Monday, January 29, 2018

Lost in the Land of Complexity

Life is not fair. People struggle. People get confused. People get hurt. Even when we do our best, it does not always work out.

Being in a trough of chaos and living in interesting times is a stretch. Some things become very complicated during moments like this. Yet, with enough planning and focus, the outcome is highly predictable. 

On the other hand, some things can become complex with too many unknown variables. There is no predictability and planning for everything still does not accomplish the desired outcome. In short, we struggle and feel defeated. 

But I have witnessed good leaders working with good employees handle the land of complexity and not get lost. Some how in the midst of all of the chaos, unknowns and struggles, they make it through not feeling defeated even if everything did not work out exactly like they wanted it to work.

So, what do these people do? Well, it is not actually a doing thing as much as a having thing. The best have a unique person with whom they can explore their thoughts, their ideas, their feelings and their perspectives. Some times these people are called executive coaches. Other times they call them mentors, older friends, or. I call them “my kitchen table cabinet.” In the end, I don’t really care what they are called. What I care about is what these people offer.

And what these special people offer the best leaders is structured unstructured time, a confidential safety zone for in-depth listening, sharing and reflection. They do not arrive with an agenda but instead come to the table with an open mind and a willingness to explore. The upshot is great clarity and understanding.

This week, find the right person for you. Find someone who you respect and who role models very good listening. Then, invest time to share deeply with them. While life can be a struggle, it is always good to create a place in your life where you can get and maintain perspective. It’s what the best leaders have and value on a regular basis.

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

Monday, January 22, 2018

Deer In The Headlights

I live in rural America. Seeing deer is common. Some people think they are cute and others think they are nothing but a problem. What ever your point of view, the last place you want to see deer is in your headlights when you are driving home after a long day at work. The result is that you freak out. They freak out. And it is highly likely that some one or some thing is going to have a very bad day.

During interesting times and in the trough of chaos, people can at times act like deer in the proverbial headlights. They are overwhelmed by all that is happening around them. They are not sure where to go next. They finally bolt and often run into everything that they are trying to avoid, causing problems upon problems for all involved.

But what can leaders do about this?

First, leaders need to recognize that most employees just want to come to work and do their job. And at the end of the day, they want to feel like they have made progress and gotten recognition for a job well done. Most employees are focused on getting stuff done.

Leaders on the other hand are often focused on big questions and the future. They assume the day to day is getting done and hopefully done well. They, on the other hand, are trying to figure out if the business model is sustainable, are the resources arriving at the right times and are we really meeting the needs and expectations of the customers. In essence, they are big picture focused.

Then, after hours of this level of thought and reflection, these strategic leaders meet tactical employees and share. They talk about strategy, trends, the future markets, growth of the company and often the numbers. This broader context is perfectly clear to these leaders.

But for the day to day employees, this is all new territory. They are not aware of the big picture. They zoom in to solve daily problems rather than zoom out to look at the strategic intent of the company. So, when they finally move from being unaware of the bigger picture to being aware of the bigger picture, they naturally become overwhelmed. They start asking powerful questions like “Do I still have a job?” or “Is the company going under and I need to get out now?” This lack of big picture focus is not their fault. It is just not their focus on a daily basis.

The upshot of all of this leader and employee interactions during interesting times and a trough of chaos is deer-in-the-headlights behaviors. It’s normal. It’s what all of us do when we are overwhelmed and can not process what is happening around us. In simple terms, we fight, run away or just stand there in shock. And then someone is going to have a very bad day.

However, I have observed fantastic leaders who avoid this normal stage of the trough of chaos. First, they do not do a big picture data dump on employees. Instead these leaders focus on creating focus and clarity. Second, through routine strategic level dialogues, they explain what is and is not going to change so people understand that there is a line of continuity through all that is happening. And finally, they help all involve understand what are the priorities each quarter. Again, they create focus and clarity over panic and fear. The result is fewer deer-in-the-headlights moments, and more people who come together to solve tactical and strategic level problems.

This week, remember that the deer-in-the-headlights response is normal. We all are doing the best we can with the information we have. And remember to create clarity. When we focus on purpose over fear, people will make the right things happen every time.

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

Monday, January 15, 2018

Answering The Big Questions

I spend a lot of time in conference rooms sitting around tables visiting with people in leadership positions. Some of the rooms are over the top amazing with all of the latest gadgets and hardware plus an amazing view of the sky line from the top floor of the corporate tower. Others are quite simple - a table and some chairs.

During these many hours of listening, exploring and sharing, there always comes a point when someone is going to ask one of the big questions.

- Where are we going with all of this?

- How are we going to get there?

- What’s it going to look like when we get there?

- How will we measure progress?

- Why is this so important that we have to stop doing what we are currently doing and start doing this?

Some leaders stiffen when asked these question. They want their staff or team to just blindly follow them where ever they are going. Others are highly defensive and go into attack mode to deal with those who asked the question. And unfortunately, some go into high academic mode and give an answer that is so confusing and so convoluted that in the end no one understands anything. They are just blinded by the blizzard of words and give up. In short, the leader is frustrated and the follower is miserable. Another lousy day in the office has taken place.

During interesting times and during an extended trough of chaos, asking questions is normal. People are confused. People are seeking clarity. People want to understand so they can make the right choices and be successful.

