Monday, December 18, 2017

Service & Joy

This morning, I have been thinking of the following poem by Rabindranath Tagore:

“I slept and dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke and saw that life was service.
I acted and behold service was joy.”

That last line is so deep and powerful, “service was joy.”

This past year I have been blessed with many opportunities to work with great people. We have explored ideas, reflected on lessons learned, and dived deeply into complex problems and complicated issues. It has been a good journey.

And through it all, I have been so grateful for the opportunity to be of service to so many fine organizations and good people. From the bottom of my heart, thank-you for these opportunities. They have brought me great joy. 

I look forward to what we will experience together in the new year.

With Christmas being next Monday, this week will be my last Monday Thoughts Blog until the new year. Warm wishes to all of you at this special time of year!

See you on January 8th for more Monday Thoughts!!

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Planning for the New Year

With the holiday season happening all around us, we as leaders and managers can get pretty busy trying to complete all of the end of quarter projects and reports plus stay on top of all of the family events and traditions. The days fly by and then sooner than we think it will be 2018. And with the new year will come a new list!

However, before another day goes by, stop for a moment, and reflect on the following questions: 

What went right this year?

Where did your team show progress?

Who stepped up and embraced the mission, vision and core values of the company?

What were the major lessons learned this year for you and your team?

Did you become a better leader?

In the rush to get it all done, reflection often takes a back seat. Given the many challenges that have taken place this year, maybe we need to pull over the proverbial car and pause at the nearest rest stop. Then, get out of the car, stretch our legs and look beyond the hustle and bustle of the moment. We need to reflect on the year and then share these reflections with others. In this way, we are building on the lessons learned rather than repeating the same mistakes of 2017.

This week, schedule an hour, and step away from the piles of work and e-mail. Sit down with a good cup of coffee or tea, and a pad of paper. Then, write down the answers to the above questions. It will be worth the time and the effort. Planing always works best from a place of clarity rather than a place of rushing around.

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

Monday, December 4, 2017

How do leaders recover from burnout? part #2

Once, maybe twice, in every life time there is a turning point. This is a point when you see the world differently, a point when you gain a new perspective. For me, becoming a father for the first time was one of these transformative life experiences.

My wife and I fell in love in college. Later, we worked at the same high school. As time passed, we got married and started a family. Once the baby was born and when my parental leave was used up, I went back to work.

At the end of each work day, I would do everything in my power to get home to be with our new born. While my wife had personal time, I would pick up our little bundle of joy, tuck him into the front baby carrier and just go for a walk. Just hours before I had been overwhelmed with the needs of the school and my teaching, but at the end of each day with him in the baby snuggly, I would just see the beauty of the world. I would walk to see the apple trees in the school orchard. I would walk to see the western sky and the setting sun as it hit the clouds. I would walk on the school prairie to wonder at the miracle of waves of grass blowing in the wind. All my worries and fears would melt away.

The miracles of the world were every where and I carried this little one to as many of them as I could. We shared the moment. We just shared the time and space together.

I still carry him and his younger brother in my heart each and every day. My challenge now is to remember to not loose touch with the miracles of this world that are still present each and every day. Now I have to go out and discover them again. I need to see the world and not let my challenges, fears and struggles define the world. I need to not let my burn out overwhelm my hope

As I have learned from the wise counsel of others, clarity of purpose can propel me forward through my challenges; my skills are often sharpened in times of challenge and difficulty; being humble is a powerful antidote to arrogance.

This week and for the rest of this month into the new year, I encourage you to adopt or re-kindle a new perspective in your life. It is the continual revelation that we are surrounded by miracles each and every day. It is time we open our eyes and see them. This is the blessing of this time we have together.

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

Monday, November 27, 2017

How do leaders recover from burnout? part #1

We had just sat down for our one to one meeting when she burst into tears. “I promised myself that I would not cry, “she reported to me. “I just can’t going on like this. I am so worn out. What do you think is the problem?”

“Burnout,” was my reply.

