Monday, June 12, 2017

How do leaders prevent burnout? - part #2

The starting place to prevent burnout begins when one rediscovers their “Thinking Space”. As John Maxwell wrote in his book, How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life, Center Street, 2009, “I’ve mastered the art of making myself unavailable when necessary and going off to my “thinking place” so that I can work without interruptions.”

I have come to the conclusion that I agree with John Maxwell. I can’t know everyone. I can’t do everything. I can’t go everywhere. I can’t be well-rounded. But, I can do a great deal of thinking and reflecting which can expand my perspective and generate new insights.

So, the first big question today is the following: Where is your thinking space? As Brene Brown, PhD, LMSW, wrote in her book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution, Spiegel & Grau, 2015, “We can’t be brave in the big world without at least one small safe space to work through our fears and falls.”

The second solution to preventing burnout is to invest in meaningful connections. People who do this can handle a lot of stress because they feel connected to those who they work with plus their own friends and families. They also can handle a lot of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty because they believe they belong to something important that is larger them themselves. Finally, they can still bring their authentic and imperfect selves to work and life do so, because they have people in their life who make it a safe and trustworthy place.

When I first started teaching back in the 80’s, I created and taught a workshop on stress management. In it, I told people the only way to cope effectively with a high degree of stress and burnout, is to have three people outside your family who you could call for support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The reason why they need to be outside your family is because your family may be the problem or your family may have heard it all already and can not offer you any fresh perspective. This network of “friends” offers perspective. They love you for your strengths and your struggles. Brene' Brown, in her book, Daring Greatly, called these people “stretch-mark friends”. As she explains, “our connection has been stretched and pulled so much that it’s become part of who we are, a second skin, and there are a few scars to prove it. We’re totally uncool with each other.”

The second big question for today is the following: Who are the three people on your list that you can call 24 hour/7day a week?

The third solution to preventing burn-out is to be more grateful for the ordinary moments. Right now, many of us are so “busy” trying to fix everything. We also are busy trying to control everything and everyone. We even get so busy trying to get it or keep it all under control that in the end, we just end up numb to it all. In short, we have lost our gratefulness for the ordinary moments 

From personal and professional experience, I have learned that on the days that our lives are spinning out of control, e.g. sickness, pain, divorce, loss, etc., we pray for miracles. We pray for it all to go back to “normal”. We pray for the ordinary, i.e. the chance to get up, eat breakfast and go to work. We want to just be without pain, without sorrow, or without fear or confusion.

Our challenge is not perfection as much as the intersection between happiness and meaning. As Dr. Marshall Goldsmith and Dr. Kelly Goldsmith wrote: “In determining a personal mission, you need to make sure that you take into account both happiness and meaning. By happiness we are referring to your personal enjoyment of the process itself, not just the results. In other words, at the high end of the scale, you love what you are doing. By meaning we are referring to the value that you attribute to the results of your work. At the high end of the scale, you deeply believe that the outcome of what you are doing is important.” As they continue, “Maximize the amount of time that you are experiencing simultaneous happiness and meaning.” 

The third big question for the day is the following: What are the activities in your life where happiness and meaning intersect?

During the next two weeks, I will be taking some time to reflect on these big questions and to just ponder life in general. I will be back here in touch with all of you on the morning of July 3.  Meanwhile, I encourage you to do the following:

- Be kind to one another. We are all doing the best we can with the tools we have.

- Don’t throw any one under the bus. It hurts everyone.

- Pay attention to the daily miracles in your life. Wake up and realize they are all around us.

Thanks for reading. See you all again in early July!

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

Monday, June 5, 2017

How do leaders prevent burnout? - part #1

It started during a lunch meeting when she shared with me that she was bored and starting to burn out from the endless stream of details in her job. As she explained it all to me, I realized she was suffering from decision fatigue. The result of which was that she was becoming anxious, worried and frustrated. “If this is it,” she explained, “then it sucks to be a leader.”

She then asked me, “Should I apply for a new job?”

My response was simple and direct, “Will a new job make you a better mother, daughter, sister, wife?”

She looked out the window of the restaurant and was silent for a bit.

I continued, “Once you have the “new” job, what will your whole life be like?”