We forget some days as leaders that all employees want to do well in their job. They want to make a difference and know that their time and energy is not being wasted. They want to work within the context of a supportive work community and on a healthy team. Our role as leaders is to create that healthy work environment within the company so that no matter what is happening outside the company people feel like they are respected and valued within the company. When this happens, people rise to the challenges before them. They think creatively both at the tactical and strategic levels.

This week, recognize that the big questions are just questions. They are not an attack on you, but instead an inquiry and a pathway to clarity. So, sit down this week with a pad of paper or a blank computer screen and come up with some thoughtful answers before you are asked. Bounce these answers off people you respect to make sure they are clear and to the point. And then treat the person asking the questions with dignity. We may live in interesting times and be working through lots of chaos, but we do not need to be rude or disrespectful in our answers. Instead, we need to embrace the old Boy Scout and “Be Prepared.” It will make a world of difference in the conference room and through out the company.

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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Spring 2018 Roundtable - Early Bird Special!

Now that the New Year has passed and everyone is back at work, it is the time for us to turn our attention to the Spring 2018 Roundtable! 

On April 4 - 5, 2018, we will gather at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ankeny, Iowa for the Spring 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. 

Here is the agenda for your review:

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

- 8:30 am - Arrival & Visiting Time

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - What is the connection between organizational history, culture and meaningful work within successful organizations?

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

- 10:30 am - 12:00 pm - How do leaders improve thinking and relating throughout an entire organization?

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

- 1:30 pm - 2:45 pm How do leaders help themselves and others to learn better?

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

- 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm - What is the importance of caring within successful organizations?

- 4:30 pm - Adjourn

Thursday: April 5, 2018

- 9:00 am - 10:15 am - How do leaders be both bold and brave during difficult times?

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

- 12:00 pm - Adjourn

Starting today through Friday, February 2, I am offering an “early bird” registration price for the Spring 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

If you sign up during this time period, and submit payment before 2/2/18, 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 2/2/18, the registration price will be $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day.

I hope you will reserve April 4 - 5 on your calendar, and e-mail me today about whether or not you and your team are coming. Then, when the first early crocus and daffodils are just starting to bloom, all we will need to do is meet at the Spring 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable.

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

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

Monday, January 8, 2018

Living In Interesting Times

“May you live in interesting times.” I’ve been told this is a Chinese curse. Whether or not this is true may be in question. However, after spending many hours with leaders at different levels of many different organizations, a general consensus has surfaced that we do live in interesting times. 

Some leaders see this as the best of times and revel in the progress that is being made. Others find it an extremely challenging time and believe many key problems are surfacing that have long term implications for their organization and for those they serve. Nevertheless, all of them agree that it is quite an interesting and unique time.

When visiting with all of these different leaders, many whom I have know for quite some time, a common phrase and subject surfaces in our conversation. “These sure are interesting times, Geery. It feels like we are going to be working through an extended trough of chaos.” 

I agree with their analysis. There is quite a bit of work ahead. So, starting today through to the Spring Roundtable in early April, I will be sharing my thoughts weekly with all of you about how to work through an extended trough of chaos during interesting times. 

First, let’s remember that some of the concepts and ideas I will share may seem simple if not simplistic. But experience and research tells us that simple is not always easy. True leadership needs to happen not just during happy times. It needs to happen daily through all sorts of technical problems and adaptive challenges. 

Second, we as leaders need to do our own homework just as much as we need to help others do their homework. A personal review is just as powerful as a company or senior team strategic review. The key is to do this because you understand the importance of it rather than do it just because you read it on a blog or in a book.

Third, during interesting times and when working through an extended trough of chaos, integrity is not negotiable. What you say as a leader and what you don’t say as a leader is always noticed in times like this. How you engage with others and how you work with teams is magnified and examined in great detail. So, the best place to start working and living with integrity is to remember the Grandparent Rule: “Would my grandparents be proud of how I treat others, my team and my family during these interesting and challenging times?” If not, change your behavior. If so, continue on.

I bring up the Grandparent Rule here today because over the course of the last six to nine months I have been visiting with people about integrity. What does it mean? What does it look like? How would you know it if you worked with someone with integrity? 

Over and over again, people have talked to me about their grandparents. Some have said, “My grandfather was a kind man who listened carefully and always treated people with respect.” Others explain to me that “My grandmother was always helping people rather than judging them. She knew that hard times happen even to the best of folks.” And more recently, “My grandparents built a relationship based on love and respect. They role modeled that life can be challenging but it does not have to define who some is on the inside.”

While not all our grandparents lived and worked at this level, there is a large percentage who did and many who currently continue to be people of integrity. What I have realized after much reflection is that these people are people of integrity because they took the time to build and maintain relationships with others. Investing time to make connections made face to face rather than with connectivity, i.e. social media, FaceBook, Instagram, texting, etc., is the foundation of their integrity. They got to know you for you and then showed interest and curiosity as you changed and evolved over time.

This week, remember that simple does not always mean easy. Do your own homework in life’s journey. Think about the Grandparent Rule and spend more time building relationships face to face. We live in interesting times and the trough of chaos will be long, but working and living with the utmost integrity is critical to being the kind of leader who helps people and the organization move forward in a successful manner.

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