Monday, February 29, 2016

The Leadership Mistakes We Keep Making - Part #2

Picking up from where I left off last week, the third mistake that leaders keeping making right now is that they forget that getting rid of obstacles to change does not equal empowering others to act. It may help, but it is not the same thing. For example, when we get rid of obstacles that block action, we may have to deal with disempowering bosses who withhold or do not provide key information. We also may have to deal with structural barriers such as too many layers of management where people second guess and criticize actions being taken. We may even have to re-examine our performance measurement and reward systems. When we take these actions, we send a signal to others in the company that change is going to happen.

But one result of removing all of the barriers to change can be people feeing like deer-in-the-headlights, overwhelmed and fearful. From past experience, we know that what we believe, experience and observe all influence our actions. When barriers are removed, some people will experience an undercurrent of fear even if the changes are good and important to be made. For these people, the problems you know are better than the ones you do not know.

On the other hand, when we empower others, there has to be psychological safety which is the combination of emotional support and assistance in problem solving. This will involve on-going coaching and on-going communication and dialogue. Through this level of sharing and analyzing, goals are clarified and important learning takes place. 

From my experience, empowered people have confidence in their ability and their knowledge, and in their team and their company. They believe they can make the right decisions and they believe they are role modeling what is most important. Furthermore, empowered people can make choices about how to achieve predetermined outcomes and goals. They believe they are engaged in meaningful work. In short, empowerment is the process of increasing the capacity of individuals or groups to have the confidence and clarity to make choices and to transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes, i.e. meaningful work.

Stephen Covey in his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (Free Press, 2004) reports that empowerment is held back by the following factors: 
- 97% - Managers afraid to let go
- 93% - Misaligned systems
- 92% - Manager lacks skills
- 80% - Employees lack skill

Given the above, leaders who want to empower more people and to teach them new behaviors must take the following steps.

First, we need to get better at role-modeling. We must be trustworthy, and routinely build greater levels of personal, strategic and organizational trust, plus improve our own character and competence.

Next, we need to get better at creating a shared understanding of vision, strategy, mission, vision, and core values. This will only happen if we are willing to schedule the time for a greater level of strategic dialogue.

Then, we need to get better at aligning people, systems and expectations. The better we clarify our expectations the better people will perform.

The fourth leadership mistake we keep making is that leaders often forget that building a team is not the same as maintaining a team. In the beginning, the goal of most teams is about defining a common problem and solving it. Ruth Wageman, Debra A. Nunes, James A. Burruss and J. Richard Hackman in their book, Senior Leadership Teams: What It Takes To Make Them Great, Harvard Business School Press, 2008, write that we need the right people and a compelling direction that is clear, challenging and consequential if we are seeking better levels of team work. They also point out that we need a solid structure, i.e. define exactly what the team is to do strategically, a supportive context, i.e. access to the resources they need, and some team coaching which will help them to evolve, learn, and grow over time. 

But building a team is not maintaining a team. The later requires us to “build heritage relationships,” i.e. build relationships before you need them and then focus on staying connected to them once they are on the team, role modeling collaborative behavior before, during, and afterwards, making sure team leaders are both task and relationship oriented, plus helping team leaders to understand  the challenges of role clarity and task ambiguity. For more detail on this subject, I suggest you read the following article, “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams” by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson, Harvard Business Review, November 2007.

Remember: practice empowering more people, doing a better job of role modeling new behaviors, and maintaining your teams. It will make a world of difference.

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

Monday, February 22, 2016

Scaling Up For Growth

Growth is on the mind of every senior leader as we move through these winter months. In executive coaching sessions and during strategic reviews, CEOs and their teams are thinking and planning about how to grow and what it will take to sustain performance during growth. 

The most common question I get asked along the way is the following: “Are there any good resources which I could read on this subject to help me get my thoughts together about growth?”

“Yes,” I respond. “I would read Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Crown Business, 2014) by Robert I. Sutton and Huggy Rao. To date, it is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject and very applicable to today’s challenges. I also like that it is based on research over many years.”

Successful companies grow but what separates them from other organizations, according to Sutton and Rao, is that they first grow a specific mindset rather than just focusing on growing a specific foot print. This gives them a unique foundation to sustain performance during growth.

