How do we get there from here? We encounter that question a lot at Voltage Leadership with regard to leaders of all types. This is especially true for front line leaders who have been promoted into areas of great responsibility.

Our answer is for them to take a journey on “The Leader Ship”, pun intended. Below please find some tips and tools we employ with clients of all sizes in multiple industries to keep them on course.                                                                       

  • Pre-Boarding – Use assessments to help understand the leader’s behavior, motivations and aptitudes. At Voltage, we employ many assessment tools. Two of our favorites are DiSC, and Profiles XT depending on how deep a dive may be required for the role.
  • Charting the Course – The ability to “see the big picture” is essential for most leadership roles. We employ several tools that can be applied to any team at any level. Two of our favorites are:  1) the “Team Charter” which asks, why are we here, where are we going and what are the behaviors that will get us there and 2) the “Structural Tension” model which asks What are the desired outcomes? What is the current reality? How can we use our assets/strengths to overcome barriers? What baby steps can we take to get closer to the desired outcomes?
  • Navigating – Once the right course is set, continue to actively steer the ship, by continually communicating the course to the crew. Make the right course corrections at the right time, based on firsthand knowledge from the crew obtained in well planned recurring 1:1 meetings Behind the Leader’s Closed Door.
  • Avoiding Icebergs – At Voltage we help client firms goBelow the Waterlineto ensure they fully understand and accept ownership of clarity regarding roles, responsibilities and expectations. If there is “noise” from the crew, understand why it is there. They may be right and helping to keep your ship afloat.
  • Sounding the Ship – Proactively engage in Team building. Be aware of potential counterproductive cultural issues, ie. removing drama, perceptions of favoritism or downright intentional negativism. Voltage can show you how to escape theDreaded Drama Triangle aka the Cultural Bermuda Triangle.
  • All Hands-On Deck – Intentionally spend more crew time with “rising stars” vs “falling stars”. Design your time to include recurring meaningful recognition to build real crew engagement. Actively invest time in crew who are helping to drive the ship (vs those who may need to walk the plank for the right reasons.)
  • Enjoy the Ride - Once Pre-Boarding is done, our Course is Charted, Navigating well, have Avoided Icebergs, the Ship is Sound, and All Hands on Deck are really engaged, Enjoy the Ride…Ahoy maties!


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.


People who learn, un-learn, and re-learn bring a competitive advantage to their work: they tend to be current in their field, able to predict trends, and move quickly past conventional wisdom to discover and implement winning ideas. Learning is a key success differentiator that increasingly plays a role in professional advancement. Good thing I have always loved learning!

There are 3 habits I cultivate on my path to lifelong learning:

1.       Curiosity

2.       Commitment

3.       Enthusiasm

Curiosity: When we stay curious we naturally want to grow, learn and explore our world. We seek to question, not confirm, our assumptions.

Habit: asking curious questions, learning new skills, researching new ideas and concepts.

One of the best ways I have been curious this year is with this question: What is the most generous assumption I can make about the action this person has taken? This simple question has allowed me to be a better coach, leader, partner and friend.

Commitment: When our curiosity is wed to a commitment to act, we take steps to learn and grow. We discover more, experience new things, and build relationships with a diverse group of thinkers. Relationships are cultivated with people who have skills and ideas different from our own.

Habit: time. Learning takes time and perseverance.  Devote time to study, read journals, books  and articles, take classes or attend workshops.

This year I have stretched out of my comfort zone to meet and build relationships with people who think, live and act differently than I do, and I am better for it.

Enthusiasm: Contrary to popular opinion, people’s perseverance most highly correlates to their ability to maintain their enthusiasm for the project, not their discipline. It is our enthusiasm that motivates us to learn, grow and perform, not a sense of duty or obligation.

Habit: Cast your own vision. Build a strong picture about what will be true if you continue to act, achieve and succeed.

This year I have focused on the direction of my attention. When I pay attention to what is possible, what I can do, what I can accomplish, what I am able to simply do next, I find myself diving into my days and savoring the moments. When I pay attention to the problem, I run out of gas.

My recipe for success in 2017 is simple:

  • Stay curious.
  • Ask questions.
  • Learn to do something new.
  • Do the next thing: Act!
  • Focus in the possibilities.

What will you learn in 2017 that you do not know today?

What experience will you take on that is new and different for you?

Who will you add to your circle of friends who think and live differently than you do?

Whatever you choose, I wish you great success and happiness in 2017!


One of my favorite training topics is about crucial conversations based on the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, and Ron McMillan. This is because it provides a solid framework from which to navigate potentially energized human situations.  In a perfect world, leaders are 100% rested, engaged and focused.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

When the heat is on, we multi-task (also known as attempting to do multiple things at once with the risk that only a portion of them will turn out right) and we become vulnerable.  Our workplace landscape has shifted in the last 8-10 years.  This is sometimes referred to as the New Normal.

We may triple-book the calendar to the point where it looks incoherent, respond to electronic communication at all hours of the day (or night), and have the hammer so far down we have forgotten when to let it up again.  In this attention-starved condition of sensory overload, is it any wonder that what comes naturally may not be our best?

“Deadlines and commitments…. What to leave in, what to leave out” Bob Seger.

Crucial Conversations defines a “Story” as our default position.  It is a response to the lens through which we view the world around us.  The images we think we see can become energized quickly when we are too

·       Hungry

·       Angry

·       Lonely or

·       Tired (HALT).

I have a colleague who has a son in college in the Midwest.  His phone rings a fair amount with his son asking for an electronic transfer of funds.  Naturally, the request comes with little or no warning and usually at a time when my friend is multi-tasking to the max.

After one of these requests, my colleague stopped what he was doing to fill out and copy forms, IDs, account numbers, addresses and sent it all off as instructed.  Then the bank called and said that the account was closed.  My friend’s Story about his son immediately surfaced. “You are so irresponsible!  You must take after your mother’s side of the family.”  (Apparently they can’t manage their bank accounts either.)

But guess what?  He was wrong.  Can you believe it?  He was the one who, in his haste, transposed numbers on a scanned form which resulted in the account closed message from the bank.  The happy ending is that my colleague put some new boundaries in place for his son.  He now insists that these requests come with respect for his calendar (and bank account.)  And so they do because his son recognizes these boundaries. 

The point is that my colleague jumped into the angry blasting mode because the circumstances triggered an internal Story.  This was his internal set of beliefs about a person or situation formed over time. This did not happen with a co-worker or customer, but it could have. The story was there.

According to Jon Kabat-Zin (1994) “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way- on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  It’s a good model to follow in our New Normal.

So when the heat is on, step back.  Go slow enough to allow yourself to respond instead of react.  You’ll be glad you did.  Especially if there is a story waiting to escape that could seriously damage relationships.