As H. Eric Davidson, founder and partner, of WaterMark Way wrote in the January/February 2017 issue of the Harvard Business Review: “Stress is a fact of professional life, but extreme pressures can lead to burnout, which has three symptoms: exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. While the solution may be a job change, you can also take steps toward recovery and prevention: Prioritize your health, determine which aspects of your situation are fixed and which can be changed, reduce exposure to the most stressful activities and relationships, and seek helpful interpersonal connections.”

As he continued, “Preventing and recovering from burnout often require quite different strategies. Prevention involves continually realigning different parts of your life so that they operate synergistically and creating a larger world view rather than a small one. (The latter tends to be the usual approach as we try to focus on the problem and “perfect” a solution.) Recovery requires something very different: A new worldview needs to be adopted (not invented by the sufferer), engaged in, and worked on. It takes time, commitment, and dedication.”

From my vantage point, I think there are two problems. I figured these out after reading the book called Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for A Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist. The first problem is fake rest. We as leaders are setting impossible standards related to performance. All the busyness and the endless pursuit of getting more done is creating numbness to what is most important in life. We try to work even when we should be resting. We work at resting. As David Wilcox reminds us,"We can not trade empty for empty.” 

The second problem is that we are feeling so depleted that we have forgotten what wholeness feels like. Many leaders suffer from the “hurry up” sickness. In a digital economy, I think we have lost the cellular memory of what it means to stop, rest and experience wholeness. We define wholeness now by how well connected we are to numerous electronic devices.

From my vantage point, the first step to creating a new world view and new way of living and working is for all of us to relearn how to stop working, and then rest. Personally, I can get caught in “go mode” where everything including relationships is boiled down to just being a project. The idea of stopping, i.e. stop working, equates to turning off everything and then crashing & burning. Rest is more than just sleep or hours of mindless TV.

The solution is for each of us to create stronger boundaries between work and home, to schedule buffer zones for unexpected events, and to spend more time preparing for our day rather than just diving into the day. Because the real question we should be asking ourselves is the following: When do I feel most whole and less scattered? For me, I enjoy breakfast out with my wife, going on vacation, walking in nature or being outside in nature, coffee with a dear older friend, or those deep quiet moments when we hold hands as a family and pray before a meal. In essence, for me wholeness equals connections and feeling centered.

The second thing I think leaders need to do at this time period is to build and rebuild connections within their support system. I have come to the conclusion that what people most want right now is time to be really heard, respected and understood. During these moments of heartfelt connection, we realize “we don’t all love the same things” but we can love the same people. I suggest that we need to visit more in person. We need more face to face time. We need to share our stories, and we need to listen to stories. In short, we need to remember to stand with and for each other.

This week, remember the following old Tibetan saying: “Wherever you have friends that’s your country, and wherever you receive love, that’s your home.” Keep taking care of your home. It is the place from which many important things happen that can impact your whole life. 

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Count Your Blessings

This is one of my favorite times of the year. 

First, I love it when family comes pouring into the house. Seeing nieces and nephews, greeting new boy friends and girl friends, welcoming aunts and uncles. The blessing of all being together is quite special.

Second, when family all gather at the table to celebrate the Thanksgiving meal, I love the quiet pause for prayers before the meal. Here with heads bowed we are thankful for the bounty of the food, the gift of being together one more year, and the miracle of being a family. This is truly a moment when we are blessed. 

Finally, I love the time after the meal when all participate in the clean-up in the kitchen. As food is put away, special dishes are washed by hands and the table is cleared, the room is a buzz in multiple conversations. It is during these times that I come to understand that “work is love made visible”. And after such a grand meal, a bit of clean-up together, we always make room for pie and whipped cream!

My hope is that you are blessed beyond measure this week. Celebrate family, count your blessings every day, and, when possible eat more pie!

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Great Leaders Create More Great Leaders

Multiple times each year, I ask students in my leadership training courses a question: What are the characteristics of a leader worth following? After 30+ years of working with thousands of leaders from multiple industries and all different parts of the country, one common answer has surfaced. Great leaders develop other people to become great leaders. While this answer may seem simplistic, it is actually hard to do.