Her description was scattered.

Many decades ago, I was a speaker at a large, multi-day conference. As I result, I got to attend all the other workshops for free. So, in the morning before I was to speak, I participated in a workshop about preparing for the future. Once seated, the presenter looked over those gathered and asked the following question: “What will your life be like when you turn 40? 50? 60?”

And in the blink of an eye, I realized that I couldn’t answer the question. The categories were work, family, and personal. In short, I needed a picture, an anchor in the future by which I could pull myself through years to come. 

I realized that day that I did not have a clear sense of purpose, picture, plan or clarity about my role in it all. I was just doing the doing and following the advice of Alice in Wonderland: “If you don’t know where you are going, you can get anywhere.” The challenge was that I did not want to get anywhere; I wanted to get somewhere.

As Jim collins pointed out in his writing: “Indeed, the great paradox of change is that the organizations that best adapt to a changing world first and foremost know what should not change; they have a fixed anchor of guiding principles around which they can more easily change everything else.” 

Since that eventful workshop, I have done this level of thinking for every major ten year period in my life. I cross another decade this year and I am beginning a period of deep introspection. What kind of life do I want ten years from now? It is such a big question for me. I have learned that my intent and focus play a big part of my dealing with burnout.

This week, I challenge you to envision your life ten years in the future. What is the picture you hold in your mind’s eye, the purpose you hold in your heart, and the plan to get there? Now is a good time to figure it out.

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

How do leaders get coaching and employee development to become routine and systematic? - part #2

The obvious answer to the above question is to set up regular coaching sessions with all of your direct reports. During these coaching or routine check in sessions, help all involved recognize that coaching is a structured dialogue about purpose, strategy, relationships. It involves questions, analysis, action planning and follow through. In essence, coaching happens with you, not to you.

What we some times forget in the process of routine coaching and development time is that one goal of this process is to create improved role clarity, job clarity, and priorities clarity. However, there is something else I have noticed when people receive regular coaching. The more they are coached, the better the coaching becomes. In short, the experience of coaching and being coached has a cumulative impact. 

Along with routine coaching, another element to successful coaching takes place when we help people set goals and teach them how to prioritize. One element of this process is to check to make sure those who are receiving coaching can differentiate between a check list and a goal. In simple terms, a checklist is binary and focuses on done or not done. A goal on the other hand has a clearly defined WHY element to it, and generates clearly defined results or desired outcomes.

Having coached people for over thirty years, I have learned that people want to be heard, and they want to be respected. People are always doing their best with the tools they have. And when possible, they always want better tools and better understanding if it allows them to deliver better outcomes. Therefore, we as leaders need to remember that operational and financial results happen when we have the right people in the right jobs, creating and executing the right business strategy, and with the right kind of routine coaching and development. 

This week, put that combination of elements together and you will always have a winning season.

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

How do leaders get coaching and employee development to become routine and systematic? - part #1

“A coach or mentor is anyone who, in the eyes of the employee, ensures she successfully navigates the course,” writes Rodd Wagner and James K. Harter in their book, 12: The Elements of Great Managing Gallup Press, 2006. As they continue, “The important aspect is not which of many terms this protector goes by - friend, coach, advisor, sponsor, counselor, support - but whether the employee feels she is not abandoned inside the business.”

With the above in mind, if we want people in leadership and management positions to coach and develop their employees on a routine and systematic basis, then they need to get coaching and development on a routine and systematic basis. As the aforementioned authors wrote, “A great manager needs a great manager in order to be a great manager…. Before a person can deliver what he should as a manager, he must first receive what he needs as an employee.”

So, how does one become a better manager? The quick answer is to get routine coaching yourself and to never let ego get in the way of making decisions. When we role model thoughtful decision-making and being open to feedback, particularly in the stage of preparing to make a decision, we send a signal to all involved that people are willing to do their best if they can have the “tools” they need to think through their challenges and solve their problems. If you or someone you know is struggling at work and in life, always check the “tools” they have.

This week, seek out more coaching from inside and outside the company, and continue to improve your decision-making abilities.

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

How do leaders help people keep moving along the collaboration continuum? - part #2

Another key to moving people along the collaboration continuum is for people to have confidence in themselves, their team and ultimately their company.

