Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Inner Work Of Leadership

The inner work of leadership is the beginning of all change, be it at the personal, the professional, or the organizational levels. It starts with reflection, but over time it goes much deeper. For in the reflection and re-evaluation process, one must come to understand that there is a letting go that must take place. It is in the letting go of the “old way”, namely old habits and mindsets that did not work or will not work, in order to find new ways of thinking, working, and living. As William Bridges noted so many years ago, “every beginning starts with an ending.” For us as leaders, if we seek change and new beginnings, then we must be open to ending old ways. We also must recognize that there is a link between letting go and finding new ways of working. This is the beginning of a new beginning.

As part of this ending and finding process, we must recognize that the purpose of change is about more than setting new goals and making new plans although this is one element of the process. The purpose of change, as noted by James Belasco and Ralph Stayer decades ago, is to create a plan that is owned and understood by those who have to execute it. And one of those people who has to own and understand it includes the leader. One misunderstanding that so many leaders have is that everyone else needs to change, but they get to stay the same. This has never been the case in work or in life.

Next, many leaders think that leadership is about commitment or empowerment, and I grant that these are important in the process. But if one commits to doing the true inner work of change and if one owns and understand the magnitude of this level of work, they have to realize that it begins with integrity. Martha Beck writes in her book,  The Way of Integrity: Finding The Path To Your True Self (The Open Field/A Penguin Life Book, 2021) that “the word integrity … comes from the Latin word integer, which simply means “intact”…. To be in integrity is to be one thing, whole and undivided.” This level of oneness reflects a complete alignment of body, mind, heart, and spirit. This understanding and commitment to oneness or full alignment, which ever word you choose, is not an event. It is a disciplined and on-going process. It reflects a commitment to an on-going effort to become a person of integrity and over time to stay being a person of integrity. Once a leader comprehends this choice, they will realize that the development of oneness is also part of the foundation for successful change.

There also is another element to the inner work of leadership which has a direct connection to successful change, namely the role of silence. Many leaders on a day to day basis are caught in a cycle of hyper-vigilant reactivity. They are constantly on their phones, iPads, or laptops responding to e-mails or reading the latest news. This addiction to screens and the subsequent responding to ever-pressing inputs prevents a leader from taking the time to step back, reflect, and concentrate. The inner work of leadership is deep work and uninterrupted silence is a critical part of the process. For when we give ourselves permission to be still in the midst of uninterrupted silence, we find that our lives are filled up and defined by so much noise, i.e. non urgent and non-important activities and information. It is in the silence and subsequent stillness that we discover again the importance of oneness and alignment. We can then reprioritize our focus and our perspective. We can discover new ways of thinking, working, and living. In short, we find the wisdom to make better choices, and this truly is where the new beginning starts. As George Fox wrote in 1653, “… mind the oneness, and that which keeps you in the oneness.” From my perspective, this is the inner work of leadership and the foundation for all successful change.

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

Monday, January 24, 2022

Focus On Teams

First, “People care which team they’re on. Because that’s where work actually happens.” This gem of an insight comes from Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall in their book, Nine Lies About Work: A Freethinking Leader’s Guide to the Real World (Harvard Business Review Press, 2019).

As I see it, the goal in 2022 is to make all teams function better. During the pandemic, many teams turned into single leader work groups which is not a bad thing but it can be a limiting thing as we move forward, because the positional leader becomes the hub to solve all problems. And he or she never has enough time to do this within a VUCA environment. Furthermore, during 2020 and 2021, some teams and single work groups turned into nothing more than work groups, where people were more concerned about personal achievement than collective results.  

If we seek to create high-performing teams with great internal and external, collaborative behaviors, then a team leader must role model this kind of behavior. I believe the precursor to role modeling collaborative behavior happens when the team leader pays attention to the emotional reality within a team and takes care of it as much as they focus on the work that needs to get done by the team.

