Sarah knew something was wrong. She came to work every day expecting the worst and, more often than not, there it was waiting for her: unfinished tasks, projects completed but poorly executed, mediocre results, and lots to clean up.
Something needed to happen to change Sarah’s circumstances. She knew it, her team knew it, and by the time she sat down in my office, her frustration was boiling over. After a full 15 minutes of hearing her enumerate everything that was going wrong, I had two questions:
· What went right this morning?
· What do you want?
It took a few minutes to refocus her attention, but Sarah was able to recall a couple of bright spots from the morning. We were able to focus on what she did want instead of what she did not want. Then we celebrated: some things went right! Better yet, some things went right every day. Once we had these Bright Spots in focus, we could take the next critical step: building on her success.
· How could Sarah build on the successes of her team?
· Could she leverage what was going right to get better results?
· What impact would it have on her own leadership and performance to work with her team to focus on what was already working and to drive better results from what was already going right?
As a performance-driven leader, it was a totally new concept to Sarah to focus, not on fixing problems, but on magnifying successes. However, she was desperate and willing to try.
She asked each team member:
· What is working well?
· What can you do to get that successful area working even better?
Asking those questions tapped new energy on her team.
A few weeks later, Sarah was back in my office. This time she began by doing for herself what she had done with her team the previous month: she spent time sharing what was going well and thought through ways to make those successes even better. From there, she addressed a couple of the larger challenges she had before her and, when she did, her thinking was clearer, sharper. She was thinking creatively and actively, not from a defensive, reactive place. Her ideas about her next steps were light years ahead of where they had been a month before.
Here is why: when we focus on Bright Spots, we have greater insight, less anxiety, and a greater access to solutions and creative winning moves as opposed to defensive measures.
· What are the Bright Spots on your team right now?
· What is working well?
· How can you build on those successes?
· Who else can you involve in the process so your success is shared?
Long term success depends on leaders accessing their creativity to solve problems. Focusing on Bright Spots is one way to ensure that we have our best thinking at hand when we tackle significant challenges.