According to an interview with Rosabeth Moss Kanter called “How Leaders Gain (and Lose) Confidence” in the winter 2005 issue of Leader to Leader magazine, there are three corner stones to confidence, namely accountability, collaboration, and initiative. 

Kanter defines accountability as follows: “I mean taking personal responsibility: seeing where one's responsibility lies, facing it squarely, facing facts honestly, being able to admit mistakes quickly and do something about them.” 

She defines collaboration in this manner: “Confidence builds when you feel you can count on the people around you and when they feel they count on you. It is as simple as that.” 

And finally she explains Initiative as follows: “Unless there is permission and encouragement for people to take initiative and feel that their actions can make a difference there is no confidence in the system, in each other, in leaders.” 

As she continues, “So in sum, people need to be supported on a foundation of accountability, which means, full and open disclosure of honest information. They need to be supported on a foundation of collaboration, which means people around them whose skills they respect and who they know will operate in the best interest of the whole team, not just for their own selfish purposes. And people need to be supported by initiative, which means the encouragement, the permission, the resources, and the tools they need to take steps that make a difference. When these cornerstones are in place people have full confidence.”

For us here today, we need to remember that with every change comes an ending. As the late William Bridges pointed out, “Every new beginning starts with an ending.” As a result, during the endings and the new beginnings, people need and often lack control, understanding, support, and a clear sense of priorities.

My challenge to you this week is to continually build healthy teams, make sure we all understand the bigger picture, and make sure there is psychological safety to share. Collaboration is essential to success 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, May 8, 2017

How do leaders help people keep moving along the collaboration continuum? - part #1

We were sitting around the table trying to figure out how to get a new data management system to work. One person shared that initially it was going to be more work for those using it, but the net result of the new system would result in better decision-making and better allocation of resources. As I listened to the group work through the challenges of implementation, those gathered kept using the words “team work” and “collaboration”. 

When asked what I thought of their plan, I reminded them that I believe teamwork is an intra-group activity and that collaboration is an inter-group activity. As I explained, “I think there are stages to collaboration that are just like team building and your plan is not working through the different stages.”

During the summer 2015, everyone started using the word “collaboration”. In the fall of 2015, I started watching, listening and visiting with leaders about it. In the winter 2016, I tried to capture the pattern of collaboration as I saw it. And finally at the Spring 2016 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, I shared my thoughts about how to increase effective collaboration.

Upon further reflection, I am noticing three words are surfacing around the discussion of team work and collaboration. Here are the three words and their dictionary definitions:

- Cooperation: the actions of someone who is being helpful by doing what is wanted or asked for.

- Teamwork: the work done by people who work together as a team to do some thing, and the work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.

- Collaboration: to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.

People use these three words interchangeably in conversation even though they each have different meanings.

What intrigues me this morning is what these words have in common and yet are different. The key is that each produces a different level of outcomes. For example, cooperation is interpersonal in nature, i.e. one to one at the personal level and thus creates interpersonal synergy, e.g. 1+1 has the potential to be greater than 2. On the other hand, teamwork is intra-team, i.e. my part + all of our parts has the potential to be greater than the team. This is collective synergy and yields collective results. Finally, collaboration is inter-teams, i.e. your group + my group and results in holistic synergy. Here we experience the moment when we become part of a single system, and a single culture. In essence, when we collaborate we become part of a single entity, the company as a whole. What follows collaboration is a specific purpose that is greater than the individual, the team, and the multiple parts/groups of the company

In simple terms, the collaboration continuum is as follows:

1. Isolation - there is no need to communicate with others and we only share with others as needed.

2. Consultation - we seek perspective from others. Then, we take the parts that we like, and the parts that cause the least amount of disruption to the organization or ourself. In the end, we do what we want to do.

3. Coordination - we work together to get something done. It begins with an “I plan; you plan” mentality and moves into coordinated action.

4. Collaboration - this starts with joint analysis which includes the agreement about what is the problem, and then moves into planning and execution. The stages are the following:
- a. there is a compelling reason to collaborate
- b. there are agreed to guidelines to the process
- c. trial and adaptation
- d. reliance on each other
- e. integration

5. Co-creation - the highest level of collaboration where the sharing of resources is based on a high degree of personal, strategic and organizational trust and clarity.

