Monday, March 1, 2021

How do we build and maintain trust during these difficult times? - part #4

The next step to building and maintaining trust is to create and execute a relationship building strategy. As I have often pointed out in seminars, organizational change is the sum of individual change. Yet, none of us work alone. We are always working in, with and through relationships. Therefore, organizational change is really the sum of relational change.

When I no longer see or frame you up as “the other”, i.e. us vs. them in the dualistic sense, and instead see and frame you up as part of “us”, i.e. we are on the same side or team, then we can begin to trust each other.

The best leaders are social change or relational change strategist. The way they do this is through creating strategy and social dialogue within safe relational spaces. In the world of fund raising, I have learned from professionals that friend-raising always comes before fund-raising. In the world of trust building and trust maintaining, relationship raising always comes before planning and the execution of a plan.

So, what does this look like in a mostly digital connected time period?

When I listen to people in leadership and management positions who grasp the question, they tell me it is choosing to make one to one connections with a wide diversity of individuals. One leader told me he is routinely calling all 48 people downline from him to visit and ask a series of questions. Mostly, he just wants to listen and learn what they are seeing, feeling and experiencing. This helps him discern whether or not there is clarity or lack of clarity about focus and goals. Then, he can build strategic level trust in the areas where relationships are strained or unclear.

This week, become a relational change strategist and build a plan to reach out and connect with more people. Then, you will know where to focus your trust building activities.

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

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Living and Struggling With Uncertainty

During the first and only fall I lived in Vermont, everyone talked about the hardships of winter, especially for those who lived in isolated valleys like the one where I was living and working. At the time, I was part of a team of people doing maintenance for six different camp facilities while teaching and learning homesteading skills along the way. Because we were so isolated, the change of the seasons had a big impact on our lives and work. Therefore, we needed to be prepared for all kinds of weather and circumstances.

As the days grew colder and the leaves on the sugar maples turned red and fell, I began to worry about the impending “bad Vermont winter.” The old timers in the area said that the caterpillars had thicker bands than normal so this was going to be the “worst winter in years.” I looked at the sky every morning as I trudged out to the barns to care for the animals and milk the cows. Every day I inspected the local flora for signs of winter. 

Over time, I became increasingly concerned about the arrival of winter. I was sure that we were not prepared. Like a good Boy Scout, I told my crew we must be prepared, and the sooner it happened the better.

One cold morning in late November as I hiked up from my cabin to the barns, I saw the first clear sign of winter. On the high ridge behind the farmhouse where we had our community meals was a large grove of pine trees. During the night, a hoarfrost had covered the entire top half of the ridge in a glaze of ice and a slight dusting of snow. 

As I stood there looking up at the beauty of the ridge, I let out a long slow breath. The tension and worry I had carried was released. I felt no more anxiety and uncertainty. It was gone in a single breath. When I returned from the barn that morning with two buckets of steaming milk, the sun came out and the ridge top sparkled. I was at peace. Winter had come home to the highlands surrounding the valley, and a new day was beginning.

That first day of winter was no different from the previous days or from the coming days. We always had work to do. We always dressed warmly. We always did our best to be prepared for the unexpected.

Yes, it was a cold winter and I did see more snow and ice than I had before in my entire life. But the natural world around me was not in chaos or uncertainty. I had framed it up as a time of uncertainty, fear and worry. The natural world was doing what it has been doing since the beginning of time, exquisitely  moving from one season to the next. I had created the worry and fear around these normal transitions. My lack of clarity had been projected onto the outer world around me. I learned that the transition from one season to the next is inevitable and gradual, and that the arrival of winter was manageable after all.

As I move through this winter and head toward spring, I find myself worried again. I am anxious about when my wife and I will be able to get the COVID vaccine. I worry about the health and well being of our adult children and their families. I worry about our friends and dear elders, hoping that all will stay healthy in the midst of this on-going global pandemic. 

Sitting quietly the other morning, I realized that my inner worry around this uncertainty was again being projected into the outer world. I was getting caught in a cycle of thinking that was not serving me or those around me well.