As Daniel Goleman wrote in his article called “Leading Resonant Teams” in the summer 2002 issue of Leader to Leader magazine: “There are four aspects of emotional intelligence: emotional self-awareness, emotional self-management, awareness of others’ emotions - - or empathy - - and managing relationships with others. The leader needs to help the team become adept in each of these aspects of emotional intelligence. And to do this, the leader has to establish a set of ground rules for the way we work together, both by example in her behavior and by commenting on the behavior of others and helping people do better. In other words, the leader needs to help the team become more self-aware, which is the core aspect of emotional intelligence…. That self-awareness is a prerequisite for the team’s ability to manage its own emotions, to deal with issues rather than burying them.”

One element of doing this work is that the team leader must be able to change their leadership style over time, notes Linda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson in their excellent articled called “8 Ways to Build Collaborative Teams” in the November 2007 issue of the  Harvard Business Review. The three leadership styles are the following: task-oriented, goal oriented, and relationship building/maintaining.

When helping leaders and managers in 2022 and beyond, we need to dive into the third leadership style in greater depth, namely relationship building/maintaining. Some teams focus internally on the relationships within the team and this is a good beginning. Still, we need to help team members and the team as a whole spend more time in dialogue. As Goleman explained in the aforementioned article, “You can’t inspire people without understanding their perspectives, their hopes and dreams.” And this is a very different level of team dialogue given most teams only focus on tasks, goals and problems to be solved.

In particular, I don’t think we are helping team leaders with their ability to create this level of dialogue and to coach them before, during and after such a time period. As Goleman continues, “… many managers are inept at using the coaching style. Too often, they think they’re coaching when they are actually micromanaging. Good coaches ask themselves, is this about my issues or theirs?”

Furthermore, I don’t think we are aware of external team relationship building. High performing teams do internal team relationship building and maintaining on a regular basis. They also focus on the team’s relationship with the organization as a whole. This is not individual relationship building, but team to team relationship building. As Goleman notes, “some teams can be oblivious to that fact; all they see is the universe within the team, not how the team relates beyond to the larger web in the organization.” For leaders and manager to be successful during the next two years, this is critical step in their professional development.

This week, reflect on the above and ask yourself: What team relationships do I need to improve? Then, start doing the work.

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

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

A Delusional Hope

“Most often what gets organizations into trouble,” writes Richard Farson in his book Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes In Leadership (Simon & Schuster, 1996), “are faulty leadership styles, poor internal relationships, and managerial blind spots. The delusional hope of a troubled organization is that it will be saved without having to make changes in these highly personal areas.”

There is a lot of truth in Farson’s observation. I have seen it myself and it is a challenging situation to deal with. What most leaders forget or have never learned is that true change involves self-examination. And for the most part, many people in leadership positions do not actually want to do this internal work. They want organizational change to happen without ever changing their behavior or their mindset. If only it were this simple.

As Stephen Covey noted so many years ago, “you can not talk your way out of a problem that you are behaving your way into.” In simple terms, our actions in combination with the aforementioned delusional hope can result in talking about change but never really making any changes.

If one is serious about actually making real organizational change, then the first step is to find someone to help you engage in the in-depth work of self-examination. This individual can be both a window and a mirror, referencing the past work of Jim Collins. They are a mirror by which we can evaluate our behaviors and our mindset. They also can be a window because we need to understand how our faulty leadership styles, poor relationships and managerial blindspots are impacting others at work, at home and within our community.  

This month, seek out these individuals and set aside time to share. It is challenging, but nevertheless very important work to do if we are truly seeking a better year.

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

Monday, January 17, 2022

Redefining The Hybrid Office

This month leaders and managers all over the country are trying to figure out what to do with the office given the impact of the Delta and Omicron variants. In this actively COVID influenced world and market place, the hot topic is the definition and reality of how to create a successful hybrid office model. Lynda Gratton in her thought-provoking article called “How to Do Hybrid Right” in the May-June 2021 issue of the Harvard Business Review, notes that most leaders define the hybrid office by physical location rather than a combination of time and place work arrangements. Upon reflection, I think this is an important first step in the discussion around what is a hybrid office. 

However, I think we need to look beyond just time and physical space if we are going to create a successful hybrid office. We could define office space as a physical location within a set time period, i.e. office hours. But recognizing the magnitude of the challenges within the work environment, e.g. staffing shortages, growth expectations and the impact of supply chain challenges, I think we should define the hybrid office space as being a psychologically safe work environment within a physical or digital location.