The first key to moving people along the collaboration continuum begins with trust. I keep watching teams who do collaboration well and they appear to just trust each other. I know this seems simplistic but over time it is very noticeable.

But, let’s go deeper into the definition of trust. Charles Feltman in his book, The Thin Book of Trust describes trust and distrust as follows:

- Trust: “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”

- Distrust: “what is important to me is not safe with this person in this situation (or any situation).”

The clarity around building trust starts first with knowing what is important and what people value. I have observed this on highly collaborative teams. They understand what is important to the organization and what is important to those who are involved.

This week, I challenge you to develop a one minute speech about why change is necessary, and a one minute speech about what the change is. These two actions will generate clarity and is a trust building action all it’s own.

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

Monday, May 1, 2017

How do leaders move from being a functional leader to an enterprise level leader? - part #2

Having the right skill set as an enterprise level leader is very important.  The first skill is having the ability to sell the problems within an organization. However, before you can sell the problem, you have to understand risk. There are basically four kinds of risk in the world of business as outlined by Jim Collins and Morten T. Hansen in their book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All (HarperCollins, 2011):

- Death Line Risk which will kill or severely damage the enterprise.

- Asymmetric Risk in which the downside dwarfs the upside.

- Uncontrollable Risk, namely a choice that exposes the enterprise to forces or events that it has little ability to manage or control.

- Time-based risk when the degree of risk is tied to the pace of events, and the speed of decision and action

The critical question a leader has to regularly ask is: How much time before our risk profile changes? Understanding risk helps a leader formulate how to sell a problem.

Furthermore, selling the problem helps you manage nonstop change successfully. “Selling the problem is more than just a practical tactic to encourage people to let go of the way things have been”, writes William Bridges in his book,  Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, (Da Capo Press, 2003). As he explains, “… selling problems is the only way to get beyond having to sell every change piecemeal….People who understand the organization’s real problems … don’t have to be “informed” or “educated” after the fact.” 

As he continues, “If you understand the problem and the people you work with don’t, a polarity is immediately set up. If, on the other hand, everyone recognizes the importance of the same problem, it the manager and the people on one side and the problem on the other.”

From my experience, the opposite of selling the problem will result in a control and command form of leadership where one will have to spend time solving each problem and overcome each pocket of self-interest. This will just take too much time, especially if the risk profile has changed. Selling the problem solves problems before they become problems.

The second skill set is learning how to create an environment for ownership. When I see great leaders do this, they always start by asking questions. Here are a few to get you started:

- why must it be done this way?
- what is the root problem?
- what are the underlying issues?
- who has a different perspective on this?
- what happens if we don’t do it at all?

This reminds me of what John Maxwell wrote in his book, How Successful People Think: Change Your Thinking, Change Your Life (Center Street, 2009). As he explains, “Realistic thinking gives you credibility…. Realistic thinking helps people to buy into the leader and his or her vision. Leaders continually surprised by the unexpected soon lose credibility with their followers. On the other hand, leader who think realistically and plan accordingly position their organizations to win. That gives their people confidence in them.”  From my experience, an environment of ownership comes when leaders ask good questions and show realistic thinking.

The third skill set to being an enterprise level leader is to role model better and better each day. To do this, you, as a leader, need to learn how to deal with disjointed incrementalism, i.e. this is when you know where you want to go, but not always how to get there. The solution is to learn how to convey strategic intent. This means making the objectives clean, but avoid micromanaging those who will execute on them.

It also means recognizing that you are more visible with every level you move up in the organization. All of your actions are constantly sending a message. Therefore, be more present when you are with people, quit multi-tasking, and quit thinking e-mail is a solution! The key to role modeling well begins with spending more time shaping the values and standards within the organization, spending more time defining what is and what is not meaningful outside the organization, and spending more time helping people focus on the right things, rather than just doing things right.

This week, practice bringing everything back to the core mission or purpose of the organization, support those who role model the mission, and always stay focused on mission.

