Monday, February 26, 2018

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

When working through an extended trough of chaos, many leaders are focused on getting lots of things done. They want order and predictability to be once again the norm. They are very conscious that cash flow can make or break an organization so they are constantly focused on the financial health of the organization. As they race from meeting to meeting, the goal often is to get all of the things that are creating the feeling of chaos back under control. The difficulty is that many leaders forget a simple truth in their rush to get this done, namely that actions speak louder than words.

Every day people listen to what leaders say. They try hard to discern what is the message being sent. They interpret everything as either positive or negative. And for the most part, they define things as negative during the trough of chaos. If the leader is feeling overwhelmed in the tough of chaos, the follower is feeling lost and has no idea what or why this is all happening.

Here is where the best leaders step up to the challenges before. They understand that not everyone is going to hear directly from them. Therefore, they focus on making sure their message to the organization is clear, concise and can be easily cascaded down into the organization. They focus on core themes and recognize that it may take time for people to understand all that is being communicated.

They also are extremely thoughtful in their actions. In particular, they always conduct themselves with the utmost integrity. This means treating everyone, from the maintenance and the house cleaning staff to an SVP or a member of the board with dignity and respect. Being courteous and kind is not a show but a reflection of character and clarity. They recognize that role modeling integrity is vital to helping everyone move forward together.

This week, define the core themes you are going to talk about during the next 90 days as you move through your extended trough of chaos. And then role model clarity, respect and integrity with every fiber of your being. Do not slip up because actions always speak louder than words. 

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

Monday, February 19, 2018

Teamwork is Not Collaboration

In the trough of chaos, too many people think teamwork and collaboration are the same thing. The problem is that most leaders focus on team work. They rally a group of people together and charge the hill, i.e. try to solve a specific problem. With enough focus and group effort, they will solve just about any problem. The difficulty is that in the trough of of chaos solving a singular problem does not always take into consideration that solving a problem within one part of the company may cause problems to rise up in other areas of the company.

When I teach people about how to move through the trough of chaos, I remind them that team work is an intra-group activity and the collaboration is an inter-group activity. The best leaders focus on both. 

Clearly, everyone wants a team to be a high functioning team with good levels of trust, dialogue, focus and the ability to hold each other accountable for collective results. This takes time and effort to build. It also takes routine maintenance to sustain.

Yet for a company to be successful as it moves through interesting times and a trough of chaos, we also need exceptional collaboration. This work also takes time, and lots and lots of communication. Typically, leaders rush to the team work side of the equation rather than investing time to build bridges between teams. This is more time intensive work, but if done correctly, it can be a valuable competitive advantage. 

Over the course of my career, I have witnessed some amazing levels of collaboration between teams. I have seen leaders build these bridges and develop inter-team relationships. The secret that I have been able to discern in this process is the development of two things, namely a common language and a shared sense of mission. While this sounds so simplistic and basic, it is rarely done well. The best leaders and companies that I have worked with invest years in building that common language. They understand that effective communication is the first step to collaboration. They also understand that having everyone understand the mission of the company keeps us all focused in the right direction.

This week, keep building common language and spend lots and lots of time unpacking and discussing the meaning of the company’s mission statement. Then good team work and good collaboration will start to take place.

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Daily Struggle

Right now, leaders at all levels are struggling. Change, that once used to be a linear process, is now dynamic and continuous at both the operational and strategic levels. Information, that used to be presented in an organized manner with concise summaries, is now overwhelming all involved so that no one is sure what is what anymore. Finally, culture, that once used to be defined by the company alone, is now being influenced by internal and external stakeholders who all want it to be favorable to themselves alone. And leaders stand in the midst of this swirling dervish of events, people, and information feeling frustrated and confused, hoping there is a path forward.

The answers may not be quick or easy. The work of leaders at this time period is difficult and complex but there are solutions, which with dedication, focus and clarity can generate new beginnings and solid steps forward. The best leaders understand that they need to slow down and step back from the pell mell rush to the future and understand that the current state of their organization is a reflection of past strategic choices. Leaders recognize that an organization’s history, it’s current culture and whether or not the work is meaningful for those who are most present to the moment of truth, i.e. the time and place where the goods or services become real and are utilized by the customer or clients, can impact now and the future.

As a result, we as leaders need time and space to reflect, think deeply and to reorganize our thoughts before moving forward. These spaces can, at times, seem few and far between in the midst of our daily schedule, filled with back to back meetings.

And yet, there is a place where exceptional leaders gather. It is the Spring 2018 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable. Here, all involved catch their breath, pause and take stock. They reconnect with the bigger picture and they reconnect with their organization’s strategic nexus. The Spring Roundtable is a time for renewal, and a time for new insights, fresh ideas and perspectives. It is a place where we realize that we are all in this together and we all have pieces of the puzzle and insights to share.

