Are you ready to compete for talent? As our economy cycles, things change and people move. According to recent job satisfaction surveys, about 1 in 3 workers will change jobs in the next 6 months, (Saba), 49.5% of employees are "not engaged" and another 16.5% are “actively disengaged." (Gallup)
Significant numbers of people have stayed in jobs that may have been less than optimal for various reasons while waiting for their “window of opportunity.” Many organizations are now taking a fresh look at making winning cultural moves in order to foster better workforce engagement and retention. As the economy creates better jobs, employers who are unprepared will pay a high price in turnover.

What should forward looking leaders be thinking about?

·       Act Now – Don’t wait. Re-recruit your stars and rising stars. Understand the demographics of your workforce, what motivates them and then get the “word on the street.” What you hear may not match what you think is going on. Do you actually know what they do day in and day out, or do you think you know?

·       Reinforce the direction of the organization and the rationale for actions taken when the economy was softer.   This simple act of sharing the rationale often helps to cement retention by getting to the “Why”. Key Employees are often attracted to the real mission of an organization but cannot subscribe to what they don’t know.

·       Make it an ongoing conversation. Engage in real recurring genuine touch points that connect key employees to their potential career path. Be 100% certain that they understand expectations and know what it takes to be successful. Be mindful of timing as circumstances can change as stars emerge.

·       Dust off Succession Planning – Marry up the needs of the individual and the needs of the organization. Find out what these employees want. What is their desired outcome? Insulate your organization from the coming flirtations from competitors and search firms as employees become less risk averse.

·       Tell High Potential’s (HiPo’s) they are on the radar screen as HiPo’s. Give them exposure to developmental situations where they may have to lead without authority, increasing their ability to influence. As HiPo’s may rise in the organization, their ability to influence on a bigger scale adds value and they become less of a functional expert.

·       Have a real developmental plan to reduce or eliminate limiting behaviors. Don’t be afraid to spend a little money on it as it will usually pay off in multiples via retention and productivity. These are the behaviors that often limit a star from rising, things like managerial temperament, communication and presentations skills.

So, are you ready to Compete for Talent?

For a deeper dive please listen to our free VoltCast “On Demand”  


Growth environments are created and cultivated intentionally. Business leaders need a growing environment in their business just as farmers need healthy soil and enough rain and sunshine to grow their crops.

If your people cannot grow inside your business, ideas will not take root, productivity and engagement will falter, passions will wilt, and the organization becomes irrelevant.

Have you ever worked in a killjoy environment?

Those kinds of workplaces don’t just kill our joy; they can also kill ideas, our growth, our productivity, our creativity.

When we don’t create growth environments:

·       New ideas don’t take root

·       New experiences are not allowed

When we do create growth environments:

·      people have new experiences

·       individuals and teams learn new things

·       everyone continues to gain competencies in new areas, AND

·       they feel safe even when they fail.

Recently we launched a new radio show at Voltage Leadership.  It was an opportunity to both do something new, and to share what we are discovering about today’s best practices from the successes of our clients.  Here are some simple lessons that we teach and applied to our own new experience as we continue to grow as a company and as a leadership team:

1.      The leader goes first.

Our CEO, Jeff Smith, launched our show by having himself as the guest. In this way, he learned about the experience firsthand before asking the rest of his colleagues and other thought-leaders to join him.  This is both good hospitality and good business.  You can’t be a coach unless you have had the experience, and he gave himself the opportunity to go first and learn so that he could then lead.  

2.      Leaders keep learning.

A great leadership practice is to put yourself continually in the position where you are learning something new from someone else.  There is no better way to equip others to lead than by being constantly in the experience of learning.  We learn and grow as coaches every day, and it is our responsibility to be on the forefront of leadership innovation in order to equip our clients to be at their best.

3.      Start small.

Yes, we chose to launch a radio show, but we committed to a few shows, not a full year. We want the chance to evaluate our progress and measure the experience for impact. Then we can refine, retool and re-launch the experience based on that new knowledge. Usually when you start something new, it fails in total or in part.  Be ready for that and plan accordingly.  Start small so that you can fail fast and fail small.

4.      Create learning environments.

This is the cornerstone of our success and a key ingredient we find in our most successful clients.  When people are allowed to learn, the conditions are right for both the people and the business to grow.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself and your people to test your business’s growth capacity:

·       When was the last time you tried something new at work?

·       Tell me about what happened the last time you failed?

(Was there punishment or coaching?  Did you get pulled from the assignment or encouraged to try again?)

·       How would you rate your ability to test new experiences and ideas?

