Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Fall 2018 Roundtable - Early Bird Special!

Now that the July 4th celebrations have passed and everyone is back at work, it is the time for us to turn our attention to the Fall 2018 Roundtable! 

On September 19 - 20, 2018, we will gather at the Brown Deer Golf Club in Coralville, Iowa for the Fall 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. 

Here is the agenda for your review:

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

- 8:30 am - Arrival & Visiting Time

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - What is the foundation for long term, successful teamwork?

- 10:15 am - 10:30 am - Break

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders build successful teams?

- 12:00 pm - 1:30 pm - Lunch & Networking 

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm - How do leaders maintain successful teams?

- 2:45 pm - 3:00 pm - Break

- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - How do leaders improve team performance?

- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday, September 20, 2018

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am -What are the keys to being a successful team leader?

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - Integration and Application

- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Starting today through Friday, July 27, I am offering an “early bird” registration price for the Fall 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

If you sign up during this time period, and submit payment before 7/27/18, the price will be $ 275.00 for the two days and $ 175.00 for a single day. Here is the link to the registration form:


 Please write “early bird special” on it when you send it to me by mail or fax (# 319 - 643 - 2185).

After 7/27/18, the registration price will be $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day.

I hope you will reserve September 19 - 20 on your calendar, and e-mail me today about whether or not you and your team are coming. Then, when the first leaves are just starting to turn, all we will need to do is meet at the Fall 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

Thinking ahead, and looking forward to seeing you in September!

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

Embrace Your Challenges

Last week, I shared that great leaders accept their path in the world of leadership, and keep moving forward. In essence, they own it. They recognize that “this is mine to do.” 

Upon further reflection, I think that great leaders not only own the path and keep moving forward but they also embrace their challenges. As Marcus Aurelius wrote so very long ago, “Our actions may be impeded . . . but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

As leaders, we recognize that our work involves, people, structure, systems and culture. We explore mission, vision and values. We spend hours working on strategy, brand identity, and understanding the strategic landscape. 

And yet, the result of all this work is that we will continue to experience obstacles and challenges. They do not go away. They just keep coming. People, including ourselves if we are honest, feel frustrated, overwhelmed, anger and even confusion by this. But in the end, we, who sit in the leadership chair, have to make decisions and keep moving forward.

Here is where the great leaders do something unique. They understand what Andy Grove, former CEO of INTEL, meant when he wrote, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”

Ryan Holiday in his wonderful book, The Obstacle Is The Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, Penguin, 2014, writes “It’s a huge step forward to realize that the worst thing to happen is never the event, but the event and losing your head.” Great leaders embrace the difficult challenges before them and do not loose their head. As Holiday continues, “See things for what they are. Do what we can. Endure and bear what we must.”

As the Haitian proverb states, “Behind mountains are more mountains.” There will be more problems in the future. This is normal in the world of leadership. However, our choice to persevere through them is what separates the great leaders from the good leaders.

This week, embrace the challenges you have. Work with others to solve them. Then, learn from them. But, in the end, always keep moving forward with commitment, clarity and integrity. This is the path to being a great leader.

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

Monday, July 2, 2018

Lessons Learned From Countless Hours of Visiting With Great Leaders

During the last 30+ years, I have visited with thousands of people in executive, management and supervisory positions. Over a meal, a cup of hot coffee, in the midst of a training, or via the phone, together we have explored a diversity of subjects, problems and issues, both large and small. Upon reflection, I have gleaned some unique insights about what separates the good leaders from the great ones. These lessons learned are not about big things such as the importance of good public speaking skills or the ability to explore things strategically as much as small personal choices which create the capacity to handle large or small things.

Recently, I was concluding a very good breakfast meeting when I realized something interesting. This particular leader was walking his path and owning his journey. This sounds simplistic on one level, but it is actually rare,

So many times, I meet leaders who want everything to go smoothly and without problems. They want everything to be perfect and without a single interruption or point of contention. They expect the world of leadership and organizational change to be hassle free. And they complain vigorously when it is not.

