Take Me To Your Leader

take me to your leader.jpg

"Take me to your leader" is a science-fiction cartoon catchphrase, said by an extraterrestrial alien
who has just landed on Earth in a spacecraft to the first object it happens to meet and it assumes is an earthling. It is believed to have originated in a 1953 cartoon by Alex Graham in The New Yorker magazine. And thus, a new American cliché was born.                        

If an extraterrestrial landed at work and said “Take me to you leader”, how would you respond?

What factors would we roll over in our mind in order to answer? Does the alien mean the leader by title, or office? Do they mean visible actions and behaviors regardless of position? All valid questions.

At Voltage Leadership, we often speak about the Leadership Attitude. This means intentionally choosing to focus on the greater purpose of our endeavors with no expectation of return. Regardless of aptitude or position, those who demonstrate this attitude seem to have the ability to rally people around them. The opposite is also true. Those that are habitually self-centered have built a leadership moat around themselves. It is typically filled with water and intended as a defense against attack and guaranteed to limit upward mobility

It is also referred to as “CYA” or Choosing Your Attitude or as Charles Swindoll puts it:

"The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.

It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company, a church, a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ... we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

So the next time we face challenging circumstances, remember our attitude is always a choice.

The Two-Step of Change Leadership

I love change.  Or so I thought.

A few months ago I made an offhand comment to my husband in mixed company,

“I love change!” I declared.

What came back was an incredulous look, “No you don’t.  You hate change.  You only love change you initiate.  You hate it when it happens to you.”

To which I could only say….. “Oh.  Right.”

As a leader I can be so focused on driving change for an organization that I forget how it feels to have change roll over you.  That is how it feels, isn’t it?  Change that comes at us can feel like a speeding Mack truck rolling over our hopes, our plans, our best intentions, our routines.  Change comes and our sense of security, stability and well-being vanish.

The Difference between Leading Change and Coping with Change

But I do love to drive change.  What does that means?  It means I like to bend the world to my vision of the future.  I like to design the future according to my preferences.  I like to anticipate what is on the horizon and create something now that will serve that future time well.

Leading change is different from coping with change.

Recognizing that big difference is a key factor in equipping teams and leaders to manage and navigate change. 

Leading change means you are in a position with some authority to make a series of decisions about other people’s lives.  It feels different to the change leader than it does to the change leader’s team. Being in control of decisions about other people’s destiny is a responsibility to take seriously.

Change leaders out there, it is wise to remember this!

A Lesson in Change Leadership

Here are a couple change insights to keep in mind as you lead and navigate change in your organization and on your teams:

Change leadership requires a complicated emotional dance; ours and theirs.

The emotional stories of the leader and the team are necessarily different.

 Be aware of this difference and make intentional space for it.

When we lead change, we have to step through our own emotions while simultaneously equipping others to navigate their fears, excitement, anxiety, curiosity and anger.  Yes, anger.  We feel all kinds of emotions when we move through change, and leaders would do well to realize that the emotions that arise when you are reacting and responding to someone else’s change are different from the way we feel when we are leading change.

We need to create two spaces:

Ø  A space in which we can be listened to, and

Ø  An environment in which we can listen to and facilitate our team’s change process.

These two practices will help you navigate through both your experiences and theirs:

1.      Find a trusted colleague you can talk with regularly.

This should be a peer with whom you can discuss your own personal experience and from whom you can seek counsel, as you help your team navigate the change successfully.  The change you experience personally and the one you are leading are different.  Make space for both experiences in your conversation.

2.      Make space to listen to your team.

Facilitate conversations that both share information (even the fact that you don’t have information is information!) and seek to discover their questions.  Be prepared to:

Ø  Listen.  Really listen, honestly and openly.

Ø  Reflect back that you have heard what was shared.

Normalize the feelings:  they are valid.

Ø  Ask questions about what will best equip them to move forward through the change.

Ø  Ask what their questions are.  Their unanswered questions will keep them from being engaged and energized.  You need to know what they want to know more about.

Note: It is typically not wise to try to answer those questions as they are asked.  Collect all the questions first, and then answer them.

As leaders, it is our responsibility to point toward a positive future.  To be able to help the team and organization frame what the New, Future Reality will look like.  Conversations that ask and answer questions begin to shape a common vision.  When the vision begins to be shared by a team’s collective imagination, you are on your way to creating the future together.

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?

Culture Shapers: How Leaders Define the Way Organizations Think, Speak and Act

Leaders both shape and define culture.

Leaders define culture by what they do, and shape culture by what they allow.