Then I remembered my experience from many decades ago when I lived in Vermont and worried about the transition from fall into winter. I vividly remembered the moment I saw the hoarfrost high up on the ridge and the subsequent whole body experience when the tension, anxiety and uncertainty was released in a single breath. As I pondered this memory, I wondered what would be my “hoarfrost high up on the ridge” moment in the midst of this time period. 

Upon reflection, I recognize that I may not have a singular hoarfrost moment when it comes to the transition from winter into spring in the midst of this global pandemic. Instead, I will experience a series of smaller moments that ultimately will add up to that previous whole body experience of release and inner peace.

The first moment of release will happen the day I discover the first crocus blooming in the flower beds that surround our home. For me, this is an annual miracle of spring. One day in March, I will discover that first crocus, a golden chalice of hope and renewal. After the long, dark, extremely cold winter we’ve experienced, to know that spring is finally on its way will be uplifting and heart warming. We will have survived this pandemic winter, and the ground will be waking up to new shapes, colors and ultimately the sounds of spring birds in migration.

The second moment will be the discovery of the first King Alfred daffodils and the first Red Emperor tulips blooming. The daffodils will remind me of my late mother who loved daffodils and who survived great difficulties during the early years of her life. She modeled resilience and the importance of kindness. She choose to love and learn in spite of her inner challenges and pain.

The tulips will remind me of my late father who died of COVID-19 on Easter weekend in 2020. He modeled an unending curiosity about the natural world. He saw God’s handiwork in every flower, plant and tree. His love for his family was deep and strong. He was a quiet presence in a noisy world. 

On the day he was admitted to the hospital with COVID last spring, his final act of connection, thanks to a hospice nurse’s personal cell phone, was to blow my wife and me a kiss. I carry his love with me as I move through these cold winter days, knowing that great love can help us transcend our worry, fear and anxiety.

The third moment will be the sum of two connections. One will be the day we can walk into the home of our oldest son and daughter-in-law, and hug them and our grandson. The other moment will be when we can do the same with our youngest son and daughter-in-law. Sharing time, conversation, food, stories and laughter is one of life’s richest gifts.

It is the simple, ordinary moments in life when transformation happens - when a hoarfrost appears on a ridge, or sitting with our family or friends at a breakfast table with a good cup of coffee. It is walking the dogs in the park or listening to music as we cook a meal together. For me, just being present within shared space will be the greatest moment of renewal and rebirth, a new beginning after such a long period of waiting, worry, endings and change.

Living with uncertainty is normal during a global pandemic. Struggling with it is not easy. It can be overwhelming. But with the knowledge that transformative moments are a natural part of life if we are awake to them, I look forward to these upcoming experiences of release and transformation. I may feel worn right now, but I am also resilient, loved, and at peace. Spring and new beginnings are coming soon. 

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

Monday, February 22, 2021

How do we build and maintain trust during these difficult times? - part #3

It was an in-depth phone consultation about problems, issues, and possible trends that were emerging as we all move through this global pandemic. We weren’t trying to solve today’s problems. Instead, we were trying to understand  a diversity of possible futures and whether or not we were prepared for them. In particular, we were focused on whether or not the company had the capacity to come up with effective solutions if any one of the possibilities were to happen.

As we explored all the options, I kept thinking about the concept of splatter vision. When watching nature or when hunting, the goal is to let your vision spread out. You are expanding your peripheral vision and looking for movement within the environment. Then, once you find the movement, you can focus and take action. Given all that is happening in the world right now, we need to expand our peripheral vision and not just focus on events but on the movement within and across the events so we can discern what are the emerging trends. 

One way to do this is to engage in regular and in-depth strategic dialogue. The teams I see that are struggling as we move into this part of winter are the ones which lack situational awareness, namely they do not have a sense of what is going on around them. Technically, situational awareness is defined as “the perception of the elements and events with respect to time and/or space, and the comprehension of their meaning and the projection of their status in the near future.”