On this particular morning, I realized that this individual was not expecting any of that to take place. He had come to the conclusion that there will be problems and challenges, and that he was at peace with this. He was not trying to be someone else in some other place, or trying to mimic something that he had read in a book or article. Instead, he was at peace to walk his path in the world of leadership and to own it.

When I got back to the office, I realized that this was what set him apart from others. It was his choice to be at peace with the complicated and the complex. He was not afraid of the difficulties or the problems. He was not going to run away from them. He was simply going to keep moving forward.

Walking one’s path and owning it is not an easy choice, but it is a powerful one. To grasp the notion, that “on my watch and while I am in this leadership position, these are my challenges; this is my path.” And then to own it, in the sense of not shying away from the difficulties, the challenges and the work. This is what separated him from the rest that I regularly meet.

This week, be a leader who understands that life can at times be difficult and challenging. And then, keep moving forward in spite of the difficulties and the challenges. Walk the path. Own the path. Be at peace with the journey.

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

How do leaders be both bold and brave during difficult times? - part #2

During the Fall 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, those who gathered entered in to a discussion about the difference between resistance and opposition. The consensus of the leaders present was that resistance is really a form of feedback while opposition is a form of going against something in order to stop it from happening.  As I reflected on all that was shared, I realized that during the Spring 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable we needed to explore and understand the difference between discernment and judgement.

In order to get greater perspective on the difference between discernment and judgement, I turned to the small group of people who I call my “Kitchen Table Cabinet.” These are the people I go to for a big picture perspective on a variety of subjects. They are the ones who make me think and who ask really good questions.

During my first meeting with one of my older cabinet members, I asked the question “What is the difference between discernment and judgement?” 

He smiled and replied, “It is the ability to sort the wheat from the chafe, or the ability to sort the the goats from the sheep.”

I chuckled because this is a typical answer for him. However, as we dived into the subject at a deeper level, he said discernment is “the ability to organize your thoughts after participating in a series of listening post experiences.” As he explained, by listening carefully, a leader is able to discern what is the path forward.

Next, I went to another member of my Kitchen Table Cabinet who has traveled extensively in different parts of the world, and has a long term career in healthcare. He shared that “judgement is your conclusion. It is binary in nature. On the other hand, discernment is about exploring a range of questions and perspectives.” As he continued, when someone is involved in a discernment process, they have to ask the question, “What else could it be happening here?” This requires an individual to have the time and a space to reflect. “The main problem is that people jump to conclusions, judge or decide something without having all of the facts. This rush to conclusions will cause problems or result in unwarranted conclusions.”

After careful thought, I think this is the problem. There is not enough discernment in decision making. There is not enough careful thought being put into place before action. It is as if the world is addicted to going faster and faster, and to choose urgency without reflection. All of us as leaders need to define and schedule time for reflection and to defend this space like a mother with a new born child.

This week, schedule time for in-depth reflection. And then, give yourself permission to take.

As for me, I will now take my annual, late June time for reflection. I will be back in touch with all of you on Monday morning, July 2. 

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

Monday, June 4, 2018

How do leaders be both bold and brave during difficult times? - part #1

When working in these unique times, we need to be bold and brave in spite of all that is happening around us. Boldness requires us to not be afraid of the difficult situations before us. Brave requires us to have the courage to face the challenges of this time. Bold and brave leaders are transformational leaders.

When I think of transformational leaders, I think of the work of Bennis and Nanus who say that these kinds of leaders are managers of meaning, attention, trust, and self. 

But, when I reflect on the transformational leaders I have met and worked with, I have observed that they role model executive presence and compassion on a daily basis. Executive presence begins with self awareness about one’s appearance, words, physical health, and body language. However, it is greater than just self-awareness

Leading with executive presence means being confident and calm in spite of external circumstances. Having inner clarity creates confidence in others to follow. It also means leading with inner clarity rather than external ego.

Leading with executive presence starts with showing up and being clear on the inside. It requires us as leaders to give our complete attention to others and being mentally present when we do it. It also means understanding that others read our reactions and actions very carefully, not just our words. In essence, executive presence is that rare combination of being confident and calm plus being present and attentive. 