The other thing that successful companies do during periods of growth, according to the above authors, is that they make sure systems and infrastructure are in place to support the growth. As they explain, “Fix the plumbing before the poetry.”

We will be exploring the subjects of growth, excellence and scaling up operations during the upcoming Spring ’16 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. Senior executives and their teams from a variety of organizations and states will be coming. I encourage all of you to read the aforementioned book as part of your preparation for this event on April 6 - 7 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ankeny, Iowa. For more details, please click on the following link:

To register, please click on this link:

If growth is part of your future, I will look forward to seeing you at the Spring 2016 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

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

The Leadership Mistakes We Keep Making - Part #1

I have been thinking about a retreat I did recently. When the senior team gathered, we explored three key questions. The first one was “How do we grow the number of people who use our services given the current economy?” Those gathered felt they needed a better tag line. I pointed out how their current strategic plan had encountered entropy, the degradation of motion to non-motion. I also explained that they were not structured for growth, just the maintenance of day to day operations.

The second question was “Where do we want to end up?” While this is an interesting question, I explained to them that a better one given the first questions was the following: “What is our definition of success?” What intrigued me was that none of the senior people around the table had a common definition or understanding of success. By now the CEO was bewildered.

The third question was “How do we start changing our culture to not resist change?” Before I let us dive into this subject, I asked those gathered “What was their culture?” and “What should not change about it when they grow?” As they explored these interesting questions, not one of the senior team referenced their mission statement. I thought the CEO was going to have a stroke, because in the pre-meeting to the retreat he told me that the current mission was very important to his team and his company.

There are four mistakes leaders keep making when wanting to initiate change. First, many leaders forget that communicating a vision is not teaching people new behaviors. When communicating a vision, we need to review Marcus Buckingham’s insights in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005. As he wrote, “To excel as a leader .... You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity.  To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you.” The key when communicating a vision is to recognize that we must communicate it in a manner that creates clarity, buy-in and understanding. We can not be speaking as though we are only transferring information.

Second, many leaders forget that strategy and short term wins are two very different things. First, strategy is an extensively premeditated, carefully built, long term plan designed to achieve a particular goal. Next, strategy needs to be adaptable by nature due to unforeseen variables rather than presenting a rigid set of instructions or tactics which has the potential to create organizational vulnerability. Finally, the best strategy serves an important function in promoting ongoing evolutionary success.

On the other hand, planned short term wins, not win, are designed to energize change agents, enlighten the pessimists, defuse the cynics, under mine self-serving resistors, and build momentum. The key is to recognize that short term wins must come early and fast. They are visible and meaningful, penetrating emotional defenses by being unambiguous. They also speak to powerful players whose support you need and do not have. 

While we develop strategy over time and through robust in-depth dialogue, we also must always create short term wins. We do this through careful planning. John Kotter, author of Leading Change, notes that effective short term wins take place between 6-18 months after change has been initiated and meets the above criteria. Kotter’s research also points out that companies “that experience significant short term wins by 14 - 26 months after the change initiative begins are much more likely to complete the transformation.”  

The other key to creating short term wins is the presence of better management. As we know, generating short term wins takes great effort. The problem in achieving them often falls into two categories, either “insufficient management expertise” or “lack of commitment by managers.” Both of these can be improved through in-depth training and effective and regular coaching.

Remember: Communicating a vision is not teaching new behaviors and that strategy and short term wins need to be connected. 

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

Monday, February 15, 2016

Manage Endings and New Beginnings

I was surprised when they called and asked me to come and teach a workshop called "Coping With Chaos."

Being a small urban hospital in the central part of the United States, they had been achieving moderate success by expanding their services with new clinics to meet the needs of their aging community. They also had focused on becoming more user friendly with a higher level of patient/customer service.

"What happened?" I inquired.

"We are going through a very rough time," the head of HR replied. "We experienced a time period of low census, and some people in executive positions panicked due to the numbers. So we closed one wing of the hospital and merged the medical and surgery floors for a more efficient use of our resources. I hope you can come soon.”

Fortunately, my schedule had an opening, and I agreed to come.

The morning I arrived to teach, I was surprised to find only 18 floor nurses at the workshop. I was told that I would be seeing 20-30 supervisors and part of the management team, along with only a couple of floor staff. As the day progressed, however, management never showed up, and only one supervisor dropped in for 35 minutes over lunch.

