Monday, August 28, 2017

What Is A Team?

When I teach young leaders about the relationship between leaders and successful teams, I routinely start with the following three questions:

- What is a team? 

- What is a working group?

- What is the difference between the two?

Our challenges, according to Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in their excellent article called “The Secrets of Great Teamwork”, Harvard Business Review, June 2016, is that “Today’s teams are different from the teams of the past: They’re far more diverse, dispersed, digital, and dynamic (with frequent changes in membership).”

From my own experiences and observations, I know that a team is different than a working group. I also know that it’s a common mistake to try to turn a working group into a team. For example, within a working group, the members interact primarily to share information, best practices, or perspectives. Within a working group they make decisions to help each individual perform within his or her area of responsibility. There is no reason for either a team approach or mutual accountability. To members of a working group, team building activities are pointless and take time that could better be spent “doing real work.”

Jon R. Katsenbach and Jason A. Santamaria in their very good article called “Firing Up the Front Line” by, May-June 1999, Harvard Business Review, explains this difference as follows: “Managers tend to label every working group in an organization a “team,” whether it’s a roomful of customer service operators or a string of assemblers on a manufacturing line. But employees quickly lose motivation and commitment when they’re assigned to a team that turns out to be a single-leader work group. If executives want to spark energy and commitment on the front lines, they must know how a team differs from a single-leader work group, and when to create one or the other.”

This week, I encourage all of us to read the above two articles. It is time we build healthy teams and healthy single leader work groups.

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

We Need Leaders & Managers In Order To Be Successful

In the lexicon of leadership, words matter. Right now, people use the word “leader” and “manager” interchangeably. I don’t think many people think much about these two words when they use them. The difficulty is that they are actually two different words with very different focuses and skill sets.

When ever I am asked to define the difference between a manager and a leader, I often reference the work of Joel Kurtzman in his excellent book, Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve The Extraordinary, Jossey-Bass 2010. He defines leaders as “strategic leaders” and managers as “operational leaders” which, by the way, is becoming a very common phrase in certain industries. As he explains:

“Strategic leaders are people within organizations who plot the course... Strategic leaders generally can think far into the future...The best of these people understand where the future is going and how to get there…. The role of operational leaders is quite different from those of strategic leaders. Operational leaders make certain the trains run on time, the manufacturing processes are adequate, the logistics systems work, the technicians are well trained, and the the trucks are where they are supposed to be.... like strategic leaders, operational leaders are vital to an organization’s success.”

I like the precise nature of Kurtzman’s definition, i.e. plotting the course vs. making sure the trains run on time.

However, I think Marcus Buckingham in his very good book, The One Thing You Need to Know ... About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success, Free Press, 2005, explains the different fundamental skill sets required of a manager vs. leader. As he writes: 

“To excel as a manager you must never forget that each of your direct reports is unique and that your chief responsibility is not to eradicate this uniqueness, but rather to arrange roles, responsibilities, and expectations so that you can capitalize upon it. The more you perfect this skill, the more effectively you will turn talents into performance…. To excel as a leader requires the opposite skill. You must become adept at calling upon those needs we all share. Our common needs include the need for security, for community, for authority, and for respect, but for you, the leader, the most powerful universal need is our need for clarity.  To transform our fear of the unknown into confidence in the future, you must discipline yourself to describe our joint future vividly and precisely. As your skill at this grows, so will our confidence in you.”

When one understands the big picture perspective as defined by Kurtzman and blends in the skill set perspective by Buckingham, then we have a very good explanation of the differences between leaders and managers.

This week, share the above with your team and make sure they are using the right definitions for these two key words and helping others become better leaders and managers along the way. Clearly, we need both in order to be successful.

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

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A Challenging World

We live in a complex and complicated world right now. Polarization abounds. Anger, frustration, and finger pointing are becoming the new normal. People are feeling like every day is nothing but another and continuous walk through the trough of chaos.

In the midst of these endless challenges, we as leaders are suppose to on-board new ideas and new people so they stay focused and positive. We are called to solve all the current operational problems. We are suppose to make sure all the systems are standardized, if not centralized to assure quality.

The result is that operational management is trumping strategic execution. Introducing change or a new strategic plan has become an event rather than a process. Any level of team problems is compounded by internal pressures and external unknowns. 

Meanwhile. front line supervisors and mid-level managers are trying to make sure the trains run on time, i.e. shifts are filled and people are focused on the right things, too. In short, leaders are feeling defeated by all of the challenges before them and not enough time to think through what to do.

This is where the Fall 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable fits into the picture. It is a place where leaders gather to step back for a day and a half from the mad rush to get things all done and all fixed. It is a time to catch one’s breath, regain some internal perspective, strength and courage to keep moving forward.