First, great leaders get to know you. They do not just create role clarity, and define expectations. They do not just set goals and motivate you to achieve them. What they first do is learn what are your strengths, talents, and how you work most effectively.  Then, they match your strengths and talents with the opportunities and goals before the company.

Second, they spend considerable amount of time educating you about how your work makes a difference. They do not just put you in a job and make sure you get it done. They instead place your work within the context of the greater purpose and direction of the company. They want you to know that what you are doing every day has value and meaning. 

And finally, they assist you in learning how to measure progress. Great leaders want you to know that each and every day progress is being made. They educate you on how to measure your own progress so that the work does not become tedious or boring. They want you to feel engaged and purposeful.

The above three things take time and attention. They require a person in a leadership position to routinely develop and coach their direct reports. They require a leader to enter into thoughtful dialogue, and effective listening. They require a leader to give up controlling people and instead to focus on empowering them. 

These things are not easy skills to practice but they are, nevertheless, important.  The first step is to learn how to become a great leader. One way to do this is to participate in the 2018 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. Through a challenging, interactive curriculum which blends lectures, selected readings, small and large group discussions, and how to skill-building exercises, participants in this four part leadership training gain critical knowledge and skills to lead, manage, and develop people to generate short and long term success.

For more information on this in-depth training and how to register for the 2018 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

Great leaders always create more greater leaders. They understand that when more people can think, act and work like a leader, then the company as a whole will become great too. Therefore, now is the best time to sign up and participate in the 2018 From Vision to Action Leadership Training. 

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

How do leaders help others think and act strategically? part #2

When helping others to think and act strategically, make sure the senior team  has certain key characteristics in order to position the entire organization to be successful. As John Kotter noted years ago in his book, Leading Change, when building a change cycle, make sure you have the following as part of your key team, namely positional power, expertise, credibility, i.e. good reputations, and people with leadership experience. In particular, make sure this group of people have enough power to lead the change process and enough ability to communicate the new vision related to the change.

Every time I think about Kotter’s advice, I also think of Jim Collins and his distinction between executive power,, i.e. the power to make decisions based on your place in the table of organization, and legislative power, i.e. your ability to form a coalition of people to make something happen given you do not have enough positional power to change the current situation. It is the combination of both that needs to be part of the senior team. These are the folks who have the potential to make sure thinking strategically and acting strategically will take place within other groups within the company.

Yet, as I share this with you today, we need to remember the advice and counsel of Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao in their book, Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Crown Business, 2014), who note that “Effective scaling depends on believing and living a shared mindset throughout your group, division, or organization. Scaling is analogous to a ground war rather than an air war because developing, spreading and updating a mindset requires repleteness vigilance. It requires stating the beliefs and living the behavior, and then doing so again and again.” From my experience, leaders who have ground level experience and credibility make a huge difference when it comes to strategic thinking and acting. 

This week, check to make sure your team has the right combination of characteristics to ensure that they and others will be successful in thinking and acting strategically.

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

How do leaders help others think and act strategically? part #1

It was a lunch meeting with the CEO and 2 VP’s around a small table at a busy restaurant The VP to my left wanted to talk about performance reviews and organizational clarity. The VP to my right asked the following question: “What are the questions you ask people to make sure people are clear?”

Here are the questions I gave him:

- What do you do at (name of organization)? This checks role clarity.

- What are your priorities? This checks goal clarity.

- What do you do that matters most? This checks mission clarity.

- Why is this important work to do? This checks strategic clarity.

Then, we entered into a discussion about how to help people transform chaos into a challenge.

One of our great challenges as leaders is to get people to think and act strategically. First, according to Aaron Olson and B. Keith Simerson in their book, Leading With Strategic Thinking: Four Ways Effective Leaders Gain Insight, Drive Change, and Get Results (Wiley, 2015), strategic thinking comprises three activities, namely assessing situations, recognizing patterns, and making decisions. Others define strategic thinking as the ability to anticipate the future, the ability to create strategies to achieve the organization’s vision, and being aware of the impact of your actions.

