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