Monday, March 28, 2016

Commit To Service

We were sitting in pre-op that early morning at the hospital, a regional teaching center, waiting for the anesthesiologist to come. The room was full of patients quietly waiting and talking. Our youngest son was going to have minor surgery, and we had decided that I would be with him in the surgery room until he was asleep. So, wearing a gown and mask, I waited with my wife and our young son.

Into the pre-op room came an entourage: doctors, anesthesiologists, and their students ready to begin the morning. One by one they visited each bed in the room. But no one came over to us. At first, I was a bit worried. Finally, an older gentleman came into the room. White-haired and slightly bent, he had a noticeable tremor in his hands as he carried a tray of small plastic cups straight over to us.

"Would you like some soda before breakfast?" he asked our young son. Little did he know that in this four-year-old boy's household, soda wasn't necessarily the drink of choice. Therefore, he didn't fully understand the appeal of "pop before breakfast" and declined.

"Too bad," said the doctor, as he reached over and downed the first cup. "How about you, Dad? Want some pop for breakfast?" I looked at him, knowing that one of the cups had the preoperative sedative; but I wasn't sure which one. And playing Russian roulette with soda was not my favorite thing to do at 6:45 a.m.!

He smiled, offered one to my wife and took another for himself. There was only one cup left. He turned to our son and said, "Join us, won't you?" At that point, he picked up the last cup. We all lifted up our cups together, said "bottoms up," and downed them. "See you in a bit," he commented, as our son slowly settled down, ready now for surgery.

Soon, I was carrying our now drowsy son in my arms down the hallway to surgery. When we entered ‚ surgical trays were being set up. Doctors, residents, and nurses were all going about their tasks. Then, in walked the older anesthesiologist with a couple of students. He greeted us and picked up the mask that would go over our son's face.

I remembered that mask from when I had my tonsils out as a very young boy. When it was placed over my mouth, I remember feeling as if I was suffocating before I lost consciousness. During our pre-surgery orientation, the resident had warned us that it was not uncommon for children to fight and flail while the mask was being put on.

This older gentleman simply held the mask above our son's head and talked to him about preschool and soccer. Occasionally, he would call out a number to his assistant who was running the controls. Slowly, our son slipped over the edge.

Once he was unconscious, the anesthesiologist gently slipped the mask on, turned to me and said, "He's ready. You can go now. " Suddenly, I realized that the entire surgical suite was quiet. All of the nurses and residents had watched him interact with our son in this peaceful way. Once the mask was on, the hustle and bustle of surgery started up again, and I went back down the hall to pre-op to meet my wife and begin our waiting.

A couple of hours later, we were in the post-surgery suite, as our son came to. With monitors beeping quietly and nurses attending to him, the anesthesiologist returned to check on his patient. I thanked him for his kindness. Then, before leaving, he turned and said, "When I was a younger doctor, I would typically just put the mask on and get the ball rolling. But since I became a grandfather, every child looks like my grandson. I can't work in that manner any more. Kindness and compassion are vital to this service." Through this experience, I realized what a difference this grandfather's "commitment to service" had made in the lives of our own family.

Our commitment to those we serve is vital to our success. When transforming a challenge into an achievement, we must realize that there is a fundamental difference between helping customers or employees, and serving them. "Helping" is based on inequality. We are aware of our own strengths, opinions, and options, as well as what we think needs to be done. Often, those who are "being helped" can feel diminished in the process.

On the other hand, service and servant leadership involve a relationship between equals; the feeling is one of mutual exchange. The difference is in the commitment. Many organizations say they are committed to the customer but truly do not care for them. These organizations will repeat whatever they are currently doing, until time stops and the world ceases to turn. Unfortunately, their commitment is really to themselves.

Other corporations will attempt to listen and respond to the articulated needs, wants, and desires of the customers, but paralyze themselves with policy-and-procedure manuals that are three feet thick. The result is frustration, made even worse through limited feedback. The staff members of these corporations are attempting to leap tall buildings in a single bound with concrete shoes!

Yet, many leaders create organizational cultures where a commitment to customers and to one another carries an ethic of true service. These organizations guide and lead their customers to services and products they had not even envisioned, and they do it in a manner whereby both experience satisfaction and mutual respect.

