Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Power of Resilience and Optimism

In and around the hustle and bustle of life, I have had the opportunity to read two wonderful books. The first was Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy (Alfred A. Knopf, 2017) by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. The second was Life is Good: the Book - How to Live with Purpose & Enjoy the Ride (National Geographic Society, 2015) by Bert and John Jacobs.

In the first book, Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, shares about what happened after the sudden death of her husband, Dave. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend, Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, helps her through this stage by telling her about specific steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences.

I was drawn to the book because of the material in it about resilience, a subject that has interested me for the last 6 months. In particular, I believe we need to help leaders and managers right now become more resilient given the overwhelming amount of difficulties in the work place, and in our communities. Through Sandberg’s personal story and insights and Adam’s research, I found some interesting ideas about resilience.

For example, they write, “We plant the seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events.” I found it helpful when they shared the research of Martin Seligman, a psychologist who spent decades studying how people deal with setbacks. Seligman found that three p’s can stunt recovery: personalization which is the belief that we are at fault, pervasiveness which is the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life, and finally permanence which is the belief that the after shocks of the event will impact us forever. These three p’s create a loop inside our heads which repeat the following: “It’s my fault this is awful. My whole life is awful, and it’s always going to be awful.” Understanding the three p’s has helped me coach others through challenging times and assist them to put things into perspective.

Two weeks after losing her husband, Sandberg was preparing for a father-child activity. “I want Dave,” She cried. Her friend replied, “Option A is not available,” and then promised to help her make the most of Option B. 

Right now, a lot of leaders and managers are not able to work with Option A, and are moving to Option B. This book offers sound insights and concrete steps on helping individuals through hardships, including illness, job loss, sexual assault, natural disasters, and the violence of war. Sandberg’s story and the stories shared by others reveals the capacity of the human spirit to persevere and to rediscover joy. This book will help you become a better leader and help you assist others through the pain and challenges when Option A is no longer an option.

The second book Life is Good is the inspiring story of the founding of the Life is Good company by two brothers. It celebrates the power of optimism which is the driving force behind this socially conscious clothing and lifestyle brand, now worth more than $100 million. From their scrappy upbringing outside Boston, through the early years of selling t-shirts out of a van, to their current success, the book includes chapters about ten key “super powers” accessible to us all: openness, courage, simplicity, humor, gratitude, fun, compassion, creativity, authenticity, and love. Illustrated with the company’s iconic artwork, Life is Good explores how to overcome obstacles and embrace opportunities.

Many years ago, my wife gave me a Life is Good ball cap. I still wear it when I garden. It is frayed and beat up but I love the message on it. I also love the little tag that was on the cap when she gave it to me. It read as follows: “Do What You Love; Love What You Do.” In a time period when more and more people are feeling worn, stretched and overwhelmed by all that is happening, it was good to read the story of two people who founded a company doing what they love and loving the journey. When I got done reading this book, I felt reinvigorated to go back into the world and make a positive difference no matter what was the challenge before me.

My hope this week is that you will travel to your nearest book store or library, and check out the above two books. We, as leaders need resources which give us hope, perspective and the ability to stay focused on what really matters the most.

Happy reading!

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

Monday, September 25, 2017

How do leaders on-board the next generation of high-growth opportunities while managing daily operations? part #1

I had been called in to figure out why one key department was constantly not functioning well. There was urgency to the situation because a major acquisition was coming. To be understand the situation, I visited with the CEO, COO, SVP, HRO, and the department head over the course of one day.

That night, over dinner, the HRO said to me, “the more people talk about this problem department, the more I am confused.”

“I agree”, I replied, and thought to myself the following quote by Konrad Adenauer: “We all live under the same sky, but we do not all have the same horizon.”

The problem in this situation was that all involved were zooming in to fix “the problem” rather than zooming out to gain perspective. My starting place was to ask a series of big picture questions:

- What is the purpose of this department?
- What are the goals of this department?
- What are the KPI’s of this department?
- What are the expectations related to performance within this department?

You could have heard a pin drop at the table that evening as I shared the answers I had gleaned. Not a single individual was on the same page.

When we step back and look at the bigger picture right, we realize that we are living in a period of “profound disruption”, a new Margaret Wheatley phrase. We are seeing the deification of numbers and data, and yet are not seeing clarity about the difference between data and useful information. We also are seeing communication without connections and the rise of polarization. In the midst of all of this, exhausted professionals want to make a difference but are stymied by factors beyond their control or impact. The outcome of this reality is that now, more than ever, many people are considering and others are walking away from the leadership table. As they report to me, it’s just too much work.

Meanwhile, everyone is wanting to grow their organization. They want to serve more people, do more good work, and make a difference in the lives of those who are serving. Few leaders understand that with growth, distractions and complications multiply.

At the same time, the challenge of on-boarding new ideas, which would generate this desired growth, is that people want to solve all the problems and standardize all the processes before action. This is just not possible. We forget that solving problems creates more problems

Finally, operational management is trumping strategic execution. Introducing change or a new strategic plan has become an event rather than a process. Introducing change into a world of dysfunctional teams also does not make them functional; it actually increases their dysfunctional nature. 

And last, but not least, we have to recognize that managers are not leaders; both are important, but we need leaders! We especially need leaders who can unite us and create clarity.

This week, step back from the big pictures challenges and complexities and focus on the following questions:

- What is the purpose of this company or department?
- What are the goals of this company or department?
- What are the KPI’s of this company or department?
- What are the expectations related to performance within this company or department?

