Monday, September 24, 2018

What is the foundation for long term, successful teamwork? - part #1

Every day leaders recognize that there are two moments of truth. A. G. Lafley, and Ram Charan in their book, The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth With Innovation (Crown Business, 2008) explain this concept by calling the first moment of truth when a customer, client or consumer chooses to buy a product or service. The second moment of truth is when they actually use it. If we are going to put the consumer at the center of everything we do, then we need highly functional teams.

After two years of discussing teams and team work with leaders of companies all over the country, I am going to share with you what I have learned, unlearned and relearned this fall into winter via this blog. First, there is a general consensus that “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).” Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen in their excellent article, “The Secrets of Great Teamwork” (Harvard Business Review, June 2016), call these new teams, “4-D teams”.

From my discussions and observations, it is clear that 4-D teams are more project based, rather than day to day operations focused. These teams are organizing the work as a series of projects. And as a result, the 4-D team is expected to rapidly adapt and make course corrections as the problem, the team and the environment change.

Furthermore, within the 4-D team world, Peter Cappelli and Anna Travis in their article called “HR Goes Agile” (Harvard Business Review, March-April 2018 issue) find the following five unique problems are surfacing. First, in order for teams to be successful, they require multidirectional feedback, i.e. upward feedback from employees to leaders, downward feedback from leaders to employees, and sideways feedback from peer to peer. Second, many people on these teams often work in isolation. Third, there routinely are technological barriers to work. Fourth, there are often a lack of clear communication norms. And finally, there is a lack of clarity about frontline decision rights. As they write, “Organizations are pushing them [decision rights] down to the front lines, equipping, and empowering employees to operate more independently. But that’s a huge behavioral change, and people need support to pull it off.”

Based on the current research and my own experience of observing teams and talking with leaders, it is clear that the following needs to be in place for great teamwork to happen.

- A Compelling Direction. People have to care about achieving the goal at the department level and the organizational level.

-  A Strong Structure. As Martine Haas and Mark Mortensen note in the above article, “Every individual doesn’t have to possess superlative technical and social skills, but the team overall needs a healthy dose of both.”

- A Supportive Context where the entire team has access to the resources, information and training in order to be successful.

- A Shared Mindset. Again, as Haas and Mortensen write, “Distance and diversity, as well as digital communication and changing membership, make them [4-D teams] especially prone to the problems of “us versus them” thinking and incomplete information…. The solution to both is developing a shared mindset among team members - something team leaders can do by fostering a common identity and common understanding.”

This week reflect on the concept of 4-D teams and whether the above four components are in place for your team to be successful.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Why Invest In Leadership Training in 2019? - Part #1

I routinely get asked by people in leadership positions about why they should invest in more leadership training given how busy every one is at work. When every day is a mad rush to get everything done, sending some one to a four part, in-depth leadership training like the 2019 From Vision to Action Leadership Training seems to be a recipe for getting further behind and overwhelmed.  My answer is a simple: Being prepared for the future is never a waste of time and resources.

First, having taught this class for the past 20 years, I have noticed that alumni of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training have two things that differentiate them from others, namely a common language to explain what is happening in their organization when it comes organizational change and a powerful set of tools to work through the complicated and normal problems that come with change.

So many times when I get called in to an organization that is struggling and can not meet it’s goals or reach it’s full potential strategically or operationally, I discover that there is no shared, strategic mindset and no common language. While this may be stating the obvious, the lack of these two elements means that many senior teams can not effectively solve problems or make the right decisions. Most focus on control over command and many focus on order over alignment. Both of which cause short and long term problems in the areas of strategic execution or operational improvement.

Second, current and past students of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training have the tools and the language to explain what is normal as organizations create and execute their strategy or improve their day to day operations. For example, graduates of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training understand that denial and resistance are normal responses to change. Having participated in this in-depth training, these leaders have the ability to work through these normal behaviors. They recognize that denial is often about loss of clarity, competence and control, and that resistance is a form of feedback about these same issues. In short, because they are better trained, they then can make better choices.

In a time period when we need more people to be great leaders, we have to provide them with the tools, the understanding and the support to make that a reality. Now is the time to sign people up for the 2019 From Vision to Action Leadership. For more information about the 2019 class, please click on the following link:

I look forward to helping you and your organization be better prepared 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 17, 2018

Seek Wholeness Over Fragmentation

In 1997, I was asked by a group of long term clients to create and deliver an in-depth leadership training program which could become the training ground for future senior leaders for their organizations. In 1998, after much work, reflection and visiting with numerous leaders around the country, I designed and taught the first From Vision to Action Leadership Training. This year long leadership development course encompassed four quarterly sessions. Through its challenging, interactive curriculum, participants gained core skills and knowledge through immersion in research, issues and solutions related to leadership, strategic planning and execution, and implementing organizational change. This fall the 24th class will graduate from this in-depth training and people are already signing up for the 2019 class.

During the first class back in 1998, I asked my students to tell me what are the characteristics of a leader worth following during organizational change. I still ask this same question twenty years later. The reason being is that leaders are involved in making things run better and changing things to make them work differently given how the customers have changed.

Over the decades, the answers have been interesting and thoughtful. There has been some change in the description of these characteristics and those reflect the changes in our society. For example, successful digital communication was not a part of our discussions back in ’98. But over all, most students share about how leaders think and how they interact with others.