These are all very good answers. Yet, I want to approach this from a different angle. First, I believe thinking strategically requires someone to have the capacity to zoom out before they zoom in, i.e. knowing when to step back rather than to lean in. According to Jim Collins and Morten Hansen in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (HarperCollins, 2011), when we zoom out before we zoom in, the goal is to sense a change in conditions. It is not merely seeing the big picture; it is to understand how the big picture is changing. Once we sense a change in the environment, we need to ask ourselves the following question: How much time before the risk profile changes? The next question is the following: Do the new conditions call for disrupting our plans? Once these question are answered, leaders zoom in and focus on the execution of plans and objectives. 

From my experience, one difference about thinking strategically is that it is not about execution as in personal effort, but instead it is about execution of the plan as in making sure the whole of the organization stays focused on achieving the plan. 

Another notable element of those who think strategically is that they are not caught in polarity thinking. One unique element of those who do not get caught in polarity thinking is that they do not do this work by themselves. From my observation, if one is able to think strategically, it has happened after lots and lots of practice. I believe you need a strategic network of people outside of the organization who ask you questions about the things you are thinking about but from different angles. Effective leaders cultivate this strategic sounding board and utilize it on a routine basis. I believe a strategic network in combination with working with an executive coach makes a big difference in thinking and acting strategically.

For example, an executive coach and a wide and diverse strategic network will ask you to think through the following kinds of questions:

- Who are the different stakeholders involved?

- What is the impact to each group?

- What is the precedence being set for each group?

- What is the core message you are trying to send?

- What is the mindset you want to achieve amongst those who follow you??

It is the questions in combination with active listening that will make a profound difference in the long run.

At the same time, being able to think and act strategically means being able to understand the follower. Why? Because thinking and acting strategically is always followed by helping others to do likewise. According to Aaron Olson, and B. Keith Simerson in their book, Leading With Strategic Thinking: Four Ways Effective Leaders Gain Insight, Drive Change, and Get Results (Wiley, 2015), there are four types of followers. First, there is the follower who lacks competency and is unwilling to perform the task. Next, the follower who lacks competency but is willing to do the task. Third, there is the follower who is competent to perform the task but lacks self-confidence and does not believe they can perform the task, and therefore has self-doubt and lacks commitment. And fourth, the follower who is self-confident, is willing, and is capable of performing the task.

With the above mind, we need to find the “bell cows,” using a former University of Iowa football coach Hayden Fry term, namely the members of the herd that other cows always follow. Once we have identified these people, then we can connect with them on a one to one basis and begin the journey of helping others to think and act strategically. 

This week, build your strategic network, seek out excellent executive coaching on a regular basis and reconnect with the “bell cows within your herd.” All these steps will make a big difference over time.

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

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Future Shows Up Every Day

We were talking during a break in a leadership training when I realized that the young person I was visiting with thought that leadership was all about strategy and nothing else.

“Hold on,” I pointed out. “Strategic leaders are vital to the success of a company but so are operational leaders. It is the combination of the two, strategy and operations, that makes the company move forward through time successfully.”

“OK,” he responded, “but operational leaders can only do so much.”

“This is true. However, they are mission critical.”

“How so?”

“You and I can stand here and talk about the future all we want. We can speculate on all sorts of possibilities, but the moment of truth happens every morning when the staff and your customers or clients, which ever term you want to use, work together to create effective and meaningful solutions.”

I paused and he contemplated my perspective.

“The future shows up every day,” I continued. “We can talk about two years from now and completely forget that two years ago, today was the future.  In the end, the best strategic leaders realize that they need the best operational leaders to make it real. The trains need to run on time each day. The staff needs to be well trained. The systems need to work. It is not fancy, best-seller book level stuff, but it is necessary. It’s what differentiates between good and great companies.”

“So, what do I need to do to make this happen?”, he inquired.