In past From Vision to Action Leadership classes, I have called this macro-myopia, namely a failure to see the big picture connections. When we engage in regular and in-depth strategic dialogue, we spend a lot of time listening and sharing with the goal to help people gain perspective and make connections between “elements and events” in time and space. This helps the team and the leader get on the same page about what is happening and why it is happening within the company and within their service environment. The outcome of this action is that people feel more connected to each other in a time period where people feel more divided and alone.

This week, create and engage in more strategic dialogues. It will help build trust on so many levels.

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

Monday, February 15, 2021

How do we build and maintain trust during these difficult times? - part #2

When I step back and reflect on all the different leaders and organizations I have been working with for the last six months, here are the successful pathways to building trust that I am witnessing.

First, these leaders role model trusty worthy behaviors. The late Stephen Covey in his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (Free Press, 2004), writes that there are four key leadership behaviors, namely role modeling, pathfinding, aligning and empowering. He notes that role modeling inspires trust. 

From my perspective, a key element to role modeling is when we choose to not tolerate dehumanizing language or behavior. Michelle Maiese, the chair of the philosophy department at Emmanuel College defines this as “the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them seem less human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.” Dehumanizing starts when we “lose our ability to listen, communication, and practice even a modicum of empathy.”

Pathfinding creates order in the midst of adaptation, notes Covey. In his book,  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni asks the question “How does a team go about building trust?” He explains that “Unfortunately vulnerability-based trust cannot be achieved overnight.” From my vantage point, pathfinding and building team trust are interconnected. They require the creation of shared experiences over time, and multiple instances of follow-through which builds credibility. Finally, it requires an in-depth understanding of the unique attributes of different team members. Think First, Break All The Rules and strengths based leadership. When we co-create the plan about how to move forward, we are building trust and maintaining trust.

Covey writes that aligning nourishes both vision and empowerment. However, John Doerr in his book, Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs (Portfolio, 2018) reminds us that “… alignment is rare.” Studies suggest that only 7 percent of employees “fully understand their company’s business strategies and what’s expected of them in order to help achieve the common goals…. A lack of alignment, according to a poll of global CEOs, is the number-one obstacle between strategy and execution.”

Empowering unleashes human potential, according to Covey. In the midst of a global pandemic, we are expecting employees to execute flawlessly and efficiently with no mistakes, consistent outcomes, and to document everything. I get this on one level but I also remember the comments by Amy Edmondson in her article, “The Competitive Imperative of Learning” in the July-August 2008 issue of the Harvard Business Review. As she writes, “... flawless execution cannot guarantee enduring success in a knowledge economy…. great execution is difficult to sustain not because people get tired of working hard but because the managerial mind-set that enables efficient execution inhibits employee’s ability to learn and innovate.”

As Edmondson explains, execution-as-efficiency requires discipline, respect for for systems and an attention to detail. Often the management mind-set to motivate employees to be efficient is to utilize carrots (pay more for work completed) or sticks (reprimand or threat of job loss). The outcome of these choices is an undercurrent of fear. Low psychological safety and high accountability for meeting demanding goals yields people working in an anxiety zone. 

The solution is to teach your managers how to motivate and empower people without using carrots or sticks. We do this by defining the company’s strategic direction and constantly articulating mission. We also provide routine feedback in the form of coaching rather than constructive criticism. Finally, we focus on helping people to learn. 

When we role model, path find, align and empower, we create the focus to deal with what matters, and the capacity to execute and deal with making it happen.

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

Monday, February 8, 2021

How do we build and maintain trust during these difficult times? - part #1

As this winter gets more complicated and complex, we need to pause and reflect on the February 2020 comments of Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations. As he wrote, “The pandemic will not change the basic direction of history so much as accelerate it.” For example, our screen time has increased, and our reliance on video connections to do business has increased. Next, manufacturers have diversified suppliers to create redundant supply chains. All of the above trends pre-existed COVID, now we are more aware of them and see their impact in our personal and professional lives.

Another change due to the global pandemic is how people are doing their jobs. Some people are still working in analog or co-located offices while others are working in hybrid or majority-remote offices. And then some people are working in all digital or remote offices.