The doctor who cared for my son was just such a person. While proficiently attending to the medical details of preparing a child for surgery, he was simultaneously aware of the psychological aspects of how to serve the child, so that the experience would not be a traumatic one for the child -- or for the parents.

The ultimate question of service is simple: Am I acting to fulfill my own needs, or am I acting to serve others? The greatest action we can take is to serve another in a respectful and healthy manner. At that moment, we live our commitments. As Calvin Coolidge noted, "No person was ever honored for what he received. Honor has been the reward for what he gave."

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

Monday, March 21, 2016

Live Your Core Values

We were discussing trust, change, and strategic development, when I noticed a gold ring, tastefully mounted on a beautiful piece of wood. When I asked the person about it, his response surprised me: "It belonged to my father. Last winter, he was coming off the highway onto an icy exit when the back tires of his 18 wheeler started sliding on the ice. He was killed in the accident. I grieved long and hard. It happened during his last remaining weeks at work before he retired.

"Still, in the midst of all my sadness, I feel okay, in part because a week before the accident I had gotten up early, picked up a box of donuts, and had driven over to have breakfast with him. At the time, I didn't really have time to go. I was swamped with meetings and appointments, and we had an evaluation coming up that everyone was working hard on. Still, I had a gut feeling that it was important to do, so I went.

"We talked about the weather, trucking, and my work. I encouraged him to skip the last couple of weeks before retiring and take some of the vacation time that he had been saving. I told him I loved him, that I appreciated him and was proud of him. We aren't normally very demonstrative, but I'm so glad now that I went out of my way to see him.

"And all I have now is this gold ring to remind me of our time together. This gold ring reminds me to create those kinds of connections here at work. It makes all the difference, really. This ring reminds me of the power of taking time, and to not neglect the things that really matter in the heat of the hectic pace."

Every day at work, connections are waiting to happen - opportunities to take core values and turn them into living experiences. Don’t waste these opportunities for genuine sharing and role modeling. As Bill Byrne has stated, “Choice, not chance, determines destiny."

Remember: Make time on a regular basis to live your core values and to build the community you seek. It will be the foundation for today and tomorrow.

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Defining Priorities

Over the last 16 months, I have had the delightful opportunity to teach and visit with numerous first time, front line supervisors from many different industries and from many different parts of the country. Repeatedly, in large and small group settings, I have been asked the following question: “How do you prioritize?” It is a fantastic question and one that I, and other senior leaders, have struggled to answer.

The challenge is that we, experienced coaches, consultants, and senior leaders, do it unconsciously. We really don’t think about it. Instead, we just do it. The difficulty is that others are wanting to do it well too. And now we are called to explain our thinking and our process.

First, I know that defining priorities is not a linear process but instead a more dynamic process with multiple things happening at once. 

Second, discernment, which is the first step to defining priorities, happens when there is a framework that is guiding the organization and the person. 

Third, successful leaders understand that defining a priority is not the same as actually executing a priority. It is the later that makes the former a true priority.  

We will be exploring this subject and many others in greater detail during the upcoming Spring ’16 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. 

For more details, please click on the following link:

To register, please click on this link:

If defining priorities and helping others do this better 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

Monday, March 14, 2016

Pull Together

The capacity of an organization to transform itself reflects its ability to work together as a team. As Margaret Wheatley reminds us, "It is time to become passionate about what is best in us, and to create organizations that welcome our creativity, contribution, and compassion. We do this by using processes that bring us together to talk to one another, listen to one another's stories, reflect together on what we're learning as we do our work. We do this by developing relationships of trust, where we do what we say, where we speak truthfully, where we refuse to act from petty self interest."

From this perspective, leaders recognize that relationships are the foundation for action during times of prolonged uncertainty and instability. They are the glue that bonds people together through the trough of chaos.

One day I walked into a company, and as I waited in the reception area for the person who was to meet me, I couldn't help but be drawn to a gorgeous arrangement of roses. Then I noticed a small card attached to the vase: "Thanks for being such a great staff. I appreciate how you rose to the challenges these past two weeks.” It was signed by their supervisor -- a small touch, but artfully done, and a reminder that developing a team is an ongoing process.