With these questions you can discover more about the capacity of your culture to punish or to coach, to strip responsibilities or to encourage engagement and accountability.

I have two hopes for you:

·       The next time you miss the target, someone encourages you to aim and try again, and

·       When someone falls short of your expectations, you offer them clear coaching and new tools and tips to go back to the drawing board and try again.


Do you have conflict on your team?  When a conflict arises, do you view it as a problem with an individual or between two individuals? Does it feel like your workplace is always stuck in drama?  If you answered yes to any of these questions, read on to learn about a model I like to use with teams.

The Waterline model below is from Harrison, Scherer and Short.  There are other models out there, but I will use this one to explain some of the challenges in your organization.  

An executive team I was working with recently was having significant challenges.  We used the Waterline Model to start the conversation.  You can use this model to start a meeting when you are off target on your goals.

If everything is working, meaning your tasks are leading you to accomplish your goals, then you stay above the waterline.  You keep doing what you are doing, celebrate, capture lessons learned and try to keep up the momentum.

Watch out, iceberg ahead!  We all wish it were that easy.  Unfortunately, an obstacle or iceberg gets in the way and we need to dip below the waterline to diagnose the challenge and get back to accomplishing our tasks.  In this highly caffeinated world, we need to do this ASAP.

There are four key areas below the waterline:

1.      Structure (Clarity of goals, results, mission, vision, decision-making, sponsorship)

2.      Group (Inclusion, roles in the group, decision making in the group, who’s in and who’s out)

3.      Inter-personal (drama between 2 people, conflict, feedback and communication breakdowns, misunderstandings and who did what to whom!)

4.      Intra-personal (values and beliefs, stress, emotional intelligence, assumptions)

When a problem arises, where do most people go?  Yep, you’ve got this…right to the blame game!  We throw the individual off the bus with their intra-personal challenges!  I would say 80% of my clients start in the bottom two areas.  Sometimes this is effective, but really 80% of the time should be spent in the top two areas.

I would challenge you to start at the top and work your way down.  Ask yourself questions like:

1.      Do we have clear goals?

2.      Do we know who the decision makers are for this project or work?

3.      Does the work we are doing align with our mission and vision?

4.      Do we have the right people on the team/project?

5.      Do they have the authority to make the decisions required to get us back on task?

Generally, I find that when a team or individual is not hitting their goals, it is because of unclear expectations, poor decision making criteria, unclear roles, or lack of clarity of purpose of the team.  I ask leaders to make the assumption that people come to work to do a good job and want to accomplish their goals (yes, I know there are a few slackers, but those are the exception not the rule.)  If we reset expectations, clarify decision making and ensure the right people are in the room, then we normally get back to accomplishing our goals and do not have to get down to inter-personal or intra-personal conflict.

Okay, I see you rolling your eyes.  Yes, there are times when it is inter-personal or the individual’s work.  Here is my challenge to you:  be open to starting higher in the model and then work your way down.  If it is an inter-personal challenge, I suggest a 3-way conversation where you facilitate clarity on goals and set-up ground rules for how these two individuals will get along.  If it is an intra-personal challenge, then I think you give clear, specific feedback on where they are missing the mark and follow-up consistently until either the performance is up above the waterline or you ask them to exit the organization.

Wrapping up…the team that I originally discussed realized that they had done a poor job assembling teams.  They put people together, but did not give them the ability to make decisions.  Also, they tended to see their peers as obstacles and not assets that could accomplish the goals that they all wanted to hit.  Once they realized this, they set clearer expectations, changed the membership of the teams and they were PERFECT!  Well, not perfect, but they did get much better and they are much closer to their results now thanks to using the model and sharing feedback with one another.

Your challenge:  if your team is off target, have you diagnosed where the breakdowns are?  I encourage you to start just below the waterline and work your way down.  Good luck and let me know your results.

Making Shift Happen - Escaping the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) with The Empowerment Dynamic (TED)

noun 1. an exciting, emotional, or unexpected series of events or set of circumstances at work
verb 1.  the ability to make peers, colleagues and management immediately crazier than normal

When colleagues adopt one of three primary dysfunctional roles at work, the result is often what we term a “Cultural Bermuda Triangle.” This can be a place where vision, mission, productivity and morale can be lost.  David Emerald points this out in his excellent book The Power of TED, The Empowerment Dynamic.

The three Dysfunctional Roles that form the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) as described by Emerald are:   
1. VICTIM – The “oppressed” underdog who wants to tell everybody who will listen their tale of woe.
2. PERSECUTOR – The real or perceived “oppressor” who would rather be a bully than a victim.
3. RESCUER – The well intentioned “enabler” who helps perpetuate the energy sapping triangle of dysfunction.                

