What are Your Intentions?


The first time I can remember being asked this question was after a sweaty, 4 mile run in July of 1995 at about 7:15 in the morning. I had just come back in from my early morning run and my girlfriend’s mother was sitting on the edge of the couch and asked, “What are your intentions with Beth”?

I was just trying to get some water and now my mouth got really dry. My face, already flushed from the run, turned even redder and my hands really started sweating. I mumbled that we were really serious. She said great and the reason that she was asking was that there might be some jewelry from Beth’s grandmother that she might like if I decided to propose. Wow, that was a memorable way to be asked the question—What are your intentions? Fast forward to 2018 and we have been married for almost 22 years and have 4 wonderful children. I am still close to my in-laws as well. I have learned to leave water outside when I run so that I do not have to answer any important questions right after a run!!!

Here is how defines intention—


1. an act or instance of determining mentally uponsome action or result.

2. the end or object intended; purpose.

3. intentions

a. purpose or attitude toward the effect of one's actions or conduct: a bungler with good intentions.

b. purpose or attitude with respect to marriage: Our friends are beginning to ask what our intentions are


We all have some great intentions—

            I will eat a salad for lunch.

            I will go back to grad school in the fall.

            I will run 3-4 miles, 4 times a week.

How will we commit to our intentions? Many of us struggle to uphold our intentions. Here is the interesting thing—we give ourselves credit when we declare an intention while others judge us on our impact. Here is a recent example—One of my clients stayed home intending to work on her book. However, at the end of the day she had barely done any work on the book. Thus, when her husband got home he was surprised to see only a few lines written.  What happened?

Probably the same thing that happens to most of us. She got sidetracked by emails, a couple of “urgent” calls from work, doing research on YouTube which ended in watching funny cat videos, etc. We are often waylaid by shiny bright objects that might appear urgent but are often not as important as the work we set out to do.

What intentions do you have for 2018?

How can you ensure that your intentions match the impact that others will see?

I encourage you to block off time on your calendar to work on your intentions—Ex. Writing time for your blog; Block off time for your 1:1’s with employees; block off time for your run or walk. I know this sounds like a lot of structure but if you do not do this, I fear at the end of 2018 you will have had a lot of good intentions but not many results to show for your efforts.

Also, think about who can help hold you accountable for intentions. In my case, there was not any jewelry that was a good match for Beth. However, my mother-in-law did know a good jeweler. This spurred me to action and with the blessing of Beth’s parents, I proposed on September 16th, 1995 at the kissing rock on the JMU quad. Maybe we all need a good coach to hold us to our intentions. Good luck on your intentions and let us know how we can help you hit your intentions.

Take Me To Your Leader

take me to your leader.jpg

"Take me to your leader" is a science-fiction cartoon catchphrase, said by an extraterrestrial alien
who has just landed on Earth in a spacecraft to the first object it happens to meet and it assumes is an earthling. It is believed to have originated in a 1953 cartoon by Alex Graham in The New Yorker magazine. And thus, a new American cliché was born.                        

If an extraterrestrial landed at work and said “Take me to you leader”, how would you respond?

What factors would we roll over in our mind in order to answer? Does the alien mean the leader by title, or office? Do they mean visible actions and behaviors regardless of position? All valid questions.

At Voltage Leadership, we often speak about the Leadership Attitude. This means intentionally choosing to focus on the greater purpose of our endeavors with no expectation of return. Regardless of aptitude or position, those who demonstrate this attitude seem to have the ability to rally people around them. The opposite is also true. Those that are habitually self-centered have built a leadership moat around themselves. It is typically filled with water and intended as a defense against attack and guaranteed to limit upward mobility

It is also referred to as “CYA” or Choosing Your Attitude or as Charles Swindoll puts it:

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.

It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

So the next time we face challenging circumstances, remember our attitude is always a choice.

How to Think and Act Like a Day One Executive

We recently had April Armstrong on our Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership Radio Show. April is the CEO of Aha Insight and author of the upcoming book called The Day One Executive.  We had a fast-paced conversation about how you could start thinking like an executive. If you already an executive, we also talked about some good practices to sharpen our leadership saw. Below are a few highlights from our conversation.

Jeff-Why did you write the book?

April-If you’re lucky you’ll have a mentor in your career. But I recently spoke to a group and 2 people in the room raised their hands that they had never had a mentor in their life. This book is for them. And quite frankly, even if you’ve had a mentor – this book reflects my experience with hundreds of executives from all walks of life, my journey as a very young executive in a very big company, and a lot of research into top executive traits.

J-What does it mean to be a Day One Executive?

A-You show up differently. You are like the lion looking for “the standard” to eat for lunch. You are that aware. And you show up as an executive starting on Day One of your career. It is a choice to show up as an executive. Anyone can be an executive. This is not something you have to wait for someone to promote you to.

