Assessing Promotability


For those who believe that they are getting ready to be promoted, it is wise to understand what are called “limiting behaviors.” These are the blind spots that all people have to one degree or another and the
ability to acknowledge that they exist is often the biggest limiting behavior of them all.

Organizations often employ leadership assessment tools to help managers identify and prioritize their own developmental opportunities. While not 100% infallible, they do contain insight. When combined with 360-degree multi-rater feedback, they can feel downright oppressive!

What do organizations look for in a “promotable” person? Below are “Eight Universal Competencies”
and their associated skills from one of my favorites multi-rater tools, CheckPoint 360°™ from Profiles International. The feedback is usually from a group of 15 - 20 people who have had direct interaction with the person under consideration for promotion.

An honest, objective self-assessment might be very useful. Begin by asking yourself how well you might be doing in these areas:

1.     Communication – Skills associated with communication include: How well the person
“Listening to Others”, “Processing Information” and “Communicating Effectively.”

2.     Leadership - Skills associated Leadership are: How well they “Instill Trust, “
Provide Direction” and “Delegate Responsibility”

3.     Adaptability - Skills associated Adaptability are: How well they “Adjust to Circumstances”
and the ability to “Think Creatively.”

4.     Relationships Skills associated Relationships include: “Building Personal Relationships”
and “Facilitating Team Success.”

5.     Task Management – Skills associated Task Management include: How well they Work Efficiently and “Work Competently”

6.     Production – Skills associated Production include: How well they “Take Action” and
“Achieve Results”

7.     Development of Others - Skills associated the Development of Others include: How well
they “Cultivate Individual Talents” of others and “Motivates Others Successfully.”

8.     Personal Development - Skills associated Personal Development include: How well they
“Seek Self-Improvement and “Display Commitment” to personal growth.


How did you do?

Writing the Second Act: A Retention Parable


The Scene Is Set

“I need something different,” the leader tells me, an edge of frustration in their tone.

On another day, in another conversation I hear:

“This team isn’t bringing what I need to be successful right now” or

“ ______ does not have what we need to stay relevant in our market.”

Most of the time, the person or team in question has previously been a critical contributor.

Now what is surfacing is evidence of the dissonance between a once-successful key player and an organizational leader.

What is called for is a candid conversation about the organization's changing needs, and an exploration of the willingness of the employee in question to learn a new approach, grow new skills, and refocus their attention to successfully meet the next phase of the business’s needs. 

Most of the time this conversation does not occur.

Instead there is silence.


Frustration mounts, as the leader continues to see evidence that their assessment is correct: this person is not going to move the group forward.

Eventually, if the conversation takes place, it has been put off for so long that when it takes place it occurs at the outset of a separation process between the company and a formerly key contributor.

So much is lost because of the silence.


Lack of Communication: the Tension Rises

Here is what is happening internally with the employee, on the other side of that leader’s frustration:

“What is happening here?”

“I used to be successful. I am doing the same thing, and no one sees or appreciates my work anymore.”

Fear rises. Frustration and confusion reign.

These feelings begin to inhibit the performance of the employee.


The Untold Story: What is Happening

Why? Because fear and anxiety cause our bodies to dump a chemical cocktail into our bloodstream, inhibiting our strategic thinking. The cortisol our bodies produce when we are anxious and afraid keeps our brain from accessing its pre-frontal cortex, our executive brain. Strategy withers. Fear reigns. And so performance begins to fall.

Little by little, the leader’s assumptions about the employee’s capacity are “proven.” Performance coaching begins and an exit strategy is created by one or both parties.


Writing a Retention Story

There is another way to write this story.

It begins with a conversation.

Not one about you and your performance and me and my needs. This conversation begins with a mutual exploration of a changing organizational and competitive landscape.


The Importance of an Intermission

Intermission. It is the time between Act 1 and Act 2. During this time the audience gets up, stretches their legs, and finds the bathroom, while the stagehands and actors madly prepare for the Second Act.

Great performers need an intermission with their leaders. A time set aside for a conversation that explores and celebrates was has happened up until now and looks ahead at what is needed next to prepare for what is yet to come.


The Intermission Conversation

The Intermission Conversation is a conversation in 3 parts:

Part 1    What just happened?

·        Review the accomplishments and successes. Celebrate!

·        Share what you both had hoped would go differently, and which experiences you treasure.

Part 2    What’s happening out there effects what is happening here.

·  Explore the current and approaching competitive landscape is explored.

·  Acknowledge the reality that the company is different and the marketplace is moving rapidly.

·  Ask: What will it take for us to continue to be successful, keep up and remain relevant?

Part 3    What’s next?

·  Recognize that was then, this is now. Changes must be made for success to be sustained.

·  Compare the current and approaching landscape vs. what the landscape was like when we had past successes.  In this conversation past successes are reviewed and compared and contrasted with the current competitive landscape and current cultural context in mind.

· Plan for the future: What does the continued success of the business require next?