Upon further reflection, I believe there is a relationship between executive presence and compassion. Compassion from Latin means “to suffer with.” It is an emotional response of sympathy and a feeling and desire to want to help. Compassion arises from an open heart. It requires us to show up and pay attention to all that is needed.

Executive presence also requires us to understand the difference between self-help and self-knowledge. Self-help is being able to achieve something on one’s own. Self-knowledge is understanding oneself or one’s own motive or character. For us to stay humble and role model executive presence as leaders, we need to know the limits of our knowledge and to realize we can become misguided by incomplete information.

It also requires us to recognize that there are always two models at work in the world of leadership. The mechanical model sees everything as systems and replaceable parts. The gardening model focuses on the culture/environment around those serving and tries to create a more favorable environment for proactive growth. From my perspective, leadership and management based on a mechanical model has the potential to result in leadership and management without a soul. There is the potential for no presence, attention, kindness, or compassion.

When leaders embrace the gardening model, then leadership becomes a craft from German word, kraft, which means “the power that comes from knowing.” Here, leaders learn to be leaders not only by being taught, but by doing it, and by being mentored. This is where you have to get “a feel” for it.

Furthermore, this kind of leadership requires people to be a part of a community, namely a group of knowers who pass along their knowledge in a step by step way from simple to complex.

Finally, leadership also is an art, because like true art it is based on the interaction between the artist and the subject/object, i.e. the follower. It is learned by knowing when to speak up and when to be quiet, and by knowing where to look and what to avoid.

This week, reflect on executive presence, compassion and the gardening model of leadership. Find your community of fellow leaders and embrace the journey of sharing, listening and reflecting. It will make a world of difference.

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

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Map Is Not The Road - a new booklet!

Often, during a break in my teaching, someone will come up to me and say, “That was a great story. Very helpful. You should write it down.” Given all of these requests, I decided this past winter to write down nineteen of the most popular stories that I tell during my leadership trainings.

They are now published in a new booklet called The Map Is Not The Road: Lessons Learned and Lessons Shared While Helping Others Navigate the World of Leadership and Organizational Change.

After 30+ years of doing this work, I believe the reason why people remember a story more than research or statistics is because we are wired that way. We are built for remembering relationships and stories. Statistics, graphs, charts, and research help, but from my experience, a story is a long- term anchor in the midst of change. It becomes cellular and integrated more quickly than anything else. 

Therefore, the more I teach, consult, or coach, the more I find myself sharing a story. It builds perspective. It builds understanding. It builds a common ground where we realize that we are all travelers moving through a constantly changing and unfolding landscape. 

Included in this booklet are the stories I share with others to help them become better leaders in the midst of organizational change. Some are from my own personal journey. Others are stories shared with me. Whatever the source, the lessons learned are powerful. 

For more information about this new booklet, including the Table of Contents, the Introduction and an Order Form, please click on the following link:

And here is the first review of this new resource:

“Geery, this is the book your readers have all been waiting for, for decades!  I cannot remember ever laughing so much in my life at any book this witty and endearing, and yet with profound and meaningful lessons-of-life that will forever reverberate in my heart and thoughts. They are especially funny to all who know, love, and appreciate you as the kind, caring, remarkably creative person and authentic teacher that you are.
I do not find many things in this fragmented world "funny" anymore. But because this book had me totally in stitches, it was a life-changing book in the way that Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn must have been in their time.
My husband and I have read all of your books, several times in fact.  I was one of those people who often commented to you how memorable your wonderful life stories are.  You said that so many others had also told you the same thing.  So, Geery, this is your gift to all of us.  
Thank you, Geery Howe, Master Storyteller, perhaps one of the best -- and certainly one of the most beloved -- of all times!” 

- Melinda and Todd Erickson, Erickson & Erickson, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Happy summer reading to all of you!

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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

What is the importance of caring within successful organizations? - part #2

Given all that is happening in the world at this time period, we need to continually create and maintain the bonds that hold us together. After visiting so many organizations over the last two years, I have come to the conclusion that the successful ones are in part successful because they understand something very important. Successful organizations recognize that health is restored in broken systems and broken relationships by creating new connections and strengthening existing ones. As Angela Blanchard wrote, “you can not build on broken.”