“Go to the place where the mission statement is made real every day. Visit with the people. Listen to their concerns, their challenges, their victories. Validate their efforts.”

“Next, do an in-depth systems review to make sure it really works like it is suppose to work. And if you learn it is not working right, then help them change it. Remember the capacity to have a future starts now. Operational excellence is nothing more than delivering on the mission each day and continually improving it.”

“I guess there is more to this leadership stuff than just thinking about the future,” he responded. 

“Yes, and that is why it is so important.”

And then our break was up and we both headed into class. 

Remember: the future shows up every day.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

How do leaders help their organization become more resilient?part #2

Leaders who help their organization become more resilient focus on creating three different kinds of clarity, i.e. three different forms of knowledge. The three different kinds of knowledge are the following:

- Declarative knowledge is factual knowledge which helps them understand and explain how and why things work the way they do.

- Procedural knowledge is knowing how to perform certain activities plus details the steps and activities required to perform a task or job.

- Structural knowledge is information about how to organize one’s thoughts in order to solve a problem. This form of knowledge helps in problem solving plus the creation of plans and strategies.

At the same time, leaders, who help their organization become more resilient, respect the power of culture. Ken Blanchard in his book, Leading At a Higher Level: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations (Prentice Hall, 2006) writes that when people leading the change fail to respect the power of the current culture, the current culture will kill the change initiative.

From my perspective, most organizational systems and initiatives are focused on improving what already exists. They are not aligned with the “new” change, i.e. new transformational strategic change. Furthermore, the ways we measure progress are all operationally oriented rather than strategically focused. Therefore, it is hard to measure if the culture is changing.

However, highly resilient organizations, writes Karl Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe in their book, Managing The Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty (John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2007) are highly reliable organizations. Wick and Sutcliffe note that “No system is perfect.” I would agree and say that no person is perfect, too. But as they point out “The essence of resilience is therefore the intrinsic ability of an organization (system) to maintain or regain a dynamically stable state, which allows it to continue operations after a major mishap and/or in the presence of a continuous stress.” The hallmark of an HRO, a highly reliable organization, is not that it is error-free but that errors don’t disable it. As they continue, “Resilience is a combination of keeping errors small and of improving workarounds that allow the system to keep functioning.”

From experience, lots of reading, plus visiting with many leaders, I have learned that creating a resilient culture involves three actions:

First, they image worst-case conditions and practice their own equivalent of fire drills. This can involve thinking through a black swan event and planning accordingly. Or those involved can participate in a pre-mortem. As Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne in their article called “Outsmart Your Own Biases” from the May 2015 issue of the Harvard Business Review wrote, “In a premortem, you imagine a future failure and then explain the cause…. This technique, also called prospective hindsight, helps you identify potential problems that ordinary foresight won’t bring to mind.”

Second, they institute routine After Action Reports. See my Monday Thoughts Blog for October 6, 2017 for more details about After Action Reports.

Finally, they implement a “Churchill’s Audit” from the book, Managing The Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty which is based on personal reflection. Here is his audit:

- Why didn’t I know?
- Why didn’t my advisors[/direct reports] know?
- Why wasn’t I told?
- Why didn’t I ask?

This week, consider holding a black swan event with your team and/or a premortem.  I also encourage you to do a Churchill Audit on a recent event. All of the above will help you and your team become a more resilient.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Wings & Roots

On the weekends, I go outside and listen to the earth.

During the work week, my days are very full. Some weeks I travel and teach. Other times, I am in meetings all day or visiting with people on an individual level. There are days when I am in the office, researching answers to problems, reflecting on lessons learned, or mapping out future presentations.

For the most part, I spend a lot of my time at work listening. I listen to strategic problems and operational challenges. I listen to issues about people, structure, systems, and culture. I listen to complex problems and complicated problems. I spend hours trying to figure out what happened and why. And then countless more hours, helping people figure out realistic solutions and effective strategies to move forward.

However, on the weekends, I step away from the computer, the e-mails, and the piles of paperwork. After my usual Saturday morning chores, I step outside and listen to the earth.