The Second Act

This Intermission Conversation allows leaders and team members to reflect on what has been, to look ahead strategically, and to realign expectations going forward. It celebrates what has been, yes. More importantly, it honestly acknowledges that the success in the future will be brought by different strategies, actions, projects and priorities that this season. Naming that allows people to see clearly that ongoing success requires ongoing re-orientation for everyone.

When we take time to have an intermission conversation, people can come back to their seats, ready for the second act. Yes, sometimes, people will realize this show is not for them. But most people simply need a moment to get up, walk around, and think about what might come next. Then they can settle down, and get ready to enjoy the Second Act of the show.

Retaining seasoned, successful team members takes time and attention… but not loads of time. Usually short intermission conversations will do.

Let me assure you, the investment of that short, meaningful conversation is worth the reward it reaps: long term, engaged, seasoned and successful employees who feel valued and who understand where the business needs to go next, how they can contribute, and why what they have accomplished so far matters.

Who on your team do you need to have an Intermission Conversation with?

What will it means for your future success if that conversation goes well?

I hope you take the time to get that conversation on your calendar today.

Leadership Behaviors That Build Employee Trust

It is said that trust is a lot like oxygen. Everybody knows when its present and everybody can
feel it when it’s not. It is also the main reason professional (and some personal) relationships fail. Trust is reciprocal, like a two-way street or bridge built to future predictability.

If we had an analogy to financial markets, it would be like the Dow composite. The market is efficient and discounts sentiment about future earnings. If the market believes the potential for future earnings are good, then share prices go up. Likewise, trust is also a reflective of the potential for future relationship interactions. We have a sort of “moving” average for organizational trust commonly referred to as “engagement” surveys. While they serve a purpose, they are not taken nearly frequently enough to accurately gauge “organizational sentiment”.

          Below are 5 behaviors to consistently engage in to keep your “trust average” up

1) Tell the truth. All Teams have Super Stars, Rising Start, Sedentary Stars, and Falling Stars. The
Team is watching how the leader leads. Spend more time with those who are getting things done
and less with those who are not.

2) Communicate roles and responsibilities. Provide consistent timely and accurate feedback. This is feedback that is not based on “noise’ or “half” a story but that has integrity and gravitas.

3) Create a workplace culture that values relationships. Relationships are “currency” that business is transacted in. Focus on maintaining good ones, come what may, with those who are performers. It is the leaders job to ensure that this happens by creating time and space to make it happen.

4) Be fair and open. Operate transparently to the extent you can. People need to trust what they see. When they don’t things crash. Can you say Arthur Andersen? This means no hidden agendas or favoritism or perceived favoritism, Nip that in the bud. People respond well to a basic social contract of “transparency” providing is more than just talk.

5) Model the behaviors you seek. It is the leader’s responsibility every day to act to model the types of behaviors that support the Team’s Mission and Vision. This is what achieving success with both is all about and you as leader have a “fiduciary” responsibility to make it happen.

What Do You See—Obstacles or Clear Sailing?

I have been working with many teams recently that are working on their vision and outlining their strategic goals for 2018. They know how to do a SWOT analysis, have a good sense of their customer base, and even take time to consider how they will communicate their messages. However, I see many of these organizations fail to hit the vision and goals they create in these sessions. Why? I believe the biggest reasons are:

           1.     Overly optimistic goal setting

           2.     Poor translation into action

           3.     Failure to understand how this impacts the daily lives of the team

           4.     It is an event, not a process

We use an experiential exercise we call the obstacle course with our clients. Here is the basic overview—we blindfold 3 people and then ask the rest of the team to get the 3 blindfolded people safely through the obstacle course and retrieve the 3 prizes and bring them back to the starting point safely! All three blindfolded people must enter and exit the course. The course is generally about 3 feet wide and about 6 feet long with foam letters and kids small toys in the course. The sighted people think that the course should only take 1-2 minutes to finish. We state that we will give them 10 minutes. Normally the sighted people huddle up without the blindfolded participants for about 2-3 minutes of planning time. Then they tell the blindfolded people the plan and they get started. Chaos ensues within one minute. There are often too many voices speaking at once, so it is hard to gather clear instruction.  In addition, trying to balance on 1 foot while blindfolded and stepping over kid’s toys is hard! So often, people get their left and rights confused when giving direction.