Those stuck in the Drama Triangle seem to perpetually dwell on what they Don’t Want vs what they Do Want.

Emerald explains that the three Roles that form The Empowerment Dynamic (TED) are:
1. CREATOR – The former Victim who moves from reacting to choosing with insight about what they want.
2. CHALLENGER – The former Persecutor who moves from the need to put down to building up.
3. COACH – The former Rescuer who instead of telling victims what to do now asks how they plan to do it.

The Empowerment Dynamic (TED) is the “Antidote” to the Dreaded Drama Triangle (DDT) because enlightened management focuses on what everybody wants with active and consistent steps to make that a reality.


Fortunately, Voltage Leadership has been able to deploy and employ many toxic culture busting techniques at our client organizations that have helped alleviate the symptoms of counterproductive business cultures.

So, stop the drama by understanding what role a person may be in and move out of the Drama Triangle into healthy and productive roles. Make the shift happen by focusing on what we want vs what we don’t want, move from reacting to responding to workplace experiences and reconnect with and focus on our desired outcomes. Save the Drama for your Mama.


On Monday you go to work, say hi to the same 3-5 people, check your 77 new messages, get a cup of coffee, and head out to the first of five meetings for the day. Repeat this process Tuesday-Friday while throwing in a few emergencies, fire drills, a bit of office politics, a couple of kid’s soccer games at night and bam, it is Friday evening and you wonder what happened to the week! Does this sound familiar? You start to wonder when was the last time you were really challenged or engaged in learning something new? When was the last time your boss gave you a real stretch assignment? If this sounds a bit like your life, you might be in the dreaded ZOMBIE zone, aka the comfort zone.

I call it the Zombie zone because you come in day in and day out and not too much changes.  You can have a new hire, a small new project, or new customer but the days all start to roll by at a similar pace. You find yourself excited that it is Hump Day Wednesday or finally Friday. You might dread Sunday night and the thought of returning to work on Monday. The antidote to the Dreaded Zombie Zone is to learn something new.


I think I had drifted into the comfort zone this past Spring and summer.  The work was still interesting and I loved working with our clients. However, I felt a bit stale at times and did not really feel like I was learning a ton.  I was then called by VoiceAmerica and asked if I would be a Radio Show Host. After some soul searching and a bit of nervous back and forth thinking, I accepted and started planning for the show.  I was very blessed to work with Winston Price who is a talented Executive Producer. We launched “Voltcast: Illuminating Leadership” on September 13th and now my weeks have more pep in them. I look forward to the show and I am constantly thinking about other people to have on the show or new things I want to try.  I have found myself even sketching out thoughts for the show on a Saturday morning.  I am fully in the learning zone and I wanted to share a few observations from trying something new.

1.      It felt weird at first.  It was like using a new muscle. I was so concentrated on hitting the breaks on time, enunciating clearly and following my outline that I did not really connect with the audience.

2.      Learning new language takes a minute. There are executive producers, sound engineers, e-cards, segments, breaks, hard stops, rejoiners, teasers and more. I did not realize how many moving parts there were to a radio show and it felt overwhelming at first. I also felt like a novice because I did not know how to use the right language.

3.      Mentors matter.  Winston has done an awesome job of being patient and has adjusted to my learning style. He broke down what I needed to learn into manageable parts to keep me out of the panic zone. He has also pushed me several times to get into the learning zone and out of my comfort zone. I love the feedback that he has given me and I can see myself growing.

4.      Baby steps are critical. I cannot believe how much I have learned since June. I think if someone had given me a big manual in June of what I needed to know by October, I would have been overwhelmed.  Also, have some patience when asking others to move out of their comfort zone. I have had Jennifer Owen-O’Quill, Lee Hubert and Marisa Keegan on the show and while nervous at first, they have all done great. To help ease into becoming more comfortable with the show we have thoughtfully planned our discussion, breaks and questions. These baby steps in the learning process have led to earlier success of our show.

5.      Not everyone will believe in your vision.  Some people raise an eyebrow and look at me funny when I say I am hosting a show.  They ask how this helps my core business. I let them know how it is expanding my presence as a thought leader. Many of them sort of nod their head but do not really see it.  My learning is that I am excited about the path that I am on and not everyone will agree.  Do not let others steal your passion.