Therefore, every leader need to pay attention to in two distinct directions when setting and shaping culture:

1.      What are you saying and doing personally? What words do you use? What actions do you take? All of these are defining your culture.  

2.      What do you allow those in your organization to say and do? What behaviors do you tolerate? Which behaviors do you reward? The answers to these questions are shaping your culture.

The intersection of leading by example and maintaining strong accountability is what gives rise to and maintains strong culture.

Have you been a part of an organization with a great culture?

If not, I am sure you know someone who has, because when we are a part of a great culture, we tend to talk about it. The positive energy, creativity, and commitment generated within strong, successful cultures is contagious. There is a North Star inside the organization: a collective focus, a common pace, and a set of shared values that drive how people perform their work.

Have you been in an organization where the leader is striving to set a new culture, but some (or all!) of the people inside the organization are resisting that new culture?

This can be a terrible tale or a success story. A good leader can become frustrated and fail in the face of a powerful culture that wants to retain its norms. Leaders can mis-calculate when attempting to set or re-set culture, and lose the support of key stakeholders. And leaders can listen well, persevere through the tumult of change to navigate a team successfully through to a new, vibrant shared culture.

Sometimes cultures have trouble arising at all. I find that frequently this is because of either an absence of passion or the presence of fear, which leads to my final question:

Have you been in organizations where the leader is shaping a culture of fear?

What happens, typically, is this:  the leader’s positional power trumps the efforts of the rest of the organizational leaders to build a collaborative culture. Until sufficient collective courage is mustered to address the fear tactics with the leader, the leader’s culture of fear will prevail. Only when there is collective courage to name and attempt to co-create a new culture with the leader will the culture of fear dissipate. Most organizations tend not to be able to gather the collective energy to bring this type of request to the leader, so fear, and its limits on creativity and innovation, prevail during their tenure.

I find leaders who excel in shaping culture share some common skills:

1.      They listen. They are aware of the current reality of the organization, and then think about how to respond effectively to that reality.

2.      They know and show who they are. Their value system shows up in how they speak, act and organize their work and the organization’s work.  They infuse their work with that value system. It is who they are.

3.      They shape and communicate the values and culture of the organization. The demonstrate and co-create the culture by striving to equip every level of the organization to live the culture.

4.      These leaders help people learn how to be culture shapers, and hold others (and themselves) accountable for what they say and how they act.

5.      They course correct daily and publicly. They expect themselves and others to miss the mark, and have a process by which they renew their commitment to the shared organizational culture. They are willing to share their own learning and growth as they wrestle to bring their best selves to the table.

Culture hums when the leader and the organizations culture match.

·        Are you aware of the culture you are setting with your words and actions?

·        If you asked your direct reports what your organization’s culture is, could they tell you,               and show you evidence of that culture in both your behavior and theirs?

Leaders, we define culture by what we do, and we shape culture by what we allow.

Be curious about the impact of your words and actions today. Notice what kind of affect you are having on the organization and team you lead. And at the end of the day, do you like what you find?

The Right Stuff: Top 4 Qualities of Change Leaders

The leader comes to the front of the room to speak.

They look around the room and then begin with: “We are implementing a new…..” and with those few words, a chain reaction begins to take place in the hearts and minds of the people around the table.

I mean that literally. When people are confronted with news about change their breath tends to get shallow, and their heartrate tends to increase. Our bodies begin reacting to news about change even before our minds have evaluated what the news means.

The best outcomes for change happen, therefore, when the people around the table have been prepared for the news, and have some agency over the outcomes.

But when was the last time you experienced seamlessly executed change in your business?

·        A new product rolled out well, on both the customer and our workforce!

·        Teams were realigned in ways that everyone celebrated and embraced!

·        Process changes were enthusiastically implemented!

(You might be asking “Do these things really happen like this anywhere in business, or only in articles like this?” Fair question. Read on.)

Change is hard on organizations and individuals, but steps can be taken to increase the change resilience in organizations, teams and individuals. In fact, every week I am with at least one client who is executing change with excellence.

When I compare the qualities present in our clients who execute change easily and well, I find these qualities present:  

Openness, Humility, Creativity and Tenacity.

Here is what these qualities bring to the table, and a habit you can try that will grow this capacity in your leadership and on your team:

Openness: These leaders want to hear a lot of ideas about how to solve and improve processes and products. The leader’s openness creates openness on their teams. Change is easier when we are open.

               Habit to develop: Listening with a “yes” mindset.

