Polarities, Polarities, Polarities-are everywhere?


I know you are saying…I know this word, but what the heck is Jeff talking about! Let’s start with a definition and then we will dive into our regularly scheduled blog. define polarity in the following way—



a. the property or characteristic that produces unequal physical effects at different points in a body or system, as a magnet or storage battery. 

b. the positive or negative state in which a body reacts to a magnetic, electric, or other field. 

2. the presence or manifestation of two opposite or contrasting principles or tendencies. 


a.(of words, phrases, or sentences) positive or negative character. 

b. polar opposition.


We will be discussing Polarities which are interdependent pairs that need each other over time to maintain and gain performance. Since polarities are unavoidable, they are present in every individual, team, and organization.

Here are some examples—

Inhale and Exhale

Rest and Activity


Notice, I say and not or. We need to rest or else we would end up stressed out and in the hospital due to exhaustion. However, if we only rested then we would stop learning and grow rather large! We need to be able to do both things. Let’s look at some polarities for you that might show up in the workplace.


Task and Relationship

Candor and Diplomacy

Encouragement and Analysis

Analysis and Intuition

Planning and Implementing

Coaching and Directing


Notice that each word is either positive or neutral. You do not want to frame one word as a negative because then you would not want to choose this word. Ex. Negative Feedback and Encouragement-who would want to pick negative feedback.

What words resonated with you? Did you find that you are attracted to one more than the other? This is natural. I will give you an example for me. I am more to encouragement than analysis. Thus, I can see the upside of encouragement (better morale, good ideas are developed, etc.) When I look at analysis, I tend to see the negatives (might take too long, might discourage brainstorming, etc.) However, when I am coaching people I ask them to look at the upside of both sides of the pole. Thus, I would ask me, what is the upside of using analysis for you? We might make fewer mistakes, we might choose better ideas, we could mitigate risks, spend our dollars appropriately, etc.


This also applies to teams and organizations. We often see teams that might desire to be:

Agile and Quality

Innovative and Stable

Encouraging and Challenging


Organizations might desire to be:

Centralized and Decentralized

Innovative and High Quality

Structured and Flexible

Okay, there is a lot to learn and understand about polarities. If you want to learn more, please listen to "Mastering Polarities to Achieve Greater Performance". Cara Wilson and I discussed polarities and how they impact the people and organizations we work with. I encourage you to start seeing the polarities in you life. Take time to notice which pole you are more attracted to. Who can help you see the upside of the other pole? What would happen if you challenged yourself to look at the downside of your preferred pole (too much encouragement might keep us from critically assessing ideas; might avoid conflict, etc.) Good luck and remember to look out for the polarities in the world.

"Three Clicks": What are realistic coaching outcomes?


The professional ranks today are filled with coaches of all kinds.  These include life coaches, career coaches, financial, spiritual, business and athletic coaches. In all coaching endeavors, it is wise to define desired and realistic outcomes at the beginning of the coaching process.

By beginning with the end in mind, establishing a common language and working backwards from desired outcomes, coaches are often able to add insight that the coaching client would not have obtained on their own, (or at least not as quickly)

For example, golf swing coaches are able to provide a unique perspective because of their objective external view. They enable their coaching subjects to get out of body to better understand what needs to be worked on in order to improve. And all golfers want to improve!

Likewise, management and executive coaches enable their coaching subjects to get out of body more quickly in order to improve, ie remove limiting behaviors. Very often we see people who are technically excellent at what they do. Almost always, the obstacles they may experience have to do with the people part and not the technical part.

What are realistic outcomes in professional coaching?

Ironically, the same things that made them successful in their careers to this point may be the same things that now limit their upward mobility. It is the wise coach who understands that their client subjects operate within a vocal range. All vocalists are born with a default vocal range that can be improved and expanded. However, it is very rare to expand their range beyond two to three octaves.
In other words, it is not realistic to expect an outcome beyond the person's range without damaging themselves.

Likewise, we in professional coaching we deal with people that have default positions with regard to personality and motivation. And it may be just as unrealistic to expect and outcome beyond that individuals range without unintended consequences.

Three Clicks:

In working with many management and executive leaders over the years, I have found that the most realistic and beneficial outcomes are those that move in a three-increment range aka three clicks.

The goal is not to take somebody from a 3 or 4 in EQ to a 9 or 10.  Doing so may take them so far away from their core capabilities that it is counterproductive, ie the unintended consequences of damaging their careers. However, when realistic and achievable goals are defined, the opposite is often true. And that is upward mobility as incremental movement has been demonstrated.

The goal is to move the individual who may be at 3 or 4, three incremental clicks up the scale over time.

        > Click one-  "Piercing the corporate veil", ie the initial understanding of the                                    current state during the first 30 days of the coaching                                                                engagement

        > Click two-  Ownership and transparent understanding of potential limiting                                   behaviors and co-creation of near-term goals, deliverables and                                                 accountability. Approximately within the first 60 days of engagement.