I like these answers and I encourage the students to zoom out rather than just zoom in to answer the question. The reason being is because a long time ago I read a book by Kevin Cashman where he stated that “if you want to become a better leader, you first have to become a better person.” I still think about this quote on a regular basis.

If we truly want to become better leaders, especially during times of organizational change, then we must become better people. If that is the goal, then a leader is not just what they do with their mind and how they interact with others. From my experience of working with great leaders, I have learned that a leader worth following in the midst of organizational changes does think well and interact well with others but they also do a few other things exceptionally well.

First, they role model good self-care. They take care of their body through exercise, eating well and utilizing healthy stress management techniques.

Second, they have a healthy social and emotional life. This means they take care of their family, maintain relationships with a close circle of friends, and have mentors and older friends who help keep things in perspective.

Third, they have a spiritual life. They are involved in a faith community, and routinely take time for faith related activities on a daily and seasonal basis, recognizing that some questions about work and life can only be answered from a faith perspective.

This week, reflect on the question, What are the characteristics of a leader worth following during organizational change? And then write down your answers. It is time to seek wholeness over fragmentation. Becoming a better person is a fabulous life goal.

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

Monday, September 10, 2018

Play The Long Game

We were sitting together over dinner and the primary topic of discussion was how to write a three to five year strategic plan in the midst of turbulent times and the rise of complex adaptive problems over which the organization had no control. In particular, we were exploring how a leader can cope with the stress of uncertainty and the overwhelming number of operational details that keep surfacing.

After an hour and a half of exploring different scenarios and possibilities, I turned to the senior executive and shared the following:

“Remember during the 2018 Spring From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable when I talked about leaders being brave and bold in spite of all that is happening around them?”

“Yes,” she replied.

“Good. At the end of my presentation on this subject, I quoted Charles Swindoll who wrote ‘Courage is not limited to the battlefield or the Indianapolis 500 or bravely catching a thief in your house. The real tests of courage are much quieter. They are the inner tests, like remaining faithful when nobody's looking, like enduring pain when the room is empty, like standing alone when you're misunderstood.’

When I reflect on this quote, I realize that this is a time period when we are going to have to be faithful to the mission of the organization. It is a time period when we are going to have to have courage to move forward. And when we may have to endure pain, but not be defined by it.

In my journey, I have learned that playing the long game is a powerful choice. While I may not be able to control all that is happening around me, I can stay centered and realize that everything will work out in the end. I’ve learned this by doing something that many do not consider to be a normal business practice, namely I choose to go and visit with the elders in my life.

Routinely, I like to sit down with people in their 80’s and 90’s and visit with them over a cup of coffee or a meal. I enjoy listening to their stories, reflections and insights. These are the people who were born in the 1920’s and 1930’s. They personally knew people who were born in the 1800’s and fought in World War I. Many of them also fought in World War II, the Korean War, or supported the troops from home. They lived through the Dustbowl and the Great Depression. 

What they share are not memories or stories found in a book. These are the people who actually lived through some of the most difficult and challenging times in the history of our country. And as a result, they can share wisdom and valuable lessons learned from it all.

And do you know what I have learned from my times with these elders? One simple but powerful insight: Don’t worry so much. It will all work out in the end. Some day someone is going to look back on this time period and call it the ‘good old times.’ It all comes down to perspective, patience and faith.”

This week, play the long game and visit with the elders in your life. They always have some pearls of wisdom to share.

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

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Listen With Your Heart Not Just Your Head

During executive coaching sessions over the course of this summer, the subject of listening has been a source of much discussion. Often an older executive will want to discuss how to help younger leaders listen better, and not interrupt so much. Some of these senior executives struggle with the lack of analog based dialogue.

Other leaders want to discuss how to get teams of people to listen better to each other. They recognize that if the team is not doing this very well with other team members then more likely they are not listening to their customers or internal partners very well either.

While we have explored the technical aspects of listening and speaking as a leader during these coaching sessions, many have responded by asking, “But, what do I need to do as a leader to help others to listen better?” The question is a good one and my response has caused quite a few of them to stop, sit quietly, think deeply, and then share at a different level.

“You need to listen holistically, not just with your head, if you want others to listen better,” I tell them. “This will require you to slow down and listen to the tone of their voice, their body language and the rhythm of their language. We, as leaders, forget in our rush to get things solved and done that oral communications is the second form of communication. The primary form of communication is what we do before, during and after we communicate. We must remember that our message is often communicated before we even speak, and the person we are communicating with is often working on their response before we even have time to finish our thoughts.

Therefore, we need to listen holistically, not just with our head, recognizing that every one is doing the best they can with the time and limited information they have received. In short, be more compassionate in your approach to listening, and along the way, trust your gut.

In essence, your compassion, your kindness and your ability to being total present when an individual or group that is sharing something with you is the foundation of your listening. When everyone sees, feels and hears this depth of executive presence, then speaking and listening will be transformed.

So, speak less, listen holistically, and be 100% present when you are with others. Over time, this will be a new beginning for all involved.”

After a time of reflection, many senior executives will share that this is what their favorite boss did with them as they moved up through the leadership ranks. I smile, nod my head, and say “yes.”

This week, focus on your listening. It is important and mission critical to your success as a leader.

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