Still, we need to zoom out before we zoom in to define and solve this problem. Currently we are operating within an on-going VUCA environment, borrowing a term from the United States military. This kind of environment is defined by being volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. Here, instability is chronic and uncertainty is permanent. Change is accelerating and disruption is common.

As experience tells us, psychological safety without accountability and demanding goals, owned and understood by those who have to execute them, is merely a comfort zone. And in a comfort zone, people are not challenged and do not work hard to achieve their goals or get better at their jobs. 

But listen to people who like where they work and they will say the following common phrases: “this is a good place to work” and “this is the place I am meant to be.” They are saying this in spite of demanding goals and accountability. They also are saying this while operating within a global pandemic and a VUCA environment. It is not the physical location or the defined office hours that is generating these comments. It is the health of the work environment within the physical or the hybrid space that makes all the difference.

Patrick Lencioni in his book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business (Jossey-Bass, 2012), defines organizational health by the following characteristics: “minimal politics and confusion, high degree of morale and productivity, and very low turnover among good employees.” Given what we have experienced since March of 2020, this sounds like seventh heaven, a true aspirational goal to achieve.

To make that a reality during the next two years, managers and leaders, and all those who supervise and coach them need to remember the following four core concepts: 

- focus on teams.

- create understanding, not just awareness.

- build on strengths.

- focus on purpose.

When it comes to thinking about the subject of the hybrid office, take the above into consideration and focus on organizational health, not just whether the office is in a physical or digital space.

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

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Communication Is Complicated

Some days in the world of leadership, all the problems we deal with are communication problems. For example, someone said something and a whole batch of people misunderstood it. Then, things go down hill fast. On another day, not enough was communicated and then everyone is surprised, frustrated and annoyed. Whatever the case, communicating is easier said than done.

So where do we begin to get better at this? 

Here are two tips to make the first 90 days of this new year go better.

First, we need to recognize that many communication problems are actually balance-of-power problems. As Richard Farson points out in his book, Management of the Absurd, it is only “when the balance of power is relatively equal that truly candid communication can and should take place.” I think this is something that many leaders tend to forget. They often assume that we are all equals when it comes to communication. In reality, there is a power differential taking place every day. The leader is the supervisor of others and as such, they can fire people if things go wrong. Subordinates do not forget this even when they are communicating. They are cautious even when trust is high. 

Second, Farson notes that “listening can … be a disturbing experience. All of us have strong needs to see the world in certain ways, and when we really listen, so that we understand the other person’s perspective, we risk being changed ourselves. Similarly, listening to others means having to be alert to one’s own defensiveness, to one’s impulse to want to change others. That requires a level of self-awareness, even self-criticism, that is not easy to endure.” As he continues, “Yet the popular view persists that our leaders must be great communicators, inspiring and succeeding because of their speaking ability, not their listening ability.” 

I don’t think we focus enough on listening as leaders. Instead, we get caught in transmission mode rather than in reception mode. As Ron Heifetz wrote many years ago, “leaders die with their mouths open.” If we want to prevent this from happening, we need to speak less and listen more. We also need to focus more on improving our relationships with others. This is the right way to begin the new year. As you continue to move through this week, remember the realities of the balance of power and, when appropriate, speak less and listen more. 

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

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Dealing with Complexity and Uncertainty in the New Year

Right now, I am visiting with many different leaders from many different organizations. Over and over, they tell me that when they sit down to figure out where to focus and what to do during 2022, they find themselves in a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions. First, they recognize how raw they are feeling from the constant, and daily battle with the endless stream of adaptive problems. They also are caught in the howling chaos of everything needing a decision and yet no decision ever being the final decision because the inputs that define the problem keep changing. The combination of feeling raw and not getting any closure has generated deep frustrations and a lack of confidence in themselves and lack of confidence in their teams. In the midst of this never-ending chaos, they are all seeking a pathway to clarity about how and where to go.  

The following three steps will help deal with this level of complexity and uncertainty in 2022. They sound simple, but they are not easy. They require discipline and commitment. Over time and with patience, they will make a difference.

Step #1: Change Your Inputs.