As part of the process of creating and maintaining the bonds that hold us together, more people need to move from relationships based on hierarchy to relationships based on connections and a sense of community. The first step in this journey is to build new connections through shared understanding and new experiences. One way to do this is to get people together in small groups and to discuss the following four questions:

- Why did you join this organization
- Why do you stay here?
- Why does that matter?
- What do you hope to achieve during the next 6-9 months?

Furthermore, I believe in celebrating planned organizational short term wins at the group level and personal milestones at the individual level. According to Dan Cohen in his book, The Heart of Change Field Guide: Tools and Tactics for Leading change in Your Organization (Harvard Business School Press, 2005) the characteristics of an effective short-term win are the following: measurable, visible, timely, relevant to all stakeholders, relevant to objectives, relevant to the situation, and relevant to the people who need to carry the change forward. Personal milestones, on the other hand, are significant points in one’s personal development.

This week, sit down with your team and discuss what have been and will be the planned short term wins for the rest of 2018. Then, enter into a discussion about what have been and what will be your own personal milestones in this process.

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

What is the importance of caring within successful organizations? - part #1

Since the events of September 2008, we have been living in very difficult and for many “traumatic” times. These last 10 years have been filled with uncertainty, chaos, and anxiety.

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant in their very good book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, say that “… post-traumatic growth could take five different forms: finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering more meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities.”

As leaders of an organization, I believe we can not always deliver all of the above but I do believe we can do one very important thing. We can create a culture of welcome and belonging in every organization. After visiting so many different organizations over the last two years, I have come to the conclusion that the successful ones are in part successful because they have done this. In these organizations, we feel we belong. We feel like our voice matters. We feel like our efforts matter. We feel supported. And finally we feel like we are part of a community, a tribe, a team, or a family, which ever term best captures this feeling for you.

At the Fall 2017 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable during a discussion on resilience, one of the participants shared that from their observations people who feel like they belong or do belong to a church don’t burn out as much, are able to be more resilient, and don’t feel stuck in life.

While I don’t think there is one singular thing a leader can do to create a culture of welcome and belonging, I think there are three things a leader can do. First, they need to role model respect in all they do. Second, they need to never tolerate disrespectful actions by others. Third, they need to speak publicly about how respect and integrity are part of the company’s culture and the company’s core mission. These three small actions add up to a big impact when embraced by all people in leadership positions within a company.

This week, evaluate how well you are doing the above three things. If needed, make some changes so you are doing them extremely well on a day to day basis. More adversity is coming but the importance of caring is always fundamental to success.

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

Monday, May 14, 2018

How do leaders help themselves and others to learn better? - Part #2

As leaders, according to Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World (Grand Central Publishing, 2016), we suffer from two major problems. They are as follows:

The Principle of Least Resistance: In a business setting, without clear feedback on the impact of various behaviors to the bottom line, we will tend toward behaviors that are easiest in the moment.

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, many knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.

From my experience, I think Newport is spot on. We as leader do tend toward the path of easiest behaviors and seeing busy as the definition of success. Therefore, our challenge as leaders is to role model something different.

First, to overcome the path of least resistance and busyness as proxy for productivity, we need to get a coach, inside or outside the organization, and/or a mentor. These individuals, who we respect, will provide us with feedback and perspective. They will help us to role model learning rather than just talk about learning.

When I reflect on the best mentors I’ve encountered in my life, they all focused on a couple of small but important things. For example, be more conscious of how you choose to spend your energy and time. Choice is an action, and we always have control over how we choose. Greg McKeown in his excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Crown Business, 2014) builds on this concept and asks us to think deeply about our choices.

I think about this because of a recent experience. I was participating in a graduation dinner for an extended leadership training that I had just completed. The young fellow sitting next to me asked a great question: “I really like this job and I want to stay here for the rest of my career. I have 20+ more years until I retire. How do I not burn out from all of the work?”

