Monday, March 31, 2014

Leadership Myth #2

The meeting was into the second hour of presentations and reports about how to correct current tactical problems and strategic misalignments when the senior executive next to me bent over and whispered, “you can’t fix dumb.” It was a completely inappropriate comment about a young manager who at the time was trying to present his best thinking about a complex set of problems.

Our challenge as leaders is not to get caught trying to fix everything.  Even if we skipped sleeping for the rest of our life, we will never get caught up with all that needs fixing. When you enter the world of leadership, you will learn that everything and every one wants your attention in the workplace. But many leaders at this time period are caught in the trap of trying very hard to fix everything that is broken.

We forget that what got us promoted over the course of our careers was our capacity to solve problems efficiently and effectively. The more we did this the more senior leaders at the time were pleased and encouraged our further development. We kept fixing things and as a result we kept getting bumped up to the next level of management. 

However, what was an asset in the beginning of our career can become a liability. This happens because when we fix everything for everyone else, we create dependent relationships with our peers and our direct reports. They learn, and then will always need our help to solve their problems.  

Rather than becoming a permanent fixer within the organization, we need to become a facilitator of helping other people learn how to manage their work and their challenges. In the beginning, this will take more time and some people will feel that it would be easier to just do it themselves. However, if we continue to fix things, we just perpetuate the problem.

This week, I strongly encourage to stop trying to fix everything and everyone. Instead, invest your time and attention to helping people learn how to solve their own problems. It will not be easy at first, but the long term ROI is worth the investment.

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Seeing Our Problems with New Eyes

“Most ailing organizations, notes John Gardner, “have developed a functional blindness to their own defects. They are not suffering because they cannot resolve their problems, but because they cannot see their problems.”

Given how resistant most corporate infrastructures are to change plus how many leaders are suffering from functional blindness, it is a wonder that we can get any thing done on certain days of the week.

Nevertheless, there is a a solution, namely to participate in the Spring 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable on April 9 - 10 in West Des Moines, Iowa.  Here, you will find executives, leaders and managers who are striving to not only see and better understand their problems, but also to resolve them. In an open and supportive, strategic dialogue, participants will learn, share and explore both their technical and adaptive challenges. The result is always fresh insights and new ideas.

Here is a link for more information on the agenda and how to register for the Spring 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable:

It is time we see our problems with new eyes and from new perspectives.

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Leadership Myth #1

First, we advertise for an open staff position, e.g. supervisor, coordinator or manager. Next, we interview potential people. Then, we invite a few to come back for a second round of interviews. Finally, we select the best one and make an offer.

During their first days at work, we have them fill out reams of paperwork. Then, they begin days, weeks, and in some cases even months of orientation. Either on-line or in person, we attempt to help them understand who we are, what we believe in, and where we are going as an organization. This in combination with multiple compliance trainings rounds out the orientation stage.

After that, on-boarding takes place. Here, the new person works with their supervisor to learn the day to day operations of the company, participate in their initial coaching, and receive their first round of goals. Through team meetings and other events, they come to understand how to do their job and how to be successful. They also build relationships with the rest of their team.

And some where in this process, supervisors, coordinators, and managers learn that there job is to come up with all of the answers. I don’t know how this happens, but it is highly destructive mind set, and a clear road to burn-out and dissatisfaction. Being the source of everything has never lead people to become an engaged member of the workforce or to generate clarity through out their area of influence.

Our job is a simple one this week. First, do not embrace the notion that leaders need to be source of all the answers. The best leaders actually ask the better questions, rather than give all the answers.

Second, we need to mentor and coach all the other leaders who are getting stuck buying into this myth.  It is time we help them unload this burden and instead rise to a new level of leadership. 

In short, this may not be easy work but it is important work, especially if we want to keep the best people that we have just worked so hard to recruit, orient and on-board.

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

Starting at the Wrong Place

When senior teams are struggling, they often do it in a dramatic fashion. People take sides. Words are spoken, and later regretted. Meetings become highly dysfunctional. Everyone gets upset and in the end, a consultant is called in to figure out the exact problem and to make specific recommendations.

I have witnessed these situations many times over the decades of my work. They are not pretty and can be quite painful for all involved. Still, there are a few steps people can take in order to start moving in the right direction and prevent many common problems.

First, when building the agenda for the senior leadership team meetings clarify whether an item on the agenda is one of the following:

- information sharing
- consultative
- coordinating
- decision making

This will help all involved to know what level of participation needs to take place.

Second, read the one of the following two books: 

- Wageman, Ruth, Debra A. Nunes, James A. Burruss and J. Richard Hackman. Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great, Harvard Business School Press, 2008, 

- Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Jossey-Bass, 2002.

This will give you new tools and perspectives about what to do when it comes to dealing with normal problems and challenges.

Third, focus more on changing your own behavior than trying to change other people. While seems a simplistic choice, it is actually quite difficult to maintain a high degree of discipline and to consciously make choices based on seeking a common purpose to the situation before you.

Fourth, build individual and group level trust. As Patrick Lencioni notes in his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business, Jossey-Bass, 2012, “The only way for the leader of a team to create a safe environment for his team members to be vulnerable is by stepping up and doing something that feels unsafe and uncomfortable first.” Remember that without trust nothing is going to change.