As Ryan Holiday wrote in his book,  Stillness Is The Key (Portfolio/Penguin, 2019): “The space between your ears - that’s yours. You don’t just have to control what gets in, you also have to control what goes on in there.” Many leaders are caught in the “CNN Effect,” namely an endless, twenty-four hours a day, media cycle of new information. The result of this constant stream of pendulum swinging information is that leaders are hyper-reactive and drowning in analysis paralysis. The solution is to limit your inputs and to seek information from a more diverse collection of sources. When we change the inputs, i.e. the channels we focus on, we are able to slow down, think carefully, and stop reacting.

Step #2: Seek Perspective.

When feeling raw and overwhelmed, it is time to get together with your mentors, allies and confidants. Seek their wisdom and counsel on how to move forward. In particular, ask them what they are doing to stay centered in an uncentered world. You will be delighted and amazed with the diversity of answers. Many of them will give you fresh insights of how proceed in this whirlwind of adaptive challenges. 

Step #3: Get Outside And Go For A Walk.

“Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness,” writes Kierkegaard. “I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” When we choose to step away from the computer and it’s endless stream of e-mails, we reclaim our ability to think proactively. When we take time to see the clouds move across the sky, feel the wind on our face, and observe the changing of the seasons, we are resetting our internal capacity to manage stressful situations and complex problems. As I learned from my late mother, “there was never a night or a problem that could defeat a sunrise and hope.” Getting outside for a walk is the first step to making wise choices.

The coming 90 days are not going to be easy. Wild and crazy things will happen. Challenging questions and complex solutions will have to be considered Still, how we respond to them is our choice. Start today by choosing to be more centered and grounded at home and at work. As Andy Grove, former CEO of INTEL, wrote, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.” Same goes for leaders and leadership. Today is the first day to make some improvements.

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

Monday, January 10, 2022

Preparing Generation C Leaders For 2022 And Beyond

With the arrival of COVID in early 2020, we encountered a new demographic sub-group called Generation C or Gen C, namely children born during a global pandemic. They are part of a larger demographic group called Generation Alpha which is defined by people born after 2010.

In the world of leadership and management, we also have a unique sub-group of people, namely those who were new to management and leadership positions shortly before and now during the entire global pandemic. They have not experienced a normal transition into these key positions. Instead, they have spent most of their time as new managers and leaders dealing with an overwhelming number of adaptive challenges and uncertainty.

These Gen C managers and leaders, for lack of a better term, are creative, connected and outcome focused. They also are missing fundamental skill sets and experiences which previous first time managers and leaders had when entering and working in these important positions.

Recognizing that this group has managed and led others through a turbulent, global pandemic, an important question arises this winter: What can we do to assist them now in their growth as managers and leaders as we all move into 2022 and beyond?

I had not really thought about Generation C leaders until I got a call from a student of mine who had moved into his new job in management just as the pandemic started. In the beginning, he mostly worked from home and he had not met any of his team in person, only on Zoom. Furthermore he struggled with coaching his team and struggled feeling part of a team. He also struggled with the coaching he had gotten. What he wanted to talk with me about was how to lead his team and help his team work through some current and upcoming challenges. The result was an in-depth, engaging and lively conversation.

As many of us know, being a manager or leader during a global pandemic has been hard. However, being a new manager or leader during a global pandemic has been very hard and it continues to be very hard. When listening to both groups, experienced leaders and managers and new leaders and managers, one common theme is surfacing, namely that time was the critical factor in the beginning of COVID. And, it is still the critical factor today.

In the beginning of COVID and through to the current situation now, there have been numerous problems, i.e. crisis, technical and adaptive. One thing we have learned during the different stages of this pandemic, there never is enough time to create long term solutions, because the ever evolving inputs keep changing and modifying all plans, actions and systems. The degree we have been successful in defining and solving these problems with their ever changing inputs has been mission critical to positioning the company for 2022 - 2024. In short, our degree of responsiveness to these complexities has made a major difference. 

This week, seek out your Gen C leaders and managers. Engage them in a thoughtful dialogue about their challenges. Offer support and perspective when possible. They will appreciate it and you will learn many things from them in the process.

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