive problems.

Recently, during one to one executive coaching sessions, people, who have the title but not the power or ability to make change happen, have shared how deeply frustrated they are that they can not generate the outcomes they are wanting to take place. They can not believe how other organizational leaders are making things happen. They are especially perplexed by how others create buy-in and ownership. They are even more frustrated about how other leaders seem to get strategy to not be trumped by tactics.

“What’s the difference?” they often ask me.

While I could point out how one leader has more training, coaching, or experience than the other, this would not always be accurate. In the end, I point out that one person choose positional leadership as their foundation while the other choose collaborative leadership. Furthermore, the individual who choose  collaborative leadership, will have access to the power of the whole, i.e. the whole strategic nexus and the whole team.

In the beginning, common language helps people when they seek to use a collaborative form of leadership.  This foundation helps with the capacity to plan and with then capacity to execute. Former From Vision to Action Leadership Training participants often talk with me about the importance of shared language and shared understanding in creating successful change. Many think this is the unifying element to the work of making change happen successfully, mostly because it builds shared commitment and the improved ability to collaborate.

As they point out, positional leadership’s major tool is the power they have in their position. Collaborative leaders activated to the power of stake holder enrollment. Collaborative leaders consciously move people from unaware to commitment. Collaborative leaders focus on cultural clarity and results while positional leaders only focus on results.

This week I encourage you to become a collaborative leader who focuses on using common language and building a greater understanding. It will make a world of difference over time.

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