J-How is this different from a lot of the other “leadership” books out there?

A-This takes a close look at a very specific attribute of leadership. Not all leaders are executives, and by no means are all executives leaders. This book is for the born leader who wants to bring out and cultivate their inner executive – starting right now.

J-What’s an example of something from the book that folks may not have heard someplace else?

A-Know the real driving force of the business you are in.

J-Won’t millennials do it all different? Will this book be out of date by the time it is printed?

A-There’s a lot of chatter about millennials versus Gen X and older. And they will do it different. They will reshape the world. But what is not likely to change dramatically is the fundamental underpinnings of what it takes to change the world.

This book isn’t written for climbers or coasters. It’s written for people who want to change the world and it takes a certain leadership to do this. 

I encourage you to buy April’s book. It is filled with ideas, suggestions and tips to help you become a better executive. Here are a couple of thoughts that I have to get you started:

1.     Create an advisory board—identify 3-5 people that can give you feedback on your leadership skills. Have lunch or coffee with them 2-3 times a year and ask them for feedback on how you can grow as a leader.

2.     Be curious about your organization. What are the driving forces of your business? What can you do to take the initiative to help the organization be successful in the key aspects of the business.

3.     Be clear on your development and then go get better at what you are working on. Read a book, watch a YouTube video, find a good podcast to listen to or identify a coach or thinking partner that can help stay accountable to your growth.

4.     Grow others—might be in your organization or could be in a volunteer setting. The best way to hone your executive skills is to teach others and notice where you still have growth for yourself.

Good luck and let me know what you are working on. Thanks to April for a great show!


The most valuable asset you have is the imagination of your workforce. There are two key ingredients that develop and deploy the full power of a team’s collective imagination: 1. time to think and 2. trust on the team.

What kills that creativity? What stops people from openly communicating, collaborating and creating together? What will keep the best ideas locked inside the imaginations of the people on your team, or worse, deploy their imaginations to undercut, undermine and obstruct the creative process?

Broken trust.

Broken trust erases the posture of openness in which creativity arises. Betrayal is a very powerful human experience. Many describe the experience of betrayal as worse than loss, because it involves the reordering of our sense of ourselves. When someone breaks our trust they also break inside of us the confidence we have in our relationships and our instincts about how and who to trust.

The implications for trust on teams therefore, is great.

When we create climates of trust we open another level of capacity, competence and creativity. And we also open the door for disappointment, resentment, hurt feelings, and broken trust, all of which, in the right combination, can leave a person or a team feeling betrayed.

Here is what you need to know.

It does not matter if betrayal or broken trust, deceit or deception were your intent. What matters is how you engage with your team once they have interpreted something negatively, and they are trying to make sense of it. It matters a great deal how you behave when people are trying to make sense of their experiences. This meaning-making time is where their beliefs are formed.

Here are some tips that can help you navigate the waters of broken trust on teams, so that you can repair relationships quickly and restore the team to its high-performing strength.

Once trust is broken, stay open!

Trust takes time to build and only a moment to eradicate. Here are some steps to take when miscommunication breaks down:

·       Quickly address and begin to repair broken trust when misunderstandings occur. It may be that both of you need a day to cool off and gain perspective, but don’t wait too long.

·       Communicate that you care. Apologize for the misunderstanding. “I am sorry,” goes a long way.  “I missed the communication on this and I am sorry.”

·       Make time to listen. Soon. Notice I did not say make time to talk. We must listen first to understand.

Some things to keep in mind:

·       Human beings make meaning out of the events in our lives. This is both a blessing and a curse. In her book, Rising Strong Berne Brown has a great phrase that can help us to begin sharing some of the hard things we are thinking about someone else. She invites us to begin the conversation with the phrase: “The story I am making up about this is…..” Somehow this phrase lets us share hard feelings more candidly, yet with a bit of kindness and humor. We allow the other person to have a better picture of what the situation really feels like. Sugar coating the truth doesn’t get us as far as candor does. I’ve tried it, and can assure you this phrase somehow allows and unlocks more candor, and releases us from a posture of judgment and defensiveness. Try it!

·       We judge ourselves by our intent and others by our experience. You may not have intended to lie, mislead, break trust, or betray your colleague, but those are words I often hear behind closed doors. They express how the other person interprets what has happened to them. Remember, it is their interpretation that is driving how they feel about and respond to you, not your intentions.

In short, once trust is broken, go carefully and swiftly to address it, otherwise the breach of trust grows swiftly. It takes much longer to break through hardened feelings that grow with time. Once a story has been written about why we did what we did, it becomes harder for us to challenge those stories by simply listening, caring and asking questions.

Yes, it can be very hard to listen to and acknowledge another person’s story about us, but when we do we are able to do something important with that other person. We can co-create a future together.