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

Monday, April 24, 2017

How do leaders move from being a functional leader to an enterprise level leader? - part #1

It was at the end of a large group meeting when he stood up to share: “Here is what I have learned, unlearned and relearned…” And he began to speak. I turned from watching him to watching those gathered. The audience was engaged and focused. His comments were clear and to the point. In reality, I didn’t know if I was going to cry or smile. 

Finally, after years of coaching and endless hours of discussion about strategic level topics, he had found his voice. He claimed his knowledge and artfully blended in his experience. He spoke his truth. He displayed executive presence, that rare combination of being confident and calm, being present and attentive.

In his book The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness, the late Stephen Covey notes there are four roles of leadership, not leadership as a position but instead “as a proactive intention to affirm the worth and potential of those around us and to unite them as a complementary team in an effort to increase the influence and impact of the organization and important causes we are part of.” For Covey, these four roles of leadership are:

- modeling (conscience): set a good example.

- pathfinding (vision): jointly determine the course.

- aligning (discipline): set up and manage systems to stay on course.

- empowering (passion): focus talent on results, not methods, then get out of people’s way and give help as requested.

The big problem right now is that we are moving functional leaders into enterprise level leadership positions and they are doing very poorly. Technically they can do some things, yet they are failing in other areas. In particular, they are not thinking and acting strategically.

Individuals with an enterprise level mindset can do five things very well. First, they can live with the discomfort of uncertainty and ambiguity. Second, they can make connections and realize that it is all about making connections, i.e. connecting people to purpose, connecting people to people, and connecting people to outcomes. This level of connecting gives purpose and meaning to the work we all are doing. Third, they can be a map maker and a traveler at the same time. Fourth, they can be vulnerable and learn to live with vulnerability plus handle the risks that come with the choices being made. Fifth, they are willing to show up and participate even if they know they might fail. 

This week, remember Covey’s four roles of leadership and keep coaching people to have an enterprise level mindset. 

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

How do leaders position an organization successfully for the future? - part #2

Positioning an organization successfully for the future comes down to three solutions.

First, one needs to remember Packard’s Law. Recognizing that big does not equal great, Packard’s Law states that “no company can consistently grow revenues faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth with excellence.” I first found this in Jim Collins’ book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009. 

What we as leaders need to recognize is that we need different networks of people to be successful with different kinds of work. Herminia Ibarra in her book, Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader, Harvard Business Review Press, 2015, recommends we build three kinds of networks for different kinds of perspectives. The first is an operational network which helps us manage our current internal responsibilities. The second is a personal network which boosts our personal development. The last is a strategic network which focuses on new business directions and the stakeholders you must get on board to pursue these directions. As she explains, “… your strategic network is made up of relationships that help you to envision the future, sell your ideas, and get the information and resources you need to exploit these ideas…. A good strategic network gives you connective advantage: the ability to marshal information, support, or other resources from one of your networks to obtain results in another.”

With the right people in place and leaders with the right networks, I am reminded of the research by Nitin Nohria, William Joyce and Bruce Robertson in their July 2003 Harvard Business Review article called “What Really Works”. This group published a five year study that they called “The Evergreen Project”, which “examined more than 200 well-established management practices as they were employed over a ten-year period by 160 companies.” This research enabled the authors to distill which management practices truly produced superior results. Their conclusion is that without exception, companies that outperformed their industry peers excelled at four primary management practices:

- strategy: devise and maintain a clearly stated, focused strategy.

- execution: develop and maintain flawless operation execution.

- culture: develop and maintain a performance-oriented culture.

- structure: build and maintain a fast, flexible, flat organization.

The Evergreen Project concluded that these companies also embraced two of four secondary practices: talent development, innovation, leadership, and mergers and acquisitions.

The second solution is to create clarity around the five most important questions. First captured by Peter Drucker, they are the following:

- What is our mission?
- Who is our customer?
- What does the customer value?
- What are our results?
- What is our plan?

Too many times during the last year, I have encountered leaders and organizations that do not have a clarity when it comes to answering the above questions.

The third solution is to achieve consistent, forward progress. As we all know, consistent forward progress, i.e. growth, makes a profound difference. Typically, the performance markers or KPIs signal this is or is not happening. However, the first step is a commitment to the proposed strategy that will create the consistent progress. In order to check whether or not this is in place, ask your management team if they can successfully answer the following question: What are we committed to achieving during the next 10-15 years whether or not the world is turbulent or not turbulent? Clarity and commitment are interrelated.