Listen fully to what others are saying. Set aside the desire to evaluate and judge ideas. Stay curious all the way through when someone is sharing an idea, asking open-ended questions that challenge the thinking of the person bringing the idea forward. What part of the idea is brilliant?

Humility: These individuals and teams are willing to have their ideas and beliefs challenged. They work hard to hear each other out and fully understand other points of view.

               Habit to develop: See situations through someone else’s eyes.

Imagine the idea or outcome from the point of view of the person or team bringing the idea forward. When we do, our own thinking becomes more nimble. Richard David Carson, author of Taming Your Gremlin wisely points out that beliefs are simply opinions we have developed loyalty to over time. Seeing the world through the eyes of others gives us broader perspective and protects us from blind spots.

Creativity: New ideas and interpretations are valued and heard. Changes of perspective are regularly undertaken by every member of the team and their leader.

               Habit to develop: Use your imagination.

Be creative! When we dabble with our artistic side, or try something new in a discipline outside our professional expertise, we unleash our imagination. Play with a new idea, concept or experience. It keeps our thinking and perspective fresh.

Tenacity: Determination and grit create the momentum to move forward and the mindset for success.

               Habit to develop: Have a thinking partner.

A thinking partner is someone who can help you reframe situations and circumstances. Many leaders engage a trusted person outside the organization who can help them turn problems into possibilities. These people often act as accountability partners as well, asking questions and providing insight and encouragement when leaders feel stuck. This is some of the most rewarding time I spend with clients.

Here are some questions to help you get started in your own change process:

  1. Imagine the last time you went to the front of the room to speak about implementing a new change. What did the people in the room think about your openness, your humility, your creativity, your tenacity?
  2. Which of those imagined “scores” would you like to change?
  3. What new habit would help you improve in this area?
  4. Who can help hold you accountable to being the kind of leader you want to become?

I encourage you to take a half an hour and think through these questions. When we stop and assess ourselves, choose something to change, and then implement those new behaviors, we are building our own change resilience.

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.


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!


Change is both a constant and a challenging part of our professional lives. Leading change and managing change are different skills, and learning to navigate both processes successfully is essential to long term leadership success.

I capture the difference between leading change and managing change in this way:  It’s all in the direction of your gaze.

Leading change requires a leader to look up and out in the direction one wants to travel and to describe how to get there. 

Managing change requires the manager to look across the organization and down into their area of influence, and adequately describe and oversee the work that needs to be executed.

There is more to it, of course. But asking, “Which direction are you looking?” will offer a fairly good insight into whether you are engaged in leading change or managing it.

To effectively navigate from Here to There a leader must look in both directions.

Knowing which one captures your attention and imagination at this point in your career is an important insight that can help ensure that you are both doing the work you love and serving the organization well.

Do you notice the details? Do you easily see the relationships between tasks, teams, people and projects? Are you the consummate planner and implementer? This is the management and execution side of the street.

Alternatively, do you have a talent for seeing opportunities where none exist today? Do you imagine new ways to solve problems? Have a talent for seeing a different future reality than the one that exists today? If so, then you likely thrive in the leadership lane, leading the conception of project and building the strategy upon which a team will succeed.                                   

Discovering which kind of leader you are wired to be at this point in your career can be undertaken by simply noticing which of these two lanes captures your attention.

Then you have to discipline yourself to do what was asked of you as a kid: look both ways before you cross the street!

Organizational success depends on the ability to execute on a great vision.

So, leaders, are you looking both ways as you cross the intersection with your organization? When you do, you can ensure you will get from Here to There successfully.

Tune in to hear Jennifer and Jeff, Voltage Leadership’s CEO, take a deeper dive on this topic on this episode of their radio show Illuminating Leadership.


We are all trying to grow ourselves, our leadership voice and our ability to influence others. The following quotes are great words to ponder and incorporate into your leadership toolkit.                                              

“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy.” –Norman Schwarzkopf  
"Confidence is contagious; so is a lack of confidence." -Vince Lombardi
“It's about doing things that you haven't done before, where you're still kind of a beginner, and not resting on your laurels.” -Caterina Fake, co-founder, Flickrz
"You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed to fail if you don’t try." –Beverly Sills
"You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.” -Mick Jagger
"It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings." -Ann Landers
"I would rather die of passion than of boredom." –Vincent van Gogh
"The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it."  –American Proverb
"A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new." –Albert Einstein
"If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else." –Booker T. Washington
"Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful." –Joshua J. Marine
"Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears." –Les Brown
"When we understand that what we do is not who we are, we then become what we do." –Lee Hubert  

 * Quotes courtesy of the Lynchburg News-Advance

Thanks for reviewing the quotes. Now, the challenge for you is to determine how these quotes will influence your leadership style. I look forward to hearing how you applied the quotes and what you are doing differently. I wish you continued success and let us know about your achievements!