The older woman executive on his other side replied, “Keep learning, and recognize that the job will change over time. And that you will change over time in the job too.”

When he was done pondering this insight, I responded. “Be curious in a positive way. Seek to understand more than to be understood. Say to people ‘Tell me more.’ This is a powerful act as a leader. And finally, keep reading.”

He finished his beer and said “I can do this. I thought it would be big stuff but I have realized now that these little things are big things.”

I smiled and nodded. Constant learning is all about doing the little things that have a big impact.

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

How do leaders help themselves and others to learn better? - Part #1

When we zoom out and look at the big picture right now, we are confronted with some uncomfortable information. First, work today is more about reacting and responding to e-mail than actually doing professional activities which create new value. According to Cal Newport in his thought-provoking book, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World (Grand Central Publishing, 2016), a 2012 McKinsey study found that the average knowledge worker now spends more than 60 percent of the work week engaged in electronic communication and Internet searching, with close to 30 percent of their time dedicated to reading and answering e-mail alone.

Second, in the normal, day to day, highly distracted work place, we expect everyone to continually get better at their jobs. However, we rarely give people feedback or tools which can help them do this. We also rarely give them regular time or space to learn or improve.

Third, we expect employees to move through the normal group development stages rapidly, namely forming, storming, norming and performing. However, from my perspective, we want improving which takes place after the performing stage, but we do not understand fully how it actually happens.

In short, given the above, we know that leaders can shape understanding or destroy it through their actions. Leaders can create clarity or confusion, especially if they are giving mixed messages. And finally, leaders can create work environments which are based on learning and respect or on distrust and silo protectionism.

The first step to helping people learn is to a build learning ecosystem within the organization. My definition of an ecosystem at work revolves around the notion of a group of people interacting and functioning well as a community. This happens when all involved create and execute their quarterly personal development plans. Recognizing that every 3 year strategic plan needs to be broken down into a 1 year organizational plan, and that all 1 year organizational plans need to be broken down into 1 year division/department plans, the goal each year is to have a 1 year personal plan which is made up of 4, 90 day plans. If this happens, then most 90 day plans are in alignment with the company’s strategic goals. These 90 day plans are focused on performance based goals.

But the big question for us here today is the following: What are the learning goals to help someone improve their performance? Most organizations have performance based goals but rarely set learning goals to improve performance. If they do set performance and learning based goals, then it is vitally important that they get the time and support to execute these goals.

This week, check out whether or not your key people have performance goals and performance improvement based goals. Next, make sure they are getting the time, support, and space to do this level of learning. Our overall goal from this action is to build a shared mindset around continually wanting to get better.

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

Monday, April 30, 2018

How do leaders improve thinking and relating throughout an entire organization? - part #2

With my mother-in-law being in her 90’s, I often think about her life experiences and journey. I remember that one day my in-laws had a young family come out to see them on the farm. They all sat around the dinning room table to visit. After some snacks were served, my father-in-law went and got a basket filled with puzzles and games. The youngest child after looking through all of the games, looked up and said, “Whoa, no batteries needed.” Everyone spent the evening sharing and playing games together. 

We forget that digital relationships are supplanting analog relationships. We also forget that digital relationships are dependent on batteries in order to be successful. And batteries are not always a dependable form of communication. 

When it comes to helping people improve their thinking and relating, we as leaders must build relationships so they can handle distance and digital communication. The big problem are 4-D teams which are more “global, virtual and project-driven.” As Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in their top-notch article called “The Secrets of Great Teamwork,” Harvard Business Review (June 2016) write, “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).” As they note, "large [4-D] teams are vulnerable to poor communication, fragmentation and free riding due to a lack of accountability.”

One specific problem is that 4D teams experience limited face time. Digital dependence on communication prevents the ability to understand nonverbal and contextual clues which often provide insight into what is going on. Furthermore, the lack of in-person meetings removes the ability for understanding individual and collective moods of the group. One possible solution to solving the above problems is to establish clear norms at the start of team building and to do it routinely during team meetings. These rules spell out a small number of things that people must always do.