This week, remember Packard’s Law, answer the five most important questions and check to see if you have strategic commitment and clarity within your core team. 

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

How do leaders position an organization successfully for the future? - part #1

It had been a good day of training when I walked up to the second floor to sit down with the CEO in his office to share my thoughts. As I explained to him, first, you need to unpack the organization’s mission statement as the majority of people who are currently in leadership positions were not around when it was first created back in the mid-90’s. I know this because they do not reference it in their language when describing what is most important. If they do not use the language of the mission statement, then they are not using the mission statement in their work as a leader.

Second, you need to make sure you are cascading clarity in order to increase focus rather than fear about making mistakes. When I asked those in training what was the definition of success, they replied “making the CEO happy”. Quality customer service was a distant third in the group discussion.

Third, you need to connect coaching with goals and professional development rather than coaching as punishment. Currently, coaching is infrequent and mostly a complaining session.

Fourth, you need to define your brand better. If today’s leaders can not articulate a concise message about what they want the organization to be known for within the communities where they offer services, then today’s problems are just going to get bigger.  As a wise leader once told me, “the past is the prologue.”

He thanked me for my comments and we explored the key words within the mission statement that needed to be leveraged more. Then, he shared an observation and a question with me.

His observation was that “Our culture is not as constant as it should be. Our key leaders are not as strong at building that culture as they should be.” And his question was “How do I change this? Because what I am doing currently is not work very well.”

As we discussed his observation, the following line from Jim Collin’s Good to Great came to mind: “Confront the brutal facts but never lose the faith.”

There are three problems within the business world currently, namely cognitive dissonance, hubris born of success, and chronic inconsistency. Cognitive dissonance is the disconnect between what we believe in our minds and what we experience or see in reality. As Marshall Goldsmith in his book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There: How Successful People Become Even More Successful, Hyperion, 2007, explains: “the more we are committed to believing that something is true, the less likely we are to believe that the opposite is true, even in the face of clear evidence that shows we are wrong.”

The second problem is hubris born of success. Hubris is historically defined as the excessive pride that brings down a hero. “Great enterprises,” notes Jim Collins in his book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009, “can become insulated by success; accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward, for a while, even if leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline.” Problems can occur “when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they loose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.” I agree with Collins that “many organizations are loosing sight of the true facts that created their success in the first place.”

The third problem right now is chronic inconsistency. Again referencing the work of Jim Collins in his book, Great By Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck - Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins, 2011, the big question is the following: “Does your primary flywheel face an editable demise within the next five to ten years due to forces outside your control - will it become impossible for it to remain best in the world with a robust economic engine?” As he explains, “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change; the signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”

When we zoom out and look at the bigger picture this spring, we continue to operate in a VUCA environment, which is a term borrowed from the US military. It stands for a work environment that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. As Jim Collins and Morten Hansen pointed out in the aforementioned book: “… instability is chronic, uncertainty is permanent, change is accelerating, disruption is common, and we can neither predict nor govern events. We believe there will be no “new normal.” There will only be a continuous series of “not normal” times.”

At the same time, we continue to struggle balancing continuity and change at the day to day level and at the strategic levels. The challenge for many leaders this spring is to balance continuity and change, plus innovation and transformation.

The upshot of this big picture is that we must continue to execute on our strengths. “Success for our company is not going to take a new strategy or an entirely new business model”, notes Blake Nordstrom. “Instead it’s taking what we already do well and continuing to execute those strengths.”

This week, I encourage you to watch out for cognitive dissonance, hubris born of success, and chronic inconsistency. Now is the time to execute on our strengths. It will make a world of difference in a world that feels chaotic.

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

Friday, April 7, 2017

Make Your Bed

I read a spectacular, short (125 pages) book last night by Admiral William H. McRaven (U.S. Navy Retired) called Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life …And Maybe The World (Grand Central Publishing, 2017). Admiral McRaven served thirty-seven years as a Navy Seal and commanded at every level. As a Four-Star Admiral, his final assignment was as Commander of all U.S. Special Operations Forces. Currently, he is Chancellor of the University of Texas System. 