We do that by acknowledging and asking questions:

“Wow. I didn’t understand how this came across to you. [acknowledge]

That must have been very hard. I am sorry for that. [apologize]

I don’t want to come across that way again. What can I do differently in the future?” [ask]

What do you do when misunderstandings arise? When trust gets broken?

·       Stay open.

·       Listen.

·       Acknowledge that person’s real experience.

·       Apologize for the misunderstanding.

·       Ask, “What can we do differently together now?”

What comes to us on the other side of these hard experiences can actually be quite rewarding. Like the bones of the body that knit back together more strongly in the broken places, relationships that successfully navigate through misunderstandings and broken trust develop something beyond imagination and creativity, trust and collegiality.  They develop resilience, assurance, and strength.

Trust given is one thing. Trust tested and retained or even trust shattered and restored is another level of relationship entirely. And this is where the real promise and potential begins: on the other side of, “What happens when it breaks?” lies the question, “What is possible now?”  Often the answer is,“A great deal more than before.”

How’s Your Attitude Indicator?

The attitude indicator on an airplane is very important. It informs the pilot of the orientation of the aircraft relative to the horizon, so it must be correct at all times regardless of the plane's movements. Not to freak anybody out, but if a plane continually turns on autopilot, it may end up doing what pilots call the “graveyard spiral.” This means flight instruments wouldn't be able to distinguish between a “normal” gradual turn and steeper movements, thus requiring an attitude check.

And so it is with us:

·       Are we aware of what our attitude indicators are?

·       Have we checked our attitude indicator recently?

·       Are we checking our attitude indicator periodically?

·       How are our attitude indicators kept from drifting?

·       Are we continuously on Auto-Pilot?

The answers to the questions above go a long way to determining our personal and profession flight path. We have heard it said that life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we respond to it. This means turning off our personal auto-pilot about what we thought we knew and getting leveled in an accurate way.

At Voltage Leadership, we sometimes hear of an issue with a leader or a staff member. It often sounds like this, “What’s the issue? They are difficult. What does that mean? They have a bad attitude. How do I fix their attitude?”

Here are some tips and tools to help level out attitudes: (our own and others)   

·       Install or update personal Attitude Indicator 2.0

·       Take responsibility for Piloting our own craft

·       Focus on arriving in one piece vs being “right”

·       Devise and communicate an excellent Flight Plan

·       Treat Flight Path Corrections as valuable learning experiences

·       Manage personal Energy in addition to Time to keep Level

·       Remove any Schadenfreude from the Auto-Pilot

·       Take time to compliment the Flight Crew

·       Enjoy the ride with an Attitude of Gratitude

For a deeper dive into how to help establish and foster contagious positive attitudes at your organization, check out this episode of the VoltCast radio show, Illuminating Leadership.


“It was the best of days, it was the worst of days, it was the day of wisdom, it was the day of foolishness.” (with apologies to Charles Dickens)

We recently had the opportunity to present Voltage content at an offsite for a Financial Services group in a large city in the Southeast USA. It really could have been anywhere and our program centered around two main points;

A. Tell us about their best day at work in the last 100 days and why?

B. Tell us about their most challenging day at work in the last 100 days and why?

Here’s What the Best Days and the Worst Days Had in Common

  1. Time
  2. Energy
  3. People
  4. Communication                                                                                            

Many said the Best days were days in which the team hit their marks, delivered time sensitive work product, or where everybody had it “going on” and everybody knew it. These days were full of meaningful interaction between people and energy. The team pulled together to hit the finish line strong. There was satisfaction for a job well done and recognition for those doing it. They had earned a certain swagger.

Likewise, on the Worst days, many said these days were full of chaos and confusion about who was doing what and why. Nobody had it “going on” and everybody knew it. After a certain point this led to tacit apathy. It was an exhausting, draining experience where the buck was passed for accountability and energy was expended deflecting attention. Not only was there was no swagger, there was anxiety about what the next day would bring.

1.      Time – In both cases Time is static / fixed, therefore priorities and rationales about them mattered.

2.      Energy – In both cases Energy is variable, the Best days were when Energy levels and Time were managed.

3.      People - In both cases, Work was being done through and with People. The Best days acknowledged that fact.

4.      Communication - In both cases, it was often the Cause of or Solution to a Best day or a Challenging day.

Our goal should be to make every day at work the best it can possible be, aka “the day of wisdom”. This means leaders must live in a less transactional space, where they are paying attention to how these 4 variables are being managed and applied. If they are out of balance, do not be surprised to hear about the “day of foolishness”.

For a deeper dive into how to help establish and foster contagious positive attitudes at your organization, check out this episode of the Voltcast radio show.



I bet you are thinking I’m referring to “Cover You’re a$$!” with CYA. Well, that one can definitely have negative ramifications on your team so I am writing about a different CYA.