I challenge you to look at your daily life and see where you might have gotten into a comfort zone. It might be you are doing the same 3 mile run every day. Maybe you eat at the same 2 restaurants. When was the last time you made a new friend? When was the last time you volunteered to head something up at work? I hope you take on a new challenge and see what you find in the learning zone. I encourage you to sign up for only one or two new things at once as too many might send you into the panic zone.  In the meantime, check out our radio show and send me an email with feedback on how we are doing. We are on VoiceAmerica from 1-2pm Eastern each Tuesday.


I am working with an executive team that is having a challenging time with one another.  The team members have started to land in camps and defend their areas.  They think of themselves as marketing, operations, finance, HR, sales, etc. and they have lost sight of their greater purpose.  Additionally, most of the team members see the other team members as obstacles in the way of achieving their results. Consequently, the team also thinks that the CEO is an obstacle who is not changing the strategy and culture fast enough.  Wow, sounds like a lot of fun!  The funny part is that individually they are really great people, but they have just become objects to each other.  Does this sound like your team?  Have you ever been on team like this?  I know I have and it was no fun!

I led the team in an offsite recently and the first thing I had them do was to write down two things they admired or respected about each team member.  I then had them go around the room to each person, share their feedback and then receive the feedback from their peers.  I can see some of you rolling your eyes already!  No, we did not sing Kumbaya or do a trust fall next.  However, there were some tears, flushed cheeks and some mumbling.  Why did I start with this exercise?  I wanted each person on the team to re-see the people in the room as human beings and not as objects or VP of Sales.  They had lost sight of the fact that each person was trying to do their best work.  Most of the people thanked me for the exercise and said they could not remember the last time they had received positive feedback or given positive feedback to their peers.

Next, I worked with them to learn about Outward Mindset.  This concept comes from The Arbinger Institute and I highly recommend their new book, The Outward Mindset.  

An Outward Mindset exists when you are able to see the other person as a person and you work to understand their needs, objectives and challenges.  You then demonstrate behaviors and agree upon objectives that meet the collective result of your organization.  The stakeholders can be your direct reports, your manager, customers, peers, the Board, External Partners, etc.  

In contrast, an Inward Mindset exists when you demonstrate behaviors that focus on your or your department’s needs at the expense of others.  The inward mindset results in seeing others as obstacles, irrelevant or vehicles to accomplishing your goals.  The inward mindset leads to distrust and an inability to see possibilities.

Back to the original team:  it was clear to them after the discussion that most members were demonstrating an inward mindset.  We went through an exercise of describing the type of behaviors that would demonstrate an outward mindset (listening, collaboration, shared goals and successes, sharing of talent, etc.)  We also talked about how they felt when they were doing their best work together (invigorated, challenged, healthy conflict, aligned and fun.)  The team is not perfect, but they are working hard to see their teammates as people trying to do their best work.  They grant each other some grace now if there is a mistake or a miscommunication.  I hear a lot more “we can do this” vs. “they did this to me, my area, etc.”   I believe they are on the path to success.

Here are a few questions to ponder:

       Today, what would happen if I simply focused on helping others succeed?

       Who am I working with that I could be more helpful toward?

       Who is one person who needs more from me than I am currently delivering?

Good luck and go tell someone two things you appreciate about them and see what happens to the relationship.  



What type of peer are you?  How would your direct reports talk about you?  How about key customers?

I have recently been working with a team that is struggling with trust issues at the Executive Level.  This is a progressive company that has had tremendous success in the past and has cutting edge ideas that are reinventing the business they are in.  However, the Executives can barely stand to be in the same room.  Have you ever been in this type of situation?  I believe you probably have been at some point in your career.

I want you to think about a peer you really trust.  What is it about this person that allows you to open up and share your ideas, concerns and hopes?  We do an exercise at Voltage called Elements of Trust.  There are 6 characteristics of Trust and we ask people to rate the following elements from 1-6 (1 is high, 6 is low) reflecting how important each element is to each person.

6 characteristics of Trust

·       Time

·       Standards

·       Competence

·       Involvement

·       Sincerity

·       Reliability

Many times trust issues result because we value different things.  If you value competence highly and someone says they can do something but then does not perform the task appropriately, you are going to have a trust breakdown.  They may have been sincere, on time, and involved you and others but, if they miss the result, it will still be hard for you to trust this individual.

We took the previously mentioned Executive Team through this exercise.  Two had standards in their mind that had not been expressed.  Another two really cared about sincerity and thought competence could be grown over time.  However, another two thought you had to have proven competence or else they would not want to work with you on the project.  They realized that some of their challenges were because they valued different things and this understanding helped them in resolving their trust issues.  Try the Elements of Trust exercise at your organization and see what you discover.