This year, the Spring ’18 Roundtable will take place on April 4-5, 2018 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Ankeny, Iowa, which is just north of Des Moines, Iowa.  The agenda for this event is as follows:

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

The price is $ 295.00 for the two days and $ 195.00 for a single day. Here is the link to the registration form:

I hope you will give yourself permission this spring to pause, step back and recharge with a room full of dedicated and thoughtful people, all seeking insights and new perspectives. It will be an exciting time, where we can struggle a little less and gain renewed perspectives of how to move forward in an effective manner.

See you at the Spring ’18 Roundtable!

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

Monday, February 12, 2018

Goal Setting and Decision-making are Interconnected

When working through the trough of chaos in the midst of interesting times, everyone is setting goals and trying to get them accomplished. Some days there are spectacular results and other days we are mediocre at best. So what is a leader to do?

First, set SMART goals, i.e. specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. This sounds easy, but it is not easy. Most of the time when I get called in as a consultant to figure out why things are not working right within a group or a company, the problem is with the goals. They are not written clearly or are so broad that doing anything will result in “success.” In situations like this, the goals are accomplished but nothing actually got done or changed.

One small secret to successful goal setting is to create planned short term wins. Remembering the research of John Kotter in his book, Leading Change, short term wins build confidence and clarity for longer term outcomes. They also help you as the leader deal with the common problem of complacency where everyone is comfortable with a dysfunctional level of status quo rather than doing the true work of in-depth change management and execution.

The other problem with goal setting is that it is directly connected to decision-making. Most leaders think that decision-making is the singular act of making a decision. The best leaders understand that it is a four part process of preparing to make a decision, making a decision, executing a decision, and then evaluating the decision to see if it worked out effectively. This four step decision-making framework could also be translated into a four step model for setting goals, i.e. preparing to set goals, setting goals, executing the goals that are set, and finally evaluating the goals that have been set.
For us here today, the intersection between goal setting and decision-making revolves around the idea that the goal of setting a goal and making the right decisions is not just to get something done. The goal of these two steps is to build shared commitment and shared advocacy for future goals and future decisions. Anyone can get something done. The best leaders want you to get it done and in the end feel like you have accomplished something worth doing. This level of ownership and confidence of the process and the outcome helps you, the leader and the company take on the inevitable next round of problems.

This week, review the goals that you are working on this quarter. Are they SMART goals? If not, rewrite them so they are more focused and actionable. Next, ask your direct reports how they are using goals as they make important decisions. This line of inquiry will be helpful for you and for them. Remember goal setting and decision-making are interconnected.

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

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Problem with Problems

During interesting times and when working through a trough of chaos, leaders spend a vast amount of time and energy dealing with problems. Big problems and little problems, tactical problems and strategic problems, technical problems and adaptive problems, complex problems and complicated problems.  Every day more problems show up. They just keep coming and coming.

While many leaders focus on solving problems and fixing problems, great leaders in the trough of chaos do something else which changes the whole situation. They figure out how to sell the problem.

The problem with problems is that leaders can end up being the hub of all solutions. Everyone has a problem. And everyone brings the problem to the leader. The leader solves the problem. The people learn that this works. Bring a problem to the leader and the leader will solve it. 

So, what does everyone do? They bring all the problems to the leader and wait for him or her to solve them.  What at first glance is a solution now becomes a problem. No one solves their own problems. They just bring them to the leader and wait.

Here is where selling the problem is the solution. Rather than the leader becoming the hub for all problem solving, the leader needs to be a bridge builder, connecting competent groups of people who can figure out how to solve the problems themselves.

Selling the problems means that one knows how to place the problem within the larger context of what is happening within the company and within the environment that surrounds the company. It means that a person in a leadership position understands and can explain the strategic direction of the company as well as the core values of the company. Connecting the strategic direction of the company to the problem provides a reason why we need to address the issues that are causing the problem. Explaining how the core values come into play provides a set of guidelines about how to solve the problem. It is the combination, strategy and core values, that will make a difference.

Everyone is busy when they are in the trough of chaos. Most are just trying to cope with all of the work that needs to get done. When an exceptional leader sells the problems rather than simply fixing it themselves, they build capacity, clarity and confidence in the organization which is very helpful as people move through the trough of chaos and on to a new level of personal and organizational performance.

This week, sit down and define three of your top problems. Then, figure out how they influence or are connected to the current strategic plan. Next, write out how you would sell these problems so that people will come together to fix them rather than simply hand them off to you. In the short run, this will take more time than solving it yourself. But in the long run, you will be making a profound difference for yourself and the company.

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