This week, before you rush out to hire a consultant, do your own homework. Create a smarter team meeting agenda, read well written books on team work and team building, and focus more on your own behavior. This will be a good foundation for a new future.

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

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Great Leap Backwards

Given the rise of constant change, high market volatility, and continual organizational struggles to build infrastructure to match ever-increasing expectations related to performance, many leaders are making a great leap backwards to command and control leadership as the only solution. Right now, I am witnessing an increasing number of executives who are deploying this form of leadership to solve all of their problems as fast as possible. While the initial results may be beneficial, and help with constant, messy change, the major problem with this form of leadership is that it often comes wrapped in fear and intimidation, resulting in few people willing to take a risk outside their comfort zones.

However, there is another choice. It is to gather with other senior executives at the Spring 2014 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable on April 9 - 10 in West Des Moines, Iowa, and to explore alternatives to command and control which generate improved focus, commitment and effort. Here is a link for more details on this unique learning opportunity:

I hope you can join us as we seek to find more effective pathways to clear and effect action.

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

Monday, March 10, 2014

Eating Our Young and Kicking Out Our Old

It is happening again. The last time I saw this corporate behavior was in the mid-90’s. It did not work then and it still does not work now. Specifically, we need to stop eating our young employees, and prematurely kicking out our older ones.

Over and over, I hear young employees burning out from the massive amount of work they are expected to get done each day.  Many report to me that 60-80 hours a week at the office is becoming the new normal. These are not slackers or problem people, but instead people in up and coming leadership positions with commitment and capacity who have been presented with unrealistic work loads and responsibilities. They are expected to do all things and be all things to all people plus get their own jobs done at the same time.

The result is massive burnout and frustration amongst young and committed professionals right now. These are the people who we want to become future leaders in the company. They believe in what they are doing but not at the pace of change some are experiencing. These young people are struggling and ending up cynical, and exhausted. 

Meanwhile, some companies are also pushing out their older workers as too slow and not deeply committed to the future. These long term and faithful people are being encouraged to leave early without even a thank-you. They are being dumped off at the curb with the hope of on-boarding more young people who will blindly work until they are exhausted.

Over time, the outcome for this pathway to the future is a massive decline in organizational trust and respect. The good employees who witness this corporate behavior start bailing as fast as possible. The poor performers keep getting more goals and responsibilities adding on to them while the middle managers run a tread mill to no where. In short, organizational choices of this nature will start a downward spiral.

I witnessed this corporate behavior many times in the 90’s and it was a sad process. As I start to see it surface again in 2014, I just shake my head and wonder why. It will take a strong and level-headed leader to change this strategic choice before better days are to come round once more. If you think your organization may be on a trajectory of decline, then read the following book: Collins, Jim. How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009. There is hope but recovery is not going to be an easy process if we keep eating our young and pre-maturely retiring our older workers. 

I also encourage you to read the article “Why Your Company Must Be Mission-Driven” by Chris Groscurth which was recently posted on the Gallup Business Journal website < >. As the author notes, “Many executives don't realize that mission is an underused asset in improving organizational performance and profitability, and they neglect their ultimate responsibility of aligning their brand and culture with their highest purpose. Failure to meet a company's mission-related needs is failure of leadership.” The article includes a sound review of the 12 elements of great management, but it also includes the latest meta-analysis on the value of mission and its relation to margin. On page two of the article, I enjoyed reading about the “five factors behind the success-promoting, margin-boosting benefits of focusing on mission” and the “seven strategies for maximizing mission-driven leadership.” Overall, it is a good, short article and well-worth the time to read.

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

Monday, March 3, 2014

Searching for the Wrong Answers

After sharing for nearly 30 minutes about all of the different problems in her organization, she asked me a question, “So, what is the one thing I need to do to fix this?”

My answer startled her, “Quite looking for simplistic answers to complex challenges.”

Too many times this winter, I have witnessed leaders searching for a simplistic answer within a complex and non-linear situation. They assume that there is a singular, quick fix which will solve all problems and generate instant success. They expect all consultants to open up their magic bag of tricks and produce an amazing tool, recipe or secret sauce which will transform night into day, generate total enlightenment, or better yet achieve full and sustainable alignment. While I would love to have a cape, a wand and a wizard’s hat to make this magic take place, I have lived a fair bit and swum in the deep end of the pool enough to know that there are not always going to be simple answers to complex problems.

First, recognize that not everything changes in a linear fashion. Sometimes, we have to retrace our steps to make some things change, i.e. going backwards may at times be going forward. For example, we may need to restate why we are doing something as a company and what are the risks of not doing them well before we can move on to how we want to do something. Starting with what to do may not always generate clarity and commitment.

Second, in the beginning, we may need to take multiple actions and then wait to see what happens before moving to the second stage. While I love to plan my work and then work my plan, there are many times right now when unforeseen variables cause us problems over time.

Finally, people are not things. We think, move, and interact. We are dynamic and self-organize at the drop of a hat. We also are, for the most part, self-preservationist who would rather be safe and comfortable than stretched and over-whelmed.

This week, quit looking for simple answers to complex problems. It is time to honor that the world is dynamic and then move forward accordingly.

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