Monday, April 28, 2014

The Great Leap Backwards

With so many leaders feeling overwhelmed, many are defaulting to command and control leadership as their primary mode of operation. Whenever I encounter it now, I think of it as the great leap backwards. I know most leaders are choosing this way of working with people because they do not know any other way that will work, especially when change is so constant and messy.

In seminars now, I often point out that most senior leaders are either recovering controlaholics or just plain controlaholics.  It’s what got them to this level of leadership but clearly what will prevent them from becoming an exceptional and transformative leaders.

However, the push back I get from these same leaders is consistent. They routinely point out the importance and need for organizational order and predictability. Now, I am not against order and predictability. In daily operations, these are important, but I am against the great leap backwards to command and control as the primary and only means of helping people move forward through strategic change.

As I explain in seminars, command and control is based on fear, intimidation and dominance which does not generate anything more than forced movement forward. There is no ownership of the work, just work and more work. However, what many leaders desire during difficult, complex and challenging organizational change is for people to be resilient, adaptive, aware and creative.

Yet, what they forget is that command and control as a form of leadership focuses more on stability over change, i.e. the maintaining of status quo. However, successful organizational change, and the leaders who implement it, is often based on the understanding or expectation that there is a better or more effective way of doing something. Command and control, on the other hand, is based on getting something done, and then returning to status quo.

Furthermore, command and control often focuses on lowering that which has caused a level of disequilibrium or chaos within the organization. As a result, it often begins with the what-to-do factor rather than the why-to-do factor. The result over time is that it perpetuates passivity, resistance and resentment. It also involves assigning blame which rarely results in greater clarity and commitment from all involved.

There is another way of leading in difficult times but it requires a great degree of discipline and thoughtfulness.

First, we need to focus on alignment. Leaders who comprehend the importance of alignment recognize that the interconnectedness of the strategic nexus, i.e. the union of mission, vision and values with the strategic plan. These leaders are in an agreement in thought, word and deed with this nexus and act and work in accordance with this nexus. They choose to lead others with a strategic mindset rather than an efficiency initiative perspective.

Second, these same leaders focus on making sure they are creating the future rather attempting to control it. They understand that we are leaders and followers are really co-creating the future. It is not a “I create and you follow” mentality, but instead it is a “we create together” perspective. As Margaret Wheatly reminds us, “People only support what they create.” 

Therefore, leaders need to continually build trust and rebuild trust on a regular basis. They also need to show up, pay attention and listen carefully to others. This careful consideration of others’ perspectives needs to be taken into account, because it creates psychological safety to see what is really happening rather than what we think should be happening or want to be happening.

Third, these same leaders focus on empowerment. I think this is one of the hardest choices a leader can make, because it means giving up control which is something we often think we do, but in reality rarely do. It means choosing not to default to command and control even when the work is difficult.

The U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary defines command and control as “the exercise of authority and direction by a properly designated commander over assigned and attached forces in the accomplishment of the mission.” What most people do not recognize is that effective command and control is based on a bi-directional flow of timely and accurate information. Yet, this rarely takes place outside military circles because most people who default to command and control do it through fear and intimidation rather than respect and integrity.

When we as leaders choose to focus on alignment, co-creation and empowerment, it means we have to work from a place of clarity, commitment and connection. And those we work with have to know why the work needs to get done, not just how and what needs to get done.

This week, do not choose to make the great leap backwards. Instead, seek a new path so we can engage in the meaningful work of building a better and more effective future for all involved.

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

Monday, April 21, 2014

Living in a World of Hyper-Activity

Right now, we live in a world of hyper speed, hyper connectivity, and hyper vigilance. Every one is busy and every one is moving as fast as possible just to keep up with all that needs to get done. 

The result of living and working this way is simple. We are constantly being interrupted by texts, tweets, cell phones, people, meetings and e-mail. We do not think anymore. We just react.

The outcome for most organizations is organizational fear, paralysis and confusion. Driven by the pace of change, and fear related to internal and external issues, new systems are not stabilized before they start changing again. Leaders focus more on initiating change and less on completing it.

I recognize we live in a world of messy change, often based on incomplete information. Yet, in a time period when we have access to more information than any one else in human history, we, as leaders, are feeling overwhelmed because all the information we have at our finger tips often contradicts itself, and is often incomplete. 

Nowadays, so many leaders want simple answers to the complex challenges they face. They seek black and white solutions in a world that is filled with grey. The outcome is that most leaders today feel they are living and working on the edge of chaos or walking the knife edge between stability and total chaos.

So what are leaders doing in the midst of these challenges? 