Here, in this world, time changes from minutes and hours to days, months and seasons. Here in this world, I listen to the wind. I listen to the plants. I listen to the calls of nature. 

In this world, I get to work with flowers and dirt, weeds and plants. In this world, birds and animals, the weather and the trees are all growing, moving, changing. The cycles and rhythms of life are all around me. 

And as this October quickly moves toward November, I rest in the knowledge that the five hundred plus tulips, daffodils, and crocus I planted over a week ago are settling into their new homes. They begin their journey to becoming spring miracles.

When I step outside and listen to the earth, everything comes into perspective. This morning I am reminded of the words of Hodding Carter who wrote, “There are only two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots, the other, wings.”

All the spring bulbs I planted recently are focused on one important task, namely to put down roots. Roots to prepare for winter. Roots to prepare for spring. Roots to become what they are meant to become.

This past August during the later half of the month as I listened to the earth I realized that the seasons were changing faster than I thought. I was outside in the middle of the week rather than just on the weekend because nearly all of my clients were on vacation, in meetings, or helping their children transition back to school. A rare pause in the hustle and bustle of consulting and executive coaching. Everyone was busy doing something else, and I could step outside and shift out of work mode.

It was a sunny day. I was down on my hands and knees pulling out invasive weeds and some very persistent grass that was sure my flower bed was the better place to grow. I paused in all of the work to just enjoy the moment. It was then that I realized that the new green of spring and the brilliant green of full summer was changing into the dark green of fall. I could just feel the difference. With the last flush of flowers taking place all around me and some of the summer drought having passed due to recent rain, I could feel the plants putting down roots, reaching deep and growing stronger. They were preparing for the return of winter.

Right now, in a world filled with many challenges and complexities, we need roots. We need to feel connected to our families, friends, and community. We need to feel a part of meaningful work within the context of caring communities. We need to feel like our lives matter, and that we are making a difference.

At the same time, we need wings. We need to grow and continue learning. We need to rise to our challenges and integrate new ideas and perspectives. We need to see the bigger picture, to explore the far horizon, to comprehend the length and scope of our existence.

About three weeks ago, I was out back of our house cleaning flower beds and hauling the trimmings out to the field where our neighbor’s horses, two large Belgium breeding mares, live. With dinner plate sized hooves, I have to look up into their eyes when they come over to the fence, curious to see what I am up to and wondering if I will pick up fallen fruit from our apple tree and feed it to them. 

On this particular September day, I came to the gate and the horses where thirty feet away nibbling on some tender grass. I opened the gate and pulled in my little garden way cart. I often dump the flower bed trimmings under a nearby walnut tree where the horses like to stand in the afternoon shade before heading to the barn for the evening. They like to push the garden trimmings around with their hooves and eat the tender bits.  

I looked at the mares as they moved further away to the east and came on into the field. As I dumped the load under the walnut tree, I looked up just in time to see the younger mare trot out the gate, heading west. I dropped the cart and sprinted after her. I knew I had to get in front of her to stop her forward progress. She went around the north side of vegetable garden, heading toward the apple tree. I raced around the south side of the garden and we meet on the western edge. 

I stopped. She stopped. I raised my arms and said “No. Back into the field with you.” 

I slowly approached and she backed up a step. I stepped forward one more time and she turned tail and galloped toward the gate just before the other mare escaped. Then, the two of them then raced into the field at a full, big horse gallop, kicking their heels and throwing clods of dirt in all directions.

When they stopped in the middle of the field, the younger mare looked over her shoulder at me. I could have sworn she was smiling, and that the two of them were giggling. I paused and picked up my cart. I walked back and closed the gate. Then, I watched them as they meandered over to the new pile of greens under the walnut tree, looking for the tender bits. By then, all three of us were smiling.

In world where busy is the new definition of success, we actually have few adventures anymore. We instead have full days followed by full days followed by even fuller days. We are connected to our flat devices twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We get so wrapped up in trying to get so much done that we actually don’t experience the miracle of living. We actually don’t have many wing or root experiences anymore; we just have stuff to do.