Does this sound like your workplace? This also sounds a bit like our strategic planning. We go off and brainstorm these great ideas with limited feedback from our employees. In the obstacle course debrief, I identify that the sighted people are the leaders in our organizations that can see what needs to be done and have to communicate the goals, but they are not the ones to do the actual work (these are the blindfolded participants—we call them employees.) From this activity, we see that the end goal does not look easy, but it does look like it can be executed. However, we rarely sit in the employee’s seat and look at it from their perspective. I encourage you to take time to ask your team members questions like:

1.     What inspires you about our vision?

2.     What barriers do you see blocking you from achieving our vision?

3.     What is one thing I could to do to help you achieve our goals?

4.     What is one thing that I am doing well that you want to keep doing?

5.     When we hit our goals, how do you want to celebrate?

Another common challenge is that as leaders we get distracted. We do this goal setting and then we go back to our daily lives. This causes confusion for our teams. Do we pay attention to the presentation we saw last month or do we just go with the status quo? Most people want to be led and they watch what gets rewarded. Thus, if they see you, the leader, go back to reinforcing the old strategies or goals, then they are going to deliver this to you. If you want to achieve the vision and new goals, it needs to be a process not a one-time event. One of my clients has started doing monthly virtual town halls to reinforce the new vision, key goals, and to celebrate successes. They are not over emphasizing the new vision and goals. Instead, they are saying this is the direction we are heading in and these are the type of behaviors we need to be successful. The leader also says what behaviors they are leaving behind. The energy in this environment is fantastic, and people are saying how transparent the organization is and that this is the most aligned they have felt in a long time.

So, what does your future look like—clear sailing or obstacles? It probably varies by the day. However, I encourage you to get curious, meet with your team members and listen to their feedback. Strategic planning is great but also remember to reinforce the goals and behaviors you desire on your team. Good luck and let me know how you are doing achieving your vision.


Lately I have been curious about exploring the essential ingredients of creative, innovative environments: trust and time.

Today we turn to how to prevent the trust-killer miscommunication from arising. I’ll offer some steps to take when miscommunication, unfortunately and inevitably, occurs.

Here is a typical scenario. Can you see yourself in it?

1.       A conversation between two people takes place.

2.       One person leaves feeling they’ve made commitments or defined expectations in a certain way.

3.       The second person does not leave the conversation with the same understanding.

4.       In time, the difference in expectations between the two people bubbles up or boils over.

5.       In an instant, trust that may have taken years to cultivate is damaged.

6.       At times this hard-won trust is destroyed.

Miscommunication has a painful and perilous cost, and it’s a daily occurrence in most organizations.

Given the frequency of such missteps, it would stand to reason that we would have developed a good process for navigating this difficult terrain. But we haven’t. Instead people deal with the consequences of these miscommunications, typically in silence (or by telling many people except the person involved).

Often the story I hear begins something like this:

“He betrayed me. “

“After what she did yesterday, I don’t trust her anymore.”

“I used to think he meant what he said, now I know he doesn’t.”

“She doesn’t care about anything but herself and this business. I don’t matter.”

“He says one thing to one person and another to someone else. He can’t be trusted.”

“I don’t know what to think anymore. I used to trust her. Now, I just don’t know.”

Miscommunication and distrust wreak havoc on creativity. What can we do to prevent this? Take some time on the front end to avoid problems on the back end! Ensure the expectations are clear. Here’s how.

We need to do 2 things: Push and Pull.

              Push expectations by clearly communicating face-to-face and in writing, and then

              Pull for understanding of those expectations by asking questions.

It is both Push and Pull that create a communication loop between leaders and their team members.

·       If you are assigning work to others, set clear expectations. Preferably both in writing and orally. 

·       When you are assigned work, or assume a task or project leadership, ask questions to clarify expectations. 

·       Before leaving the conversation, ask what the other person understands those expectations to be. Make sure they match before you end the conversation.

·       Follow up in writing when practicable.

When we have both actions, Push and Pull, embedded in our communication habits, we hold ourselves to a more disciplined approach to communication, and we set our people up to be successful. 

Helpful Habits: 

Leaders: When you ask someone else to take on an assignment, take the time to ask what they understood you to have assigned. This provides 2 things:

1.       The other person has an opportunity to articulate in their own words what their assignment is.

2.       You have the chance to check that you have communicated well and been understood. This is the first step of shared ownership over a project or task. 

Colleagues and team members: You don’t have to wait for someone else to ask you what you heard them assign. Simply say: “I want to make sure I understood your clearly. Can I repeat it back to you for clarification? What I heard you say was…..”  This conversation is especially helpful if you have a highly creative leader. Creative leader’s often share a dozen ideas at a time, forgetting that their ideas feel like assignments to the people around them. Asking clarifying questions will help you learn to distinguish between the ideas for later and the assignments for today.

Yes, it takes time to have these clarifying conversations. It’s an investment in relationship building and trust making. What do you gain by taking the time?

·       An accurate picture of the requests that are being made.

·       Some insight into how our colleagues think, listen and learn.

·       We learn what motivates people and what causes them to stop listening.

Learning to communicate effectively with the people on our teams provides something invaluable for the future: it creates the dividend of trust that pays off with speed, agility, engagement, and best of all, creativity in the future. It is time well spent.

Note of Caution: When it comes to performance or compensation, it is even more critical to ensure accurate communication. In these important conversations emotions tend to run hotter, even when they are easy “Great work!” conversations. When we talk performance or compensation people have their confidence, their lifestyle, and sometimes their identity wrapped up in the conversation. Asking what was heard is a great reality check for everyone involved.


“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.



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.