         > Click three- Demonstrable success in applying tips, tools and guidance                                          obtained in coaching mode. At least one or more "wins" to point to, ie feedback                       from reporting relationships, colleagues and peers. This is somewhat similar to                         when people notice something different about you as if you've lost 10lbs or have                       seem to have a new outlook.

In this way, our core strengths are maintained and we have demonstrated movement up the scale. The 4 may become a 5-6-7 and from the default position of 4 is quite noticeable indeed. In summary, please keep in mind that some of our most successful clients have walked this exact path to upward mobility.



Do you schedule your exercise time? Dates with a significant other? Meditation? Thinking time? One to one meetings with your direct reports? Lunch?!

If I had it my way, then I would not have a daily schedule. I enjoy spontaneity and letting my energy dictate where I spend my time. However, with an awesome wife, 4 fun kids, fantastic customers and more ideas than time, I find I must schedule to get things accomplished. What about you? What do you schedule and what do you hope you have time for?

I am coaching a physician who leads a group of physicians who is always double and triple booked. I asked when did he find time to take care of himself, learn new information and have fun. He sheepishly answered almost never. I asked what he would say to his patients who weren’t accomplishing what they need to and he quickly said, “start doing this”. Thus, we started to schedule his work-out times, 1:1’s and even dates with his family members. Did this feel weird at first? Absolutely! However, he has lost about 10 pounds, gets to the gym about 4 days per week and has really connected with his family again. I can hear you saying, yeah but what about his performance at work. I can tell you other people in his organization have noticed and are asking what has changed with him. His attitude is fantastic, his ability to focus and make hard decisions has improved and he is cranking our much better work and loves connecting with his patients.

Is this all do to scheduling? NO!!! The most important first step was mindset shift. He had to stop putting everyone else in front of his own needs. Yes, he had to get a bit selfish to make sure he was able to be the best husband, dad, physician and leader. This was hard and there were excuses for the first couple of months. However, as he started to see success by scheduling these activities in, it got easier to do it more often and his ability to say no to lower level tasks improved as well.

Here are some tips to get you started:

·       Identify you key goals-personal and professional. Put these on the calendar first. This is easier if you look out about 2-3 weeks when starting out. Next week is already packed so it may be hard to start everything then. And yes, you should be scheduling time for personal stuff too. If it is not on the calendar, it probably will not get done.

·       Next, what are some things that you could stop doing or shorten. For example, take a 1 hour meeting down to 45 minutes. Do you still need to meet with every direct report each week? What about the project that just keeps going? Can someone else represent you in the meeting?

·       Schedule some thinking time on the calendar—this will improve your ability to prioritize and work on the big stuff. Also, think about your best times of the day and match your energy with the task. For example, I always have a sinking spell after lunch so I try to avoid tough meetings or conversations then. Friday afternoons are great for cleaning up the week and writing blogs.

·       Put some fun on the calendar. This might be recognizing your team, going out for ice cream with someone or a date with your significant other.

I know this sounds structured but see if it works for you and then make adjustments. Try to review your calendar at least weekly and look to eliminate 3-5 activities to give yourself some time for higher level activities. I believe you can survive without scheduling these activities but I think thriving and having an awesome life is hard without some of this structure. Good luck and let me know some of your best practices.


Take a journey with me.

You go to elementary school and what do you learn?

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

How about High School?

Diagramming sentences, Algebra, Spanish, Chemistry


Most learn specific skills like accounting, finance, biology, or teaching.

Now, you start your first job.  What do we expect from you? 

We want you to take the technical knowledge you´ve learned and become an expert in a part of the business.  This works well for you because you have been training to become an expert since elementary school.

Okay, now let’s fast forward a bit to when you get promoted. Now, what skill sets do you need?

Leading, coaching, providing feedback, setting the vision, building relationships with peers, creating goals, and motivating others to name a few.

When did you learn this skill set?  Most of you have to learn on the job. Unfortunately, many of you try to stay the expert and have a hard time sharing your load with your staff. Your training has suggested that being the expert is the right thing to do.

Unfortunately, as you become a leader, you cannot be like the Staples Easy button and answer everyone’s questions.  If you try to be the answer person, then your cube or office becomes a revolving door of people buzzing in to ask questions and get their problems solved. You will find it harder and harder to get anything done, the days get longer, you start to resent your work and even your promotion and wonder if you might need to leave the organization. Sound familiar? I have worked with numerous clients that this is their history.  How do we change this?