We come because we need to find an “island of sanity,” a new Margaret Wheatley term, in a sea of ups and downs. We come because we want to listen, to share, and to regain perspective. We know we can not change everything, but at the same time, we know we can gain some insights and perspectives at the Fall Roundtable which will make the journey easier to handle to easier to effect change.

This fall the Roundtable will be held on September 20 - 21, 2017 at the Coralville Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in Coralville, Iowa.  

Here is the agenda for your review:

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
- 8:30 am - Arrival & Visiting Time
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders on-board the next generation of high-growth opportunities while managing daily operations?
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders work through endings and new beginnings at the same time?
- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch and Networking 
- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do leaders help their organization become more resilient?
- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break
- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do leaders help others think and act strategically?
- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday, September 21, 2017
- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders recover from burnout?
- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break 
- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application
- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Here is the link to the registration form:

I hope you will join myself and many other leaders on September 20 - 21 for the Fall 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

Given all the challenges before us, it will be good to gather around the table and to explore these complex and complicated issues together. Hopefully, we will gain some new insights and perspectives as well as some strength to continue moving forward.

I look forward to seeing at the Fall Roundtable.

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

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Three Definitions of Strategy

After the morning strategic update by the CEO, I was sitting at a table over lunch with a mix of senior executives and middle managers when she turned to me in between bites and asked the following question: “So, how do I think strategically on a daily basis?”

It was a good question. I responded by saying: “It all depends on how you define the word “strategy.”

When I teach the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I continually point out to all involved that the word strategy is a big word. Often used and rarely understood, most executive choose only one definition of it and instantly cause themselves and others many problems.

So, let’s dive into the first definition. Strategy is an extensively premeditated, carefully built, long term plan designed to achieve a particular goal. People like this definition because it is precise, focused and will generate an outcome. At the end of the day, we can say “we did it” and have a party.

However, the best leaders know that there is more to strategy. Every strategic commitment has a decay rate. This is the recognition that from the time it took to create the initial ideas for the plan to the moment the strategic plan is ready for sharing, all of our best thinking and analysis goes into the document. But, once the document is printed, everyone wants to “get it done.”  What they miss in their understanding of strategy is that it has to be adaptable by nature due to unforeseen variables not considered during the planning stage rather than a rigid set of instructions or tactics. Without the recognition of the strategic decay rate, strategy has the potential to create organizational vulnerability.

The third definition of strategy recognizes that to create strategy can be as simple as one to three people sitting around a table writing stuff down. “So, what do you want to get done during the next 1-3 years?” asks one person to another. “Here is my list,” says the first to the second. And the third person is madly writing it all down on a flip chart or typing it up. In the end, strategy is created, but not owned and understood by those who have to execute the plan.  What most leaders fail to recognize is that successful strategy serves an important function in promoting ongoing evolutionary success. Strategy is not a one time affair but an on-going and in-depth process of creating clarity, ownership, and focus over time.  

In short, strategy is a an extensively premeditated, carefully built, long term plan designed to achieve a particular goal. But for successful leaders, it is much more than a document created on an annual basis. It is a commitment to thinking deeply and more holistically. And this is what separates the great strategy from the good strategy.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

One of My Favorite Words

If I were asked to pick my favorite leadership word, it would not be purpose or mission although I do love these two words. It would have to be the word capacity. To me, it is a word with tremendous depth and complexity. I use it often and I am around many different leaders from many different industries who use it regularly.

When I teach the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I point out that the dictionary definition of the word capacity has two different meanings. The first states that capacity is “the potential or suitability for holding, storing, or accommodating” something. The other definition for the word is “the facility or power to produce, perform, or deploy.” And, for me, each definition holds a clue to understanding this very interesting word.

In the first definition of the word capacity, there is a recognition that leaders who have capacity can hold, store and accommodate key information as they go about their daily or strategic work. They have the ability to zoom out to see the bigger picture and zoom in to focus on elements within a system or process to make sure it is functioning properly. In essence, capacity is a mindset of working through the intricate levels of strategic and operational thinking.

The second definition of the word capacity, for me, is all about execution. It focuses on making things happen on either a strategic or operational basis. It generates the desired outcomes, results or short term wins that have been planned out in advance.

Now, as leaders, our challenge is to help people to become better in their ability to think through technical or adaptive problems. We are to assist people in the creation of a mental framework by which all involved know what can and can not be changed or improved as they move forward through their days. Then, we are to assist them in choosing the right actions so they can be successful on an on-going basis.

This week, focus on building the capacity to plan better and to execute better. Help people think more clearly and work more clearly and you will have created a powerful flywheel at the core of your business.

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