Many people who are working from home report enhanced productivity and engagement. But as someone who spends a large majority of his working life listening to people in leadership and management positions from across the country, I believe that the success of working from home depends on three factors. First, it depends on the age of your children and whether or not schools or child care are possible. Second, it depends on your access to broad band and whether or not you have technology support. And finally, it depends on your level of economic privilege. 

Many leaders report to me that there are on-going problems with people who are working all remotely. First, they are noticing a rise in communication problems. In particular, it is hard to read body language on a digital platform, and that just in time feedback is not happening. Second, problem-solving is okay but it tends to not be very group oriented because people are more advocacy than inquiry oriented. Next, many leaders are finding out that brainstorming is very hard to do, because most digital platforms tends to let who ever is speaking dominate the discussion. Fourth, knowledge sharing is happening but it requires disciplined attention. A lot of good information is all in people’s head and it is harder to access it when you don’t see people on a daily basis. Fifth, socialization and the building of camaraderie is not happening. For example, on-line happy hours are getting old and people are starting to feel disconnected and isolated socially and professionally. Sixth, in some companies, supervision, coaching and check-ins are somewhat working, but often get skipped due to people being so focused on just getting their work done. Finally, performance evaluation is struggling because most are built around analog or co-location metrics. The emerging question in this area will be the following: how do we evaluate someone on a digital platform? Most people report to me that they are focused on project management and not teamwork. For those of you who want to explore this subject in greater depth, I recommend you read the following article: “Our Work-from-Anywhere Future: Best practices for all-remote organizations” by Prithwiraj (Raj) Choudhury in the November-December 2020 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

The overall outcome of the above mentioned problems is that leaders report to me that during the October - January time period, they have witnessed an increased level of uncertainty about the path forward amongst their people, and a decreased level of trust at the one to one level and team levels. 

The subject of trust is an interesting concept because so many thoughtful people have written about it over the years. The late Stephen Covey in his book, The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness (Free Press, 2004) writes that “trust is the fruit of trustworthiness of both people and organizations.” It is “a verb and a noun.” He notes that “role modeling inspires trust without expecting it.” Brene’ Brown in her book,  Dare To Lead: Brave Work, Tough Conversations, Whole Hearts (Random House, 2018) writes “We need to trust to be vulnerable and we need to be vulnerable in order to trust.” Charles Feltman describes trust as “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions,” and he describes distrust as deciding that “what is important to me is not safe with this person in this situation (or any situation).” Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002) writes that the absence of trust is why many teams struggle. As he explains, “The most important action that a leader must take to encourage the building of trust on a team is to demonstrate vulnerability first.”

In the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I point out that there are three  kinds of trust based on the work in the following article: "The Enemies of Trust" by Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau, Harvard Business Review, February 2003. The first is personal trust which is "the trust employees have in their own managers.” The second is strategic trust which is "the trust employees have in the people running the show to make the right strategic decisions.” And finally, there is organizational trust which is "the trust people have not in any individual but in the company itself."

Given the events of the last year, we, as leaders, have to ask ourselves some important questions: Why should employees trust me as a leader? Why should I trust my colleagues? And finally, why should I trust my team? We need to think about these questions as we prepare ourselves and our organizations for a  transition from a global pandemic to a post pandemic world.

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

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Now Is The Time For Courage

Many years ago, a seminar participant shared with me the following quote by Douglas McArthur: 

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”

As we move through this new month and focus more and more on the rest of 2021, it is time for us to have the courage to make tough decisions. These later stages of the global pandemic are not easy. Adaptive challenges still abound. We are still encountering surprises and difficulties. But, if we choose to be a leader who acts with the utmost of integrity, we must remember that compassion, courage and confidence are not negotiable.

Right now, we know that our organization and the teams within them are battle weary. They have fought hard against the unknown unknowns that COVID has continued to throw our way. They have stood up strong for each other and for those we serve. Even in our darkest hours, many teams have stayed focused and delivered in spite of unbelievable complexities.

But now with the reality that this could be the beginning of the end for this global pandemic, we must honor and support our teams because they are tired, worn and in need of some kindness and compassion. We know the future will be a mix of more digital teamwork and more analog teamwork. We also know that the importance of teamwork is not going to go away during the recovery period post the pandemic. In reality, it will be even more important. Therefore, we must support our teams by doing something important, namely help them have more courage to keep moving forward.