This book is based on his May 21, 2014 address to the graduating class at the University of Texas at Austin. During this original speech, which went viral with more than 10 million views, Admiral McRaven shared the ten principles he learned during Navy SEAL training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career, but also through the rest of his life. 

For those who want to change the world and/or your circle of influence, this is an inspiring resource. His core tenets and the subsequent stories are powerful and moving. Therefore, I give it my rare, “run, don’t walk to your local book store and check it out” recommendation. Happy reading!

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

Monday, April 3, 2017

A Time For In-depth Reflection

During the last 30 days, I’ve had a couple of time periods in the office when I have chosen to push back from the piles of work on my desk, and to stare out the window. Looking east, I can see that the warm winds from Kansas are turning the grass to green. I can see the daffodils and tulips pushing up through the fresh layers of mulch I spread on the flower beds a couple of weeks ago. I can see the rhubarb breaking ground and the maple trees flowering. Spring has returned to the midwest, and the land is reawakening to new shapes, sounds, and colors of the season.

I have chosen to take these moments of quiet reflection for a specific reason. With the massive amount of complexity that is taking place in the nation at this time period, I have met with numerous leaders during the last 60 days who are overwhelmed, deeply concerned, and very troubled by the current course of human events. They want to continue to make a difference as a leader and they are equally wanting their organization to make a difference in the lives of those they serve. But, between the pace of change, a rampant case of decision fatigue in the midst of uncertainty, and an overwhelming desire to work on the organization and not to get sucked into the weeds of daily crises and daily reactions to crises, they struggle to get everything done and they struggle to maintain perspective. Some have asked me privately during executive coaching sessions, “What can I do to regain a sense of balance, clarity, and focus?”

Now the typical consultant answer would be to focus on the creation of strategy, talent development, and the maintenance of a healthy senior leadership team. And, in most cases, this would make a major difference in getting the organization back on track. However, I am not always one who gives the typical answers or asks the typical questions. Recently, I have shared the following.

First, remember the famous Tolkien quote: “Those who wander may not be lost.” So, when was the last time you stepped away from your desk and gave yourself permission to wander? 

The response has always been a quizzical look to this idea, and then the asking of another question, “What do you mean?”

As I explain, back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, people were encouraged to do MBWA, i.e. management by wandering around. I’ve been around long enough that I can remember this ancient history first introduced by Tom Peters.  It was a hot trend at the time.

In simple terms, we were encouraged to step away from our offices as managers and leaders, and to get out into our organizations. We were encouraged to meet our staff, to catch them doing things right, and to build relationships with them. 

Furthermore, we were suppose to have open doors and to walk through them to where the real action was taking place, namely the interaction between the person served and the person serving. We were to get our feet on the ground and to see if the mission was being lived daily, or to discover if it was just another document hung on the walls and laminated in plastic.

Now I know that time is a major issue these days for most people in management and leadership positions. People are feeling pressed to get everything done. And e-mail surely has not made things easier. The promise of the 30 hour work week has not materialized. Instead, we are swamped by being copied on every little thing, and overwhelmed by massive amounts of trivia.

But this morning, I think we need to step away from the computers and to quit trying to lead and live at the speed of software. Instead, we need to embrace the perspective that Michelangelo had, namely that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue. 

At times like these, our jobs as leaders is to step away and go to where the mission is real.

We need to wander again with a purpose.

We need to contemplate the un-carved block. 

We need to seek the beautiful statue within the stone.

We need to witness the organization’s core purpose in action.  

We need to sit and stare out the window, reflecting on all that is happening.

We need to rediscover silence.

We need to embrace possibility in the midst of change.

We need to find our hearts, our passion, and our original love for the work we do.

And then we need to give ourselves permission to rekindle this fire.

We need to rediscover burning brightly rather than just burning out.

We need to return to carving the statue rather than simply sweeping up the dust and shavings.

We need to become purpose driven rather than simply driven.

We need to become better people committed to serving other people.

We need to find the meaning within the work and not just find more work.

This week, I encourage all of us to carve out some uninterrupted time for in-depth reflection. It is time to rekindle hope, perspective and new possibilities.

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