Executive Presence: The “It” Factor

If our impact is 7% words, 38% tone of voice, and 55% body language, is it any wonder that leaders who learn how to say what they need to say end up getting better results?

I will never forget the lunch meeting I had several years ago. Our team was meeting at a restaurant located on a busy Chicago street. If you have experienced the lunch rush in downtown Chicago, you are familiar with the pace and volume of people walking hastily to their destinations in the lunch hour. This lunch was memorable because of what happened before I even reached the door.

When I arrived, I found the leader already waiting. Outside. He was standing just to the side of the front door at the sidewalk, so that he could meet and greet us and welcome us to the meeting. He greeted me, shook my hand, and thanked me for coming. After a few words, he gestured for me to continue inside to our table while he waited for the remaining people to arrive. This habit of hospitality made an impression. I left that meeting feeling appreciated and valued: he had stood outside and waited to greet me and thank me personally for taking the time to come. He respected my time as well as my thinking: during the lunch he made sure he heard from everyone at the table, he reviewed the agenda we had prepared, and he checked to see if there was anything new we needed to review.

The experience is a bright spot in a sea of professional interactions I’ve had over the years.

The number one differentiator between a good leader and a great leader is their capacity to attend to their impact and be intentional about designing and delivering messages that come across well.

Thinking about the experience you as a leader are delivering to the people you serve with is an important habit of mind. As you prepare for your next meeting, take a moment to think about the experience you want to deliver.

  • How can you communicate appreciation for the time people are taking to come together?
  • In what ways can you set shared parameters for the focus of the meeting so that everyone participates, time is used efficiently, and the best thinking emerges from around the table?

Simple acts of warm hospitality make people comfortable, and open up people’s state of mind to more naturally trust and share. Focus throughout the meeting keeps people on track and allows for bright, creative thinking to emerge. Good habits of discourse allow no one voice to dominate and all voices to be heard creating environments of collegiality and creativity.

To get the best thinking from all the people make a habit of Rounding.

Rounding is simple.  You set 3 expectations and ask a question:

1.       “We are going to go around the circle and hear from everyone in turn.”

2.       “Hold your questions and comments until we are done going around the room.”

3.       “Be concise with your comments, as we will have a deeper dive once we finish the round.” (You can even set a time limit for everyone. 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes, depending on the depth of thinking you are trying to bring into the room.)

Then, ask your question, and start your round!

One more tip for successful rounding, if you have an important problem to solve, send the question the day before so that the people who prefer to think through problems more thoroughly have the time to do so. This ensures equitable participation by everyone at the table.

What experience are you giving people when you show up?  Stop to think about how you and your habits are landing on your team, your colleagues, your leaders.   

Take a moment and design one of your interactions today. Simply stop and think about how you could best approach a situation. Look at it from the point of view of the other person.

Is there something you can change to better communicate? Think it through and try something new.


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.


A fresh new year is well underway as we continue driving for results in “Q2”.  Are things unfolding as you had planned during strategy sessions at the tail end 2016? If so, great and congratulations. If not, what actions should be taken and how should they be communicated?

In other words, how hard should leadership push for results and how should they go about it? This is a question that all leaders face at different times. The answer to it often determines how culturally engaged the workforce is.

·       Are leaders “pushing” on the right things?

·       Are these things fully understood before actions are taken?

·       Are the right actions being taken at the right time vs prematurely?

·       What are the leadership skills necessary to rally the troops during these trying times?

If you have been there, or are there now, you will want to explore the use of an excellent management tool we’ve developed called iPUSH to hit the finish line strong and move the needle.

The iPUSH Model:  Please answer these three preliminary questions

1.       What are you potentially struggling with that needs attention now?
2.      What are the right developmental goals to work on over the next 3-6 months?
3.      What are the best ways to interface with you as your Accountability Partner to move the needle?

Then cycle the responses to these questions thru iPUSH

              i PUSH stands for:

              i = Intention, succeeding with intentionality
              P = Problem(s) to resolve
              U = Understanding problems fully before acting
              S = Setting the right actions in motion at the right time
              H = Hitting the Finish Line strong

The goal here is to become an Accountability Partner, one who shares in the real work of ensuring the deliverable is met. In other words, the push-or is on the same Team as the Push-ee and they win together.