My friend Petra Platzer and I discussed this scenario in a recent Voltcast radio show episode (listen here). We discussed the shift from expert to strategic facilitator. The most important part of this shift is your mental framework. A strategic facilitator is someone that can look around the organization and figure out some critical questions:

1.      How critical is the work?

2.      How urgent is the work?

3.      Who is best qualified to do this work?

4.      Who is ready for a development opportunity?

5.      Do we have time to train someone on this work?

An expert usually thinks they have to do the work or they only delegate the work that is “below” them. A strategic facilitator looks to empower others, seeks to find the person and/or group that can provide the best solutions and then helps the person/team reach a successful outcome. They also recognize and reward the person who does the work and provides feedback on how to improve in the future. This leads to a more motivated and engaged workforce.

What keeps experts from moving to strategic facilitator? Time, competence of others, urgency, easier to do it yourself, you like to do the work, giving up responsibility, the fear that someone else might do it wrong, etc. Yes, these are all possibilities, but if you do not learn to facilitate actions then the expert becomes overwhelmed, tired, stressed and burned out.        

How are you doing at being a strategic facilitator? Need help learning to be a better delegator?  Check out this episode of the Voltcast radio show with me and Jennifer Owen-O’Quill to get some ideas. Thanks and good luck in your transition.


Character. It is a careful, internal interchange between our values and choices, and the decisions we make that guide our behavior.  Character is also an X Factor in every hiring situation. When I am hiring talent, I have 5 Key Success Areas I am searching for evidence in:

Character, Chemistry, Competence, Commitment and Capacity.

And the order I have listed them in is no accident: character tops my list. Why? Character, ultimately, is described by how you behave when no one is watching.

Here is part 2 of character, with a nod to the great poet Maya Angelou:

When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.

Yes, I have seen people change their character.  A. Few. Times. In. My. Life. 

Expecting someone to behave differently in the future despite the evidence of the past is magical thinking. I have not seen someone change their character without the motivating force of either a life-changing experience or a crushing personal loss. Life can bring us to our knees and beg us to change. 

I have also seen people choose not to change at those crossroads. Those life stories do not end well.

Does this mean I am not a person who believes in second chances? No. I do believe in second chances. But it means that when I give someone an opportunity, despite the evidence of the past, I am aware that I am taking an incredible risk. In those instances, I do everything I can to mitigate that risk and to help that person be successful.

Leaders can’t correct character. Poor character is a problem of an underdeveloped awareness, empathy, and conscience. These matters are hard to handle in a performance review. If you have to deal with them, it will likely be a long coaching process. The chances that you invest a lot of time and energy only to escort the person out the door 3 to 6 months later are high. Better to handle character problems before the hiring ever occurs. 

How do you discover the character of a prospective employee?

Here are some tips for the hiring process:

1.       Pose thoughtful questions which ask them to tell their story. For example, ask the candidate to recount, in detail, a story about their own first-hand experience with a difficult choice. Or a time when a situation at work made them angry, and how they responded.

Listen for what is said and not said, and trace the values that guided the person through their decision-making. What issue did they choose to share? How much did they disclose? Who were the people involved? How did they navigate their decision?

2.       Do the same with the references you call for your prospective hire. Ask references thoughtful questions. Ask for specific stories about how the candidate made choices. This provides another data-point about how your prospective employee handles pressure and navigates change, choices, and ethics.

3.       If you have more than one interview, choose several different settings. Notice how those different settings impact your prospective employee.

How did they enter and exit the building? Where were they most comfortable? Who did they stop and speak with, and how did that conversation go? What did they seem to pay attention to in each space?

Armed with these questions (and others you develop on your own), you will gain a great deal of insight about someone before choosing to bring them onto your team.

Take the extra time when you hire. It avoids a lot of headaches down the road.

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.


Our 16th President was probably one of the most revered and the most hated figures by his contemporaries.  We sometimes think we have things so rough.  Abraham Lincoln was elected by what was then the lowest plurality in an American election to date, the country was disintegrating, military and cabinet members questioned his leadership, and there were numerous threats on his life.

He persisted right up until his assassination.  Lincoln had an amazing talent for Coaching and Oratory.  His methods for providing feedback to wayward subordinates would be the envy of any board room today in firms big or small.  Lincoln kept them engaged while delivering “challenging” news.  How did he do this?

He used his Lincoln Thinkin’ approach to people and to running the business of the nation at the most turbulent of times.  We would do well to learn from his experience the next time we are frustrated because our copier malfunctioned or a colleague has let us down.

Outline of Lincoln Thinkin’ (adapted from Lincoln on Leadership by Donald Phillips)


  1. Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops
  2. Build Strong Alliances
  3. Persuade Rather than Coerce


  1. Honesty and Integrity Are the Best Policies
  2. Never Act Out of Vengeance or Spite
  3. Have the Courage to Handle Unjust Criticism
  4. Be a Master of Paradox

Endeavor (aka Running Your Business)

  1. Exercise a Strong Hand - Be Decisive
  2. Lead by Being Led (Asking the Right Questions)
  3. Set Goals and Be Results-Oriented
  4. Keep Searching Until You Find Your General Grant
  5. Encourage Innovation


  1. Master the Art of Public Speaking
  2. Influence People Through Conversation and Storytelling
  3. Preach a Vision and Continually Reaffirm it

Lincoln’s approach to managing people and circumstances fostered innovation and engagement.  If this is something that your organization could benefit from, I promise you it would be time well spent learning from the 16th President of the United States.