Finding the answers to these questions will create alignment and better choices when it comes to taking the next steps into the future.

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why Invest In Leadership Training Now?

Right now, non-profit organizations are significantly worried about the status of their funding for the future, and whether or not they will be able to find qualified people to hire into front line staff and supervisory positions. Simultaneously, for-profit organizations are worried about building a sustainable sales force, continually generating innovative products and/or services plus the erosion of the customer base to on-line providers. And everyone is worried about the continued retirement of the baby boomer generation (1943 - 1960) and the arrival of a very different workforce, namely the combination of millennials (1981 - 1997) with generation Z (1998 - 2010). 

So why spend money now on training people to become betters leaders?

The Boy Scouts have a motto, “Be prepared.” Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Boy Scouts in 1908, defined “being prepared” as being “always in a state of readiness in mind and body.” While most leadership training does not involve physical education, it does involve increasing mental understanding and perspective, i.e. helping people in key positions to be better prepared for current technical problems and future adaptive problems.

But, the more in-depth answer is that well trained individuals in leadership positions have a greater capacity to plan and execute both operational and strategic plans in an ever-changing work place and service environment. The result of which is that the company as a whole has greater bench strength.

The term “bench strength” comes from the world of baseball and refers to having a lineup of highly skilled players who can step in when another player is hurt or replaced.  In particular, bench strength is another way of saying that a team has a “deep bench” which is a large number of talented players who are sitting “on the bench” waiting to play.

In the world of non-profits and for-profits where volatility and complexity is the norm, having a large number of people who can step forward into management and leadership positions means that the company will always be prepared for known and unknown problems that might arise. This depth of readiness positions the organization above the competition and strengthens it ability to respond well no matter what is the situation.  

For those of you who are thinking beyond today and hoping to position your organization for the future, then now is the time to sign people up for 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 which improve their ability to lead 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: http://www.chartyourpath.com/VTA-Leadership-Training.html 

The future is happening all around us. Being prepared and having a deep bench are no longer optional. Now is the best time to invest in leadership training. 

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

Understanding Quality

Every week, I sit in meetings listening to people talk about the future of their company. And every week, someone will share with me that the key to success is that “we must improve quality.” Nine times out of ten, they are right on one level. The difficulty is that most of the people around the table hold a different definition and metric for defining what is quality.

Now for me, every time I hear the word “quality” I think of the following quote: “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This happens because what I may consider as the driver that results in quality is often seen as the problem by someone else.

Therefore, I always engage with those who are talking about improving quality by referencing the work of Margaret Wheatley. As she explains “When confronted with an unknown, we default to a known.” It is this default that is getting in the way when improving quality. In essence, what I have learned over the decades of doing this work and dealing with the subject of improving quality is that it begins in the eye of the beholder. My personal definition, experiences, and understanding of quality supersedes all other definitions of quality.

With this in mind, we as leaders must understand that organizational quality is a reflection of and the sum of personal choices. In short, it is individual clarity about quality that generates organizational outcomes related to quality.

This week, when you check in with your key people, begin an in-depth exploration into their personal definition of quality. It will be well worth the time and effort as you plan for the future.

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Linking Expectations & Outcomes

In successful companies, I have learned that people know what is expected of them. And the employees within these companies meet these expectations on a routine basis.

So, when leaders visit with me about “taking their company to the next level,” they often want to discuss how to set clear expectations. But, when most leaders tell me their expectations in reality all they have done is to define specific steps to achieving a goal. Sometimes, leaders forget that good employees know the difference between what are the required steps, e.g. ones related to health, safety or accuracy, and the optional steps, i.e. different ways to achieve the desired outcome.

What interests me is that the best leaders define outcomes during the expectations discussion. This begins by the leader figuring out what is the right outcome. They do this by thinking through the following two questions:

- If the desired goal is achieved, what is the outcome?

- And what difference will achieving the goal make?
By clarifying the outcomes, we are letting people take responsibility for the route they take to the outcome. Then, expectations are more like guard rails to action, rather than a description of the required steps. 

This week, reflect on the above two questions as you begin to link expectations and outcomes.

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

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Return of Excellence

Back in the mid to late 80’s, the word “excellence” was on the lips of every manager and leader in the country. We were searching for it, wanting it and figuring out how to get more of it. With Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s book, In Search of Excellence, selling three million copies in  first four years, every one in management and leadership positions was eager to understand the art and the science of creating more excellence.

In the early 90’s, excellence started to fade as the word “effectiveness” started to rise in the lexicon of management and leadership. Driven by the arrival of the late Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, leaders became focused on being effective and shortly there after more efficient.

What interests me today is that more and more people are now starting to talk about operational excellence. There is a significant amount of interest in creating a company culture which delivers the right thing to the right people at the right time. If this can be done in an efficient manner too, then they are a very happy group of leaders.

The challenge is that when asked what is the definition of operational excellence, many leaders struggle. Having lived through the initial wave of excellence, I explain to those interested that operational excellence is, at its core, a workplace philosophy where problem solving, teamwork and leadership result in on-going improvements within the company. In particular, it is built around meeting the ever changing needs of the customer. The keys to success within operational excellence, from my vantage point, is that the company has defined its own unique way of problem solving, working as a team, and planning for the future.

This week, start talking about operational excellence and what it means to you. The conversation has the potential to be very interesting and educational for all involved.

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