Choose Your Attitude! Your team is often taking your lead on their mood based on your behaviors, mood and attitude.

I am working with a C-Level executive who had been starting all his meetings with the problems happening in his area.  The meeting started by listing where the team had missed the mark and then progressed to a general inquisition that occasionally resulted in a beheading. The form of punishment would last until you were either dead or decided to leave the department/organization.  While it was not quite that drastic, it felt that way to the participants of the meeting.  The leader’s mood would shift from inquisitive to frustrated to pissed off to victim to persecutor and generally wrapped up in resignation by the end of the meeting.  Have you ever attended a meeting like this?

How could this go differently? Let’s go all the way back to getting out of bed.  One exercise that I both utilize and recommend to my coaching clients is choosing a word or two for the day.  When I know I have a challenging meeting coming up, I might choose “curious.” This helps me stay interested in why people are feeling and acting the way they are acting.  When I have a busy day filled with coaching sessions, meetings, and kids’ soccer games, I might choose “energy” to help keep my energy up all day.  Another common word for me is “awesome”. I like to use this one after a so-so night of sleep.  It is easy to respond with “Fine (or okay) because I did not get a great night’s sleep” when you are asked how you are doing. However, when I say awesome, I feel a lift in my step and the other person looks at my quizzically. I generally then say something like I got to take my son to school today and I have 3-4 coaching sessions today that I am looking forward to.  Does this work every day, of course not! However, it does help me and my clients create their own story each day instead of showing up like a zombie just getting through the day and reacting to everything.

Okay, so now let’s get back to the team meeting. One recommendation I had for the leader was to get there 2-5 minutes early, and have a personal conversation with his teammates so he could connect better. Next, I asked him to consider starting the meeting with 2 questions for each person—“What has been going well in your area? What are your desired outcomes for this meeting?” These questions shift the mood from defending your areas to celebrating accomplishments and naming what you need help with.  This is the land of possibility vs. justification.  There are still problems that need to addressed, but the team will get to those after they understand the desired outcomes. The leader I was discussing started doing these two habits and his team is doing significantly better.  They feel like they really know him better and they want to come to work for him.  Before this started, several team members had confided in me that were looking outside the organization for a new job and they dreaded coming to work. They still know the meetings will be intense at times but that is okay because this team gets results. They feel much more supported now and they know their leader listens to them.

What is your attitude towards change? Do you embrace it or do you whine to your team about another area “making you and your team change.” I can promise you how you describe the change will impact how your followers will respond.  I am not saying that all change is easy to accept or that you like it, however, if you state the reasons for the change and why things will be changing, others will follow your attitude and lead. Yes, there will still be some whining but a lot less then when you get in the trenches and whine with your team.

One final thought—how often do you provide recognition vs. giving developmental feedback.  I encourage you to try to provide 5 pieces of positive recognition for every piece of developmental feedback you give. People will love this. Watch how your change in attitude will impact the team. So, what attitude will you bring to work tomorrow?  Have some fun with this and send me some feedback on what you see in your team. Good luck!


Up.  Down.  Up.  Down, down, down, down.  Up!  Wow, watching the stock market, the various economic indicators, has been dizzying lately.  What has this done for your outlook and perspective?

I have found it interesting to listen and study the various reactions of the talking heads.  I want the market to go up; our portfolio to increase and, most importantly, the value of our 529s to increase; but my ability to control this is extremely limited.  However, I am in control of my attitude.  I get up each morning and choose an attitude for the day.  I try to reflect on this word throughout the day.  I let this word be my influence and try to tune out the news of the day.

I have also found that a few minutes of planning each day helps to center my energy and make me less reactive.  I will meditate some mornings to get calmed down and then I decide where I want my focus to be for the upcoming day.  I have found that this gives me control of my desired outcomes for the day.

My question to you is:  what is it like to work with you?  Is it like the stock market – up, down, up, down…?  Your attitude and behaviors influence your team and co-workers.

·       What attitude and behaviors would they say you have?

·       Are you a role model of the behaviors you hope to see from others?

·       Do you create drama for your team by being reactive and in firefighting mode all day?

A great way to avoid drama is to pause and then ask yourself, “What would I like my response to be?”  You cannot control others’ actions, but you can control your responses.

In between action and response, there is space for a pause.  I think the more mature you become as a leader, the more cognizant you become of the pause space.  I also believe you have more tools at your service as you mature as a leader.  What possibilities do you see in the pause?  I try to get curious and wonder what caused the action that I am seeing.  I also access if I am really attached to the outcome and if I need to react.  I often find that, if I ask questions instead of reacting, there is a new set of possibilities.

My word for today was “curious”.  I have found myself asking more questions and really listening today.  What can you do to set the mood for your team?  What pause tools do you have that can serve you and your team more effectively?