Most are focusing on efficiency as the only solution. Yet in the back of my head I hear Peter Drucker saying: “Nothing is less productive than to make more efficient what should not be done at all.” 

Our challenge this week is to again pause and think. Is efficiency the best route to take in a world of constant interruptions and hyper-activity? I believe we need to spend more time now defining what are our challenges, reflecting on our different choices, and checking to see if we have the individual competencies and organizational capabilities to make an effective and sustainable choice. In short, we need to lead rather than simply react to what is happening around us.

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

Monday, April 14, 2014

Digging Yourself Out Of A Hole

When the phone rang and I heard the tone of his voice on the other end of the line, I knew there was a problem. “I realized something, Geery,” he said. “One of my divisional leaders has the wrong person on the wrong seat on the bus.” As he described the impact of this situation, I knew he was right. 

As he explained over the phone, after months of trying to change the department culture, improve the systems and stabilize the turnover within the division plus coach the poor performing leader to a new level of performance, things were just not working. “I realized,” he continued, “it was a poor hire from the very beginning. They were not a good fit with our company’s values.”

As he shared, I remembered John Maxwell’s “The Law of the Lid” in his book,  The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow them and People Will Follow You, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998, which states that “Leadership ability determines a person's level of effectiveness.”

Months later he called back and reported that they had removed the dysfunctional leader and asked others to step up. However, this resulted in other leaders burning out and quitting, too. “Why did this happen?” he inquired.

“It is not uncommon,” I replied. “B players tend to hire C players rather than A players.”

“Oh my,” he responded. “We have a lot to do to dig ourselves out of this hole.”

Technically, I pointed out, you can’t easily dig your way out of a hole. Most people just dig deeper. Now the engineers and construction managers I know would point out that you can dig yourself out of hole only if you are willing to dig a spiral stair case around the edges of the hole in order to get out.

In reality, we as leader need to recognize that we got ourself in the hole in the first place because of our beliefs and mindset. Our thoughts, or lack there of, led us to digging the hole in the first place. Changing people in certain positions may help but the greater and most important challenge is to not dig yourself into a hole in the first place. In short, our choices as leaders are based on what we think. And given what is happening in the big world at this time period, we need to do more thinking before we act.

This week, pause before you start digging and ask yourself, “Is this the best choice to make given the situation?”

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

Monday, April 7, 2014

Leadership Myth #3

When out on the road visiting with clients, I spend a lot of time meeting senior executives in their offices. Some offices are immaculate, dust free work places with every paper, pen and stapler in perfect order and ready for action. Others are filled with stacks of paper and reports on every horizontal surface in the entire room. And some look like the cross between a freshman college dorm room and a sophomore boy’s bedroom. In these, there are piles of paper, a variety of jackets and ties left on chairs, unfinished mugs of coffee, and numerous post it notes about everything on anything where one will stick. 

From experience, I know that each of us are doing the best we can given the circumstances before us. I also know that more and more executives are working longer and longer hours with no hope of ever getting caught up. Most just suffer quietly with the burdens of their work. Overwhelmed, they push hard and harder just “to get one more thing done before I head home.” And in this grand electronic era of constant connectivity, I am seeing more and more e-mails later and later at night, or very very early in the morning. Leaders at all levels are getting caught in one simple myth, namely “my job is to get everything done before I rest.”  

This mentality of 24/7 leadership is just not working. We are way past the burnout stage. Now, for many, we are deep into bone level exhaustion and soul numbing consequences. Personal lives and families are getting impacted, if not ruined, by people who believe they just have to “get’er done” before they can rest.

First, it is impossible to get everything done now given the flood of connectivity. There will always be more e-mail than time. The internet has not saved us time. It has instead accelerated it and created unrealistic expectations.

Second, at the current pace of change, there is no stabilization but just constant adaptation to continually changing events and systems. Furthermore, anyone’s real or manufactured crisis can upset the apple cart. Therefore, we need, as leaders, to re-learn how to practice self care.  Remembering an old adage of my Mother’s, namely “we can not give what we have not got,” it is time to rebuild our own personal foundation. Moving forward, we must lead from a place of clarity and health rather than exhaustion, burn-out or cynicism. This is not easy work but it is important work.

Finally, remembering the words of Kevin Cashman, namely “Leaders get what they exhibit and what they tolerate,” we need to role model a healthier way of leading. If we only rest when the work is done, then we are sending a signal through out the organization which will have a dramatic impact over time at both the strategic and operational levels.

This week, practice healthy self-care. Give yourself permission to rest well and work well. You and your organization will be much better in the short and the long run.

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