Another potential problem on 4D teams is that people only interact with certain people on the team rather than the whole team on a regular basis. Hermina Ibarra writes about this problem in her book, Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), saying “I call this tendency to prefer interacting with people who are similar to ourselves the narcissistic principle of relationship formation.” A solution to this problem is for leaders to create a relationship building plan and a relationship maintenance plan for their teams. We should not assume we have a relationship with people who are put on a team, and instead invest the time and energy to get to know people thereby creating a relationship.

Furthermore, we need to develop a shared mindset based on a common understanding of identity and direction. People on 4D teams forget the important work that happens in forming and storming stages of team development, and often want to jump directly to norming or performing. As leaders, we can assist this level of work by teaching, role modeling and coaching people to improve the following skill sets: listening, giving and receiving feedback, creating safe space, prioritizing, and resolving conflicts.

This week, speak and role model integrity because it is the foundation to improving thinking and relating in an organization. As we all know, integrity sets the tone for everything else. Therefore, conduct yourself with the utmost integrity. Be a lighthouse rather than a weathervane.

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

Monday, April 23, 2018

How do leaders improve thinking and relating throughout an entire organization? - part #1

It was a lunch meeting and we were in a very quiet back corner of the restaurant. Major systems were under going change and this particular leader wanted to explore some ideas and thoughts about it all with me. Some of these changes were being done by choice, but others were being driven by outside influences. Standardization was going to be key to the new systems. Centralization and integration across “silos” was also critical to success. To make this all happen, financial investments and financial curtailments would have to be made. In particular, we were trying to think through what the organizational chart should look like three years from now given the current strategic plan. Lots of sugar packets, salt and pepper shakers and a ketchup bottle were involved in this time of sharing.

In the middle of this strategic level dialogue, I kept thinking of two insightful quotes:

“Begin with the end in mind.” - Stephen Covey

"The problem is never how to get new innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.” - Dee Hock, founder/CEO emeritus of Visa International

But in the end, I talked about the important work of Hermina Ibarra in her very thought-provoking book called Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015). Here, she points out that to step up to leadership, you have to learn to think like a leader. 

Right now, we need more people who have learned how to think like a leader. We also need to recognize that this is a slow, but powerful journey. In particular, I pointed out to this individual that Ibarra believes that the way we think is a product of our past experiences. All of us need to understand more about a person’s history so we understand more about their “default” thinking patterns. If we, as leaders, want people to think and work in new ways, then we, as leaders, need to create new experiences. We have to understand that thinking and relating are interconnected.

One step in this process to create new mental maps and to refine old ones. The Dictionary defines mental maps as a mix of objective knowledge and subjective perceptions. From my perspective, it is all about how we frame things up. Aaron K. 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) write that “In some ways, strategic thinking is like constructing a mental map that connects the current “here and now” to something, somewhere, or sometime in the future…. Just as a holistic perspective improves strategic thinking by ensuring that all factors are considered, it is also important to consider context…. Strategic thinking only matters if it leads to a purposeful action.”

Herminia Ibarra in the aforementioned book writes that “the only way to change how you think, therefore is to do different things.” As she continues, “This cycle of acting like a leader and then thinking like a leader - of change from the outside in - creates what I call outsight…. Doing things - rather than simply thinking about them - will increase your outsight on what leadership is all about.”

She believes “Outsight comes from a “tripod” of sources: new ways of doing your work (your job), new relationships (your network), and new ways of connecting to and engaging people (yourself)…. Sustainable change in your leadership capacity requires shifts on all three legs of the tripod.”

As Gregory Boyle writes in his book, Barking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship (Simon & Schuster, 2017): “We don’t think ourselves into a new way of living. We live ourselves into a new way of thinking.”

For us here today, we need to remember the wisdom of Cal Newport who wrote in his book, Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World (Grand Central Publishing, 2016): “Our brains … construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.”

Right now, the two most common leadership phrases I am hearing are these: “We inspect what we expect” and “What get measures gets done.” However, in the back of my mind are the words of a participant at a recent From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable when he shared “What get measured does not always matter.” 