So, on the weekends, and even some days after work, I go outside and listen to the earth. 

This fall, I watch the big V’s of Canadian geese migrating to the south. I notice that the blue jays have started to fly together in small groups from tree to tree. A dear friend of mine tells me the juncos have come down from the north to over winter in the more milder climate of Iowa. I notice that the hummingbirds have migrated south and the gold finches have gone that way too.  

And I slowly move out of living life by minutes and hours and back into the world of days, months and seasons, I keep thinking to myself we all need roots and wings. We all need big adventures where at the end we have a smile on our face, joy in our heart, and the blessing of being alive. We all need to find a place where life is meaningful and the community is caring.

It all begins with wings and roots… roots and wings.

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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Problem With Solving Problems

Every day, a person in a management or leadership position is confronted with a problem. Instantaneously, they go into action mode. The goal of which is to solve the problem, and thus restore order and predictability within the company. The challenge is that every time a leader solves a problem they also create one. While this may not seem evident at the start, it is still a basic fact of the world of leadership and management.

First, in order to become a leader, one has to solve many problems. These problems usually take place at the front line position or front line supervisor level. The better you are at doing this the more people see you as having potential and capacity.  As a result, you get better and better at solving problems, because you are getting positive feedback about how well you are doing it.

Next, people in upper management notice that you are very good at problem solving so they move you up within the organization so you can solve more problems. Therefore, you move from being a front line supervisor to a middle manager. Upper managers are pleased and you are delighted to be solving more problems.

Now, in this new position the problems are bigger and more complicated. But, because of your early successes, you lean into them and give it your all. Slowly and then faster, you solve more and more problems. As a result, you get more and more positive feedback. Once the praise starts rolling in, you double down and lean in harder and faster. Now, you want to solve all the problems.

With this forward momentum, and when a position opens up within the senior management of the company, you are considered to be a “high potential candidate.” With your track record on problem solving, you ultimately get the job. And then things stop working out so well for you. 

First, there are operational problems, and strategic problems. They both need solving. The challenge is that by solving one you may actually create more problems in the other area. And the big question is which problem to solve first, the operational one or the strategic one.

Second, there are technical problems and adaptive problems. Technical problems have known solutions. All a leader needs to do is connect the right person with the current know-how to solve the problem. Adaptive problems, on the other hand, require a new perspective or expertise, and often challenge fundamental systems and/or beliefs. Solving these kinds of problems require learning about new ways of thinking otherwise the company as a whole may decline. The difficulty is that one person’s adaptive problem may be another’s technical problem or vice a versa. Sometimes, the problem is both technical and adaptive.

Third, what got you to the senior level, namely your ability to solve problems, is now a problem unto itself. Everyone has learned that you are the best problem solver. So, rather than solve them themselves, they just bring them all to you. Now, there are more problems to solve and no time to solve them. What at first was a good skill has now become a liability, because none of your direct reports think they can solve a problem. Your actions have taught them that only you can solve the problem. In short, solving a problem has created many more problems.

There is a solution to organizational problem solving. You need to learn how to be a better manager and leader. You have to unlearn that you are the center of all problem solving and instead learn how to create a team, a department, a division and then a whole company of problem solvers. In short, you have to become a leader of problem solvers rather than the chief problem solver of the company.

And this is where the 2018 From Vision to Action Leadership Training fits into the problem solving process. Through a challenging, interactive curriculum which blends lectures, selected readings, small and large group discussions, and how to skill-building exercises, participants in this four part leadership training gain critical knowledge and skills which improve their ability to lead people, to define problems, and better ways to solve operational and strategic level problems.

For more information on this in-depth training and how to register for the 2018 From Vision to Action Leadership Training, please click on the following link: 

Solving problems happens every day in the world of management and leadership. It comes with the territory. The key is to make sure that those who have the problem own it and solve it themselves. Then, you as the leader and they as the employees of the company can move forward successfully together. 

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