Begin With The Bright Spots

When leaders and organizations begin to work with us, it is often because they have a problem they need to solve.  Something is wrong, and that wrong thing is consuming an awful lot of time.

That is where we come in:  through conversations, carefully crafted experiences that change the climate, and a creative approach to processes and people, we equip our clients to solve problems and do things with more purpose, passion and focus.

When we are asked to solve problems for organizations, the first question I ask is this:

What do you want?

This simple question, repeatedly asked, uncovers many things:

·        Resistance: “What do I want?  Let me tell you what I don’t want…” and out pours the                   frustration.

·        The absence of vision.  “I don’t know what I want.”

·        A change in focus, “When I started this it was so clear, now I am not really sure.”

Over time, the answer begins to shift, and what begins to emerge is vision.  Common purpose. Passionate commitment.  Energy.  The challenge then becomes harnessing and deploying that energy effectively.

Sometimes our question, “What do you want?” shows leaders where the broken places are:

·        “I don’t know what the end game is.  It isn’t clear to me what we are trying to accomplish in the big picture, so I don’t know what I want because I don’t know what will contribute.”

·        “What I want is to be able to do my job well and execute effectively the work we are charged to accomplish.”

·        “I want us all to be on the same page.”

Whatever “it” is, asking this simple question begins to reveal what is working and what isn’t in the organization.  It also uncovers something about the people in the room:  their current level of willingness and abilities begin to emerge. We have a place to start.

The place I like to begin any engagement is with the Bright Spots.

Ø  What is working?

Ø  What is going well?

Ø  Where is the strength and energy?

It is from this place that people can begin to see what is possible. What can be created.

When we begin a conversation from a place of strength and success, people are more able to tap into creative solutions to the issues and obstacles before them.  Success begins with a success mindset:  we map our way from here to there with the guideposts of what is working, where our strengths lie, and how we can solve the problems before us with the assets, learning and lessons we are gathering today.

A destination can begin to be charted.

To begin to map your next moves around the challenges that are arising in your organization start by asking:

Ø  What do we want?

Ø  What is working?

Ø  What is going well?

Ø  Where is the strength and energy?

With this inventory of what you have, you will be more aware of what and how to harness and deploy your best abilities and tools as you move toward your destination.

Mapping our successes and our desired outcomes builds something essential into the climate of our teams.  It builds trust and resilience.

The problems and pitfalls that lie before us are best solved with our collective creativity and a common resolve.  “What do you want?” is the place to begin.  It creates the space for the deeper, tougher, more challenging questions that follow.

What do you want?  What do you really want?

How can the choices and challenges before you lead you there?


My husband is a fan of American Ninja Warrior.  We sit down one evening a week and watch people move through the incredibly difficult obstacle course that the show creates in cities around the country. It is amazing to watch as each contestant attempts to complete the course.

What wows me even more?  There is generally a contestant or two who nimbly flies through the course, balancing, swinging, climbing, and pulling with such agility, accuracy and speed that I am left speechless, pointing at the TV.  These people blow away the top score of the night by the time they reach the finish line.

Every contestant who completes the course has skills, strength, power, flexibility.

Those who win are also nimble.

Here is what I have noticed:  the most nimble often appear to be the most carefree.  There is a freedom to their movement:  less tension, more fluidity, more speed, and more accuracy.

What is the leadership lesson here?  

If there is one thing that will slow a person down, it is fear.  Scared people move more slowly.

I am not suggesting that methodical preparation and planning are not part of the process, they are.

What I am suggesting is that fear-based performance will usually not earn you a first place finish.

This is what happens on the teams I coach:  trust based teams are nimble whereas fear based teams are clenched, tightly wound, and controlled.  It is not as much fun to work on a fear based team.  It is a great deal of fun to work on and with a nimble team.  Game changing ideas come from nimble teams. Incremental change comes from fear-based teams.

Speed, accuracy and excellence take a nimble player:  someone who feels free to move, practice, learn, try and try again; someone who enjoys the work; someone who is having fun.

Another outcome of a nimble team: resilience.  They weather storms well.  Failure is part of the process, but focus and freedom rule the day.

Focus + Freedom = Nimbleness

Success in a changing world takes nimbleness in precisely the environment which makes a normal person nervous or afraid.

How do we face the challenge?

1.       Focus.  Focus on the Desired Outcome.  What do you want, what do you really want?  Why do you want it?  Focusing on the ultimate Desired Outcome provides focus to individuals and teams.  It gives people a common purpose and vision to pursue.

2.       Freedom.  This often means the leader needs to keep quiet while the team wrestles with HOW to achieve the Desired Outcome.  They need to be free to share bad ideas and good ones and wrestle with them until they find a path and a process that will get them quickly to where they want to be.

Where they ultimately want to be is on the other side of the obstacle course, with yet another great experience behind them, ready to go back to work and prepare for the next round of challenges.

In 2017, I plan to be nimble.  How about you? 


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!


Sarah knew something was wrong.  She came to work every day expecting the worst and, more often than not, there it was waiting for her:  unfinished tasks, projects completed but poorly executed, mediocre results, and lots to clean up.

Something needed to happen to change Sarah’s circumstances.  She knew it, her team knew it, and by the time she sat down in my office, her frustration was boiling over.  After a full 15 minutes of hearing her enumerate everything that was going wrong, I had two questions:

·       What went right this morning?

·       What do you want?

It took a few minutes to refocus her attention, but Sarah was able to recall a couple of bright spots from the morning.  We were able to focus on what she did want instead of what she did not want.  Then we celebrated:  some things went right!  Better yet, some things went right every day.  Once we had these Bright Spots in focus, we could take the next critical step:  building on her success.

·       How could Sarah build on the successes of her team? 

·       Could she leverage what was going right to get better results?

·       What impact would it have on her own leadership and performance to work with her team to focus on what was already working and to drive better results from what was already going right?

As a performance-driven leader, it was a totally new concept to Sarah to focus, not on fixing problems, but on magnifying successes.  However, she was desperate and willing to try.

She asked each team member:

·       What is working well?

·       What can you do to get that successful area working even better?

Asking those questions tapped new energy on her team.

A few weeks later, Sarah was back in my office. This time she began by doing for herself what she had done with her team the previous month:  she spent time sharing what was going well and thought through ways to make those successes even better.  From there, she addressed a couple of the larger challenges she had before her and, when she did, her thinking was clearer, sharper.  She was thinking creatively and actively, not from a defensive, reactive place.  Her ideas about her next steps were light years ahead of where they had been a month before.

Here is why:  when we focus on Bright Spots, we have greater insight, less anxiety, and a greater access to solutions and creative winning moves as opposed to defensive measures. 

Ask yourself:

·       What are the Bright Spots on your team right now?

·       What is working well?

·       How can you build on those successes?

·       Who else can you involve in the process so your success is shared?

Long term success depends on leaders accessing their creativity to solve problems.  Focusing on Bright Spots is one way to ensure that we have our best thinking at hand when we tackle significant challenges.