Our problem as leaders is that we default to thinking “this” is like “that”, a habitual response to so many things. We forget what Margaret Wheatley wrote, “Habits save time: it’s easier to do the same thing, or think the same thing. Changing our mind takes attention and time.”

Marshall Goldsmith backed this up in his book, Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts - Becoming the Person You Want to Be, (Crown Business, 2015) when he wrote “Meaningful behavioral change is very hard to do” and “No one can make us change unless we truly want to change.” We as leaders forget that to understand a problem, you have to admit there is a problem.

In short, meaningful cognitive change is very hard to do. And no one can make us change unless we truly want to change. Therefore, we have to help people choose a non habitual response by helping them recognize that what we are dealing with currently is different than the past, and that a pre-defined solution may not be the answer.

This week ask yourself and your team these two questions: What are you paying attention to these days? and What is one of the biggest cognitive changes you’ve ever made? The answers to these two questions will help all of you move to the next level.

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

Monday, April 16, 2018

What is the connection between organizational history, culture and meaningful work within successful organizations? - part #2

Recently, a long term client and I were reviewing their latest strategic plan. She had asked me to give her feedback about the current strategic plan and where problems will happen in the execution. Having done this for the last 4 strategic  plans, it was an interesting process. During the time we were together, we discussed lessons learned from many years of working together. The result of which was that I am more convinced than ever that we must start to teach and share organizational history. 

There are days we get so busy that we forget that by understanding history we understand what got us to this point. Teaching others about the past big picture and how that resulted in past strategic plans helps all involved understand that strategy is evolutionary. When we share our memories about that history, i.e. oral history, this builds clarity and ownership for our current choices.

I have spent many hours over the course of my career sharing meals, cups of hot beverages and occasionally an adult beverage, discussing the past, the present and the future. I have listened to people’s journeys with the organization, and I have shared my own journey with the company. When people feel safe enough to share their story, the outcome of this depth of sharing is that we build bonds and we recognize that history is real rather than some distant past. 

What great leaders understand is the following written by James Kerr is his delightful book, Legacy: What The All Blacks Can Teach Us About The Business Of Life, Constable, 2013: “Leaders are storytellers. All great organizations are born from a compelling story. This central organizing thought helps people understand what they stand for and why.” This combination of understanding history and sharing oral history makes the work more meaningful. 

While reading The Christian Science Monitor Weekly last fall (I read a diverse collection of resources and find the essays in this weekly new magazine interesting), one section talked about how Millennials “put such a premium on pursing careers that hold meaning for them.” Nothing new here on one level.  

The same essay also reported that according to Gallup only 33 percent of US workers feel truly “engaged” while on the job. “That’s up modestly from 26 percent in 2000 and 28 percent in 2009. Some 16 percent of workers are disengaged or unhappy in their jobs, while fully half of the workforce is in a neutral zone, committed to essentially just showing up.” Another poll, by payroll firm ADP, finds that nearly two-thirds of US workers are actively or passively looking for other jobs.” Also no surprise on one level.

For leaders in key position the big question is the following: How do we respond to this news? Along with sharing our history which gives us perspective, I think we need to create new and more empowering stories. One problem we are experiencing right now is that we are letting others define our story. It is time we define our own story and write or renew the empowering parts of it.

As I teach in the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, successful leaders are architects of meaning. As Joel Kurtzman in his excellent book Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve The Extraordinary, (Jossey-Bass 2010) points out: “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.”

Leaders who are architects of meaning routinely confront paradoxes and wrestle with deep questions of identity and direction. They are comfortable asking the following questions:

- Who are we? 
- What do we believe or stand for?
- Where are we going?
- How are we going to get there?

Then, they seek shared answers to these questions on the strategic and operational levels. They remind all involved that each day we are building our legacy by what we are doing. The best leaders understand that we are constantly preparing the organization to be handed over to those who will follow us, hoping they will it do it even better.

The outcome of sharing past history and sharing our stories plus answering the above important questions is coherence, i.e. the quality of becoming integrated. And given all that is happening in the world right now, coherence is something we all need. This week, share your history and lessons learned with others. It will restore perspective and build connections in very important ways.

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