I recently had the occasion to reflect on a recent trip to Colonial Williamsburg, VA. Such a fascinating place where history comes alive. The Governor’s mansion regally watches over the colonial village, the gaol, the tavern and the Inn.

No internet, no cells phones, no TV, no radios, no cars, no nothing as we would describe it today. Yet the hallways and streets still echo with the words of the titans of our past. And their words help form our words. We in the Training, Coaching and Organizational Development profession take careful note of “words” and their meaning and their power.

Understanding the true meaning of what is being communicated was as important then as it is today. Here are some of the words and phrases from that space in time that we use without a “second thought.”

Old Colonial Sayings We Use Today:

Sleep tight – Before box springs were in use, old bed frames used rope pulled tightly between the frame rails to support a mattress. If the rope became loose, the mattress would sag making for uncomfortable sleeping. Tightening the ropes would help one get a good night sleep.

Getting your goat – This refers to an old English belief that keeping a goat in the barn would have a calming effect on the cows, hence producing more milk. When one wanted to antagonize/terrorize one’s enemy, you would abscond with their goat rendering their milk cows less- to non-productive.

Pull out all the stops – This phrase comes from the pipe organs in churches and classical music. Each pipe has a “stop” that acts as a baffle that controls the amount of airflow. The volume of the organ can be adjusted by adding or removing the stops. By pulling out all the stops, all pipes are playing at their loudest.

Get off your high horse – Military leaders, nobility etc. led parades on horseback, as a sign of their superiority and to increase their prominence. Thus to “get off your high horse” means you should lower the view of your own status and stop behaving arrogantly.

You have a screw loose –  As machines began to be used in the 1700’s, screws frequently loosened causing the machine to break down. If you are having a malfunction, you may have a screw loose as well.

Dressed to the nines – He looks like he purchased the best such as purchasing the best suit using nine yards of cloth to make it.

Take it with a grain of salt – Salt was thought to have healing properties and to be an antidote to poisons.

Let the cat out of the bagA dishonest farmer, claiming to be selling a young pig, might substitute a cat or some other valueless animal in a tied bag.

Cold shoulderWhen guests would over stay their welcome as house guests, the hosts would (instead of feeding them good, warm meals) serve their too-long staying guests the cold meat, thereby giving them the COLD SHOULDER.

So, “if you have to pull out all the stops, because somebody dressed to the nines with a screw loose doesn’t let the cat out of the bag, take everything with a grain of salt, sleep tight and don’t let anybody on their high horse give you the cold shoulder or get your goat” …


You may be thinking, “Oh no! This sounds complex.”  However, this is not going to be a deep philosophical debate.  I learned this exercise while I was attending my coaching program at Georgetown University.  Take out a piece of paper.  In the left column, write By Saying Yes To…  In the right column, write I am Saying No to…

 Here are some samples from me and from one of my clients:


By Saying Yes to….                                     I am Saying No to…

Coaching Philip’s Basketball Team                 Free time on Tue, Thur, and Sat

                                                                    Dinners with the rest of family

                                                                    Missing an opportunity to connect with Philip


Leaving X Company                                       Stability


                                                                     Short commute

                                                                     Dead end job at X company

                                                                      My frustrating boss


I love to do this activity with people I coach as it helps them go beyond just the pros and cons list.  We rarely consider the opportunity costs of our Yeses.  Instead, we just tend to say, “Yes” and then one of several things occurs: we break commitments, we miss deadlines, we become overwhelmed, we resent that we said yes to the person, etc.  I think this exercise helps leaders start to clarify what they really want to be working on and what are their top priorities.

I was coaching a CEO recently who was overwhelmed and who could not remember when she last had fun.  When I asked her to do this exercise, I began to see that she kept stacking more and more on her plate.  This helped her understand that she needed to be more intentional in what she said yes to and what the consequences of her Yeses were.

This exercise helps people become more mindful.  Mindfulness is a buzz work right now and so let me provide a definition for you:

Mindfulness = Awareness + Intention

Scott Eblin shared this formula in his outstanding book, Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative.  Thus, we first have to become aware of our challenges and then take intentional actions.

 I am curious about:

·       What intentions do you have?

·       How do you honor them?

Scott gives lots of ideas and I highly recommend the book. If you want to learn about how to use this content in your workplace or life, please reach out to me.  

Thanks and create a great day!