“The best way to develop courage”, writes the late Stephen Covey, “is to set a goal and achieve it, make a promise and keep it. No matter how small the goal or promise, this one act will begin to build our confidence that we can act with integrity in the moment of choice. As we begin to make and keep promises to ourselves and others, we take the first steps on a path that leads to confidence, growth, and peace.” 

Along with setting goals and achieving them, we also must do one more thing as leaders, namely retain our best people. All across this country, companies are eager to hire good leaders with capacity and integrity. These companies recognize that more and more baby boomers will retire, and as a result there will be many open positions for experienced leaders. Therefore, they are actively recruiting talent and willing to pay top dollar when they find it. If we fail to recognize this reality, then we will loose our best people to other organizations who know the value of good leadership.

However, we do have the ability this winter to rehire our best people. We can and we must sit down with them and explain why continuing to work for our company is the best choice given the challenges before the industry and the market place. When we prepare for this level of work and act accordingly with integrity, we are on the right path to better outcomes for all involved.

As we continue to prepare for a post pandemic world, courage, compassion and confidence will make a big difference. Acting with integrity and equality are a powerful combination, too.

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

Monday, February 1, 2021

How do we help our people connect with the path forward when the path forward is not clear? - part #2

When we seek to help people connect with the path forward, we need to engage them in the change process. The quickest way to do this is to create a series of planned short-term wins, because they generate credibility for long term efforts. John Kotter in his seminal book, Leading Change (Harvard Business School Press, 1996) writes that “a good short-term win has at least three characteristics.” First, “It’s visible; large numbers of people can see for themselves whether the result is real or just hype.” Second, “It’s unambiguous; there can be little argument over the call.” Third, “It’s clearly related to the change effort.”

Upon reflection, I think we can build on Kotter’s insight by re-reading the following book: Sutton, Robert I and Huggy Rao. Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less (Crown Business, 2014). As they write, when big organizations scale well, they focus on “moving a thousand people forward a foot at a time, rather than moving one person forward by a thousand feet.” They achieve this success by doing the following two actions. First, they “spread a mindset, not just a footprint.” Our challenge in helping people connect with a path forward that is unclear is to figure out the mindset in advance before focusing on generating multiple short term wins. 

Second, Sutton and Rao remind us that “scaling requires addition and subtraction.” The problem of more is also a problem of less. Therefore, we as leaders need to deal with those problem people before they spread toxicity as we move forward to execute a series of planned short term wins.

A major insight from the book, Scaling Up Excellence, comes later in the book when the authors state that in order “to spread excellence, you need to have some excellence to spread.” This has multiple implications on so many levels, but when it comes to having people connect and move forward the goal of a planned short term win is to create pockets of excellence upon which you can build and scale change.

As we plan and create a series of short term wins, we have to do some serious work ourselves, namely we need to embody the change. For me, the first and only step to embodying change involves in-depth studying and learning. This is more than reading one book and calling it done. This involves reading and studying a subject, and then entering into dialogue to gain greater depth of understanding. 

A wonderful example of this concept took place not too long ago when one of my clients realized that he did not fully understand the concept of white fragility. He knew he needed to grasp how this and other social justice issues were playing out on his team and within the workforce. So, he dedicated 5 hours a week listening to podcasts and forums plus reading articles and books on the subject. Next, he visited with people so that he could move from unaware to aware and hopefully over time to a better understanding. As he said to me, “my goal is to learn about the blind spots in my life” when it comes to issues around race and social injustice.

As Herminia Ibarra in her book, Act Like A Leader, Think Like A Leader (Harvard Business Review Press, 2015), writes “Sustainable change in your leadership capacity requires shifts in three areas: finding new ways of doing your work/your job; expanding your network through new relationships; connecting to and engaging with people.”

The path forward may not be clear right now, but we can be clear about the choices we are making to help people move forward. Generating planned short term wins and embodying the desired changes are good first steps in the journey.

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