When you have been through a tough period, part of the pathway to being able to come together is to recognize the importance of forgiveness. As Joan Borysenko wrote, "The psychological case for forgiveness is overwhelmingly persuasive. Not to forgive is to be imprisoned by the past, by old grievances that do not permit life to proceed with new business. Not to forgive is to yield oneself to another's control. . . . Those who do not forgive are those who are least capable of changing the circumstances of their lives. In this sense, forgiveness is a shrewd and practical strategy for a person . . . . to pursue ‚ for forgiveness frees the forgiver."

Leaders make difficult decisions every day. Followers work within tough parameters and make difficult decisions and choices, too. The difficulty is that, when key relationships are strained, leaders and followers have the potential to lose mutual respect and understanding. Successful change involves dialogue and a constant flow between learning and practice. To cultivate clarity, forethought, and focus, leaders and followers need to build the capacity to work together well -- before it is crucial.

Remember: In times of prolonged uncertainty, healthy team relationships make all the difference.

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

Monday, March 7, 2016

Break Down Silos And Build More Bridges

In preparation for the roll-out of a new strategic plan, the CEO asked me to meet with them and each of their direct reports to make sure they were all on the same page. To get each conversation started, I asked the following three questions: 

- What is changing now that we have a new strategic plan? 

- What will actually be different because of the new strategic plan? 

- Who’s going to lose what when we implement the new strategic plan?

Half way through these meetings, one person responded, “Nothing much will change. This is just like one of the new systems that we rolled out last month. It’s just more, not different.” There was a profound silence in the room and one could almost hear the CEO’s mouth hit the floor, it dropped open so quickly. I just smiled because we had run into a classic case of what I like to call “strategic blindness,” i.e we don’t see our strategy as a whole organization, and we just see the parts we like. In short, we had encountered a potential silo. 

We forget some days that “... status quo functions elegantly to solve a stream of problems and opportunities for which it has already evolved.” As Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky write in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, “Yesterday’s adaptive pressures, problems, and opportunities generated creative and successful responses in the organization that evolved through trial and error into refined structures, cultural norms, and default process and mind-sets.... In other words, yesterday’s adaptations are today’s routines.”

As Heifetz, Grashow, and Linsky in the aforementioned book continue: “Overtime, the structures, culture, and defaults that make up an organizational system becomes deeply ingrained, self-reinforcing and very difficult to reshape.” When things are going well, having a self-reinforcing culture, structure and systems is beneficial. When something important changes, e.g. the financial crisis that happened in 2008, an organization or a system’s tenacity can prevent it from adapting, and from learning to thrive in a new context.

The reason this happens is that the organization is trapped by it’s current ways of doing things, simply because these ways worked in the past. The thinking and acting in that particular manner produced success for the organization. It also produced success for individuals who embraced the “new” way of doing things. It even produced leaders who reinforced the “new” way of doing things. These “new” leaders reinforced what was working and do not challenge new structures, culture or systems. The end result is that the organization becomes blind to the ever shifting competitive landscape.

When encountering a silo, first, as recommended in the book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, diagnosis whether or not you have a silo or an individual who is acting like a silo. If it is an individual, then coach in or coach out. If it is a silo, diagnosis the subsystems within it like structure including who reports to who, culture including behavioral norms, meeting protocols, ways of problem solving, decision-making, and what reinforces the culture, e.g. a certain incentive program, and systems including default systems and processes. The goal is to understand how the silo got to where it is a silo and what keeps it from evolving into something else.

Second, with the above in mind, analyze the competitive environment. What are the new adaptive pressures, challenges and opportunities that are surfacing? Distill them into specific trends, demographics, and economic indicators. Recognize you are going to have to “sell the problems” before you find the solution.

Third, reflect on this quote by Stephen Covey from his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, Free Press, 2004: “If you want to make minor changes and improvements, work on practices, behavior and attitude, but if you want to make significant, quantum improvement, work on paradigms.” From my perspective, the power of an effective strategic nexus helps guide all involved when working with a silo. When breaking down silos, we need to have something to replace it with otherwise people, systems and culture will default to the old way of doing things. 

Remember: the culture of any organization is tenacious.

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