About an hour or so into the workshop, the root of the problem surfaced. Many of the floor nurses had not been against closing the wing; they simply wished it had been done in a respectful manner. As one veteran nurse of 19 years put it, "I came on shift at 11:00 p.m. at night to find a sign posted on the door of the wing of the hospital. It read: ‘Closed. Report to Third South. If you have any questions, put them in writing to the Nursing Executive before 7 am.’ We knew that the census was low. We just wish we had been included in the decision-making process and treated with respect.

"It was obvious once it had happened, that management had been thinking about this change for quite some time before they did it. Around here, nothing moves particularly fast. Why couldn't they have provided us with advance warning, or asked us for our insights into formulating these changes? We would have helped, but this method of decision making doesn't exactly encourage trust and participation.”

As we progressed, many feelings came out that needed to be expressed. So I pushed my teaching notes aside, and we dove in. But it was during lunch that the real healing began.

"We know what is most important," one floor nurse began, "Our patients and their care. We are willing to work hard. We just ask for a little more support and kindness. I guess we will have to start by supporting each other." Through hugs, tears, and open sharing, they worked through the changes and moved on.

At the end of the day, I reported what had taken place during the workshop to the HR Director. Her response was: "I know that these are valid insights, but they won't change how we do things. We have to run a lean ship now that change is coming so fast."

While I could recognize the external factors that led to the decision, it was also clear to me that employees were giving their all to do the right thing for the patients. At the same time, they were being denied meaningful strategic level dialogue and input into decisions that had a direct effect on their work lives.

Remember: Leadership without strategic dialogue is demoralizing and will not transform challenges into achievements. When faced with significant challenges, leaders need to manage endings as well as new beginnings.

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

Monday, February 8, 2016

Change Is The Only Constant

Right now all across the country and around the globe, change has become the only constant, and people are reacting in a normal and dynamic manner. Thus, leaders at all levels need to routinely engage in more strategic level dialogues to create continuous clarity and focus. The challenge is that few people understand what is a strategic level dialogue and why it is important. 

In the beginning, think of a strategic level dialogue as a free flowing conversation about context, strategy and operational excellence. The goal is to help people improve their capacity to build, define, share and engage at a more strategic level. When they better understand the why and how elements rather than just the what to do next elements of their job, they can then make new and better strategic choices and transform those choices into consistent communication and action at both the strategic and operational levels.

Nevertheless, many leaders say they are too busy to spend time visiting with people. Now I know that many of them are getting caught in the trap that things are more important than people, but few recognize that the time spent visiting with people in a strategic level dialogue allows their colleagues and partners to better transform awareness and understanding into commitment and responsibility.

Still, I can hear someone in a management and supervisory position telling me that it would just be easier to simply tell people the strategy rather than  engage in a dialogue about it. Here, I refer them back to the work of James Belasco and Ralph Stayer from their book, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead. As they wrote, "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."

We as leaders have to recognize that in many companies, there are dual operating systems, i.e. one for day to day business and one for the design and implementation of strategy. It is the second one that is focused on continual development and communication of strategy. This is the one that will create a strategic mindset, the unification of understanding about context, strategy and operational excellence. When this takes place, we have the potential for creating strategic ownership.

So, how do we actually do a strategic level dialogue? First, it can happen any time and any where. Over coffee or over a meal, the key is to start with some excellent questions like the ones I shared last week in this blog.

Once you have asked a question, listen carefully to the answers. As the late Stephen Covey reminded us, “seek first to understand and second to be understood.” Build a common ground and perspective, and remember to connect everything back to the strategic nexus the union of mission, vision, values and the strategic plan.

Given constant change is the new normal, now is the time to hold more strategic dialogues. Can you afford to have less clarity rather than more clarity in your organization 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 1, 2016

Ask Better Questions

Week after week, people meet and try to solve technical and adaptive problems. Nine times out of ten, there are a lot of questions that surface during the process. Some are helpful and some are not. 

As leaders, it is time for us to ask new and better questions during our upcoming meetings, especially if they are strategic planning meetings. These questions can help you 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 current strategic plan tell us to do?

- Why is this important work to do? 

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

- Why do we need to continually improve?

These questions and the subsequent answers by others will give you an insight into the level of strategic and operational understanding of all involved. It may create for you some very important and helpful teachable moments. You may even bring clarity to place of 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