So, go ahead and PUSH, but make sure intentions are combined with integrity and that the Problems to resolve are fully Understood before Setting the right actions in motion at the right time, Hitting the finish line strong!

iPUSH, How about you…?


Freeze Frame…!

OK queue the J. Geils band. It’s time to catch one of your current or rising stars doing something well and tell them. In other words, actively practice the art of appreciation.

The Art of Appreciation

Most leaders, when asked, will quickly tell you how much they appreciate their team members.  They’ll even give specific examples of the types of things that they do that they appreciate so much.  However, their team members might not necessarily know this. Why is that the case? 

Research from Leadership IQ stated that in 42% of companies the most engaged employees are actually the lowest performers.  This happens when top performers are underappreciated and low performers, as research says, “have fallen in love with their cushy jobs” and don’t realize just how poorly they are performing. 

It is important to grasp that leaders should use a more effective ratio of appreciation to correction with the right people, doing the right things to improve results. In other words, there is no participation trophy.

Some research, conducted by Emily Heaphy and Marcial Losada, suggests that the average ratio of feedback for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones). But the average for the low-performing teams was 0.36 to 1, almost 3 negative comments for every positive one. (HBR, The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman)

Don’t be caught “Culturally Overdrawn”
Many leaders have indicated that, regardless of what research shows, their experience with the ratio of multiples of praise to criticism works like a bank account. If we make enough positive “deposits” we don’t end up with a relational deficit when the inevitable challenging feedback comes. Don’t be caught with “Culturally Insufficient Funds.”

Sharing appreciation in public shows the team that the leader is present and engaged. It helps build trust and morale. If you are “too busy” to do this, think again. How each leader expresses appreciation is as varied as there are leaders. However, some basic guidelines are:

·       Be Timely

·       Be Specific

·       Be Public

·       Be Unarguable

·       Be Real

So, take out your real or imaginary “management camera” and go out and get some Freeze Frames of people doing their jobs well and share them. You can even play some J. Geils in the background if you want.



Slam! The palm of a hand comes down hard on the table top. “Enough!” frustration erupts from one side of the conference room. The room falls silent, stunned.

In another room across town, the wave of a hand, dismisses a new idea and “moves us on.” In the mind of that direct report, whose thinking and insight were so casually dismissed, creativity shuts down. Embarrassment and frustration take root.  Around the table people take note: “It is risky to bring an idea to this table.”

Around the corner, a CEO paces the floor, and with wringing hands wonders how to bridge the growing revenue gap. What new idea or opportunity might infuse the organization with needed energy and capital? How will they face the mounting liabilities? These questions remain locked in a worried mind.

Meanwhile, back in the first conference room a chorus of whispers arise as the meeting concludes.

“Wow. What was that?”

“That is the last time I stick my neck out here.”

“Guess he finally got his, didn’t he?”

“About time.”

Inside the minds of each of these leaders, decisions are being made. Some stop contributing. Some spend their creativity elsewhere. Some will stir the pot of dissention and conflict. Some will check out and find another outlet for their passion, somewhere else to fulfill their purpose.

Have you ever witnessed one of these scenarios?

Each one describes a situation in which a different conversation could have taken place.

There are consequences for all our conversations. Each one we have, all day long.

As leaders, the consequences are significant.  How a leader steps into a conversation makes all the difference.

·       Will we open people up, or shut them down?

·       Will we build trust and resilience on our team, or will we be destructive with our words?

Learning to curate conversations well is a primary skill for successful leaders, which is why I spent the last year becoming certified as a Conversational Intelligence™ coach. Conversational Intelligence™ is a neuroscience based approach to leading and facilitating conversations which equips leaders with a base of scientifically grounded knowledge about conversations with a set of conversation practices that are designed to shift the neurochemistry of the participants from fear to trust, from corrosive conflict, to constructive candor.

It was a terrific and demanding experience. We studied the bio-chemistry and neuroscience of conversation, we curated conversations, and we were evaluated by our peers. All of us grew skills that will serve us and the leaders we coach for a lifetime, and I was reminded once again that it takes practice, patience, and persistence to have a meaningful conversation. These types of conversations are rewarding on many levels. In a business setting these rewards hit both our bottom line and drive our internal and external reputation as pace-setters.

Of the many tools and tactics we learned, there was a common practice at the root of every desired outcome, whether the situation was:

·       To mine a roomful of people for their best idea;

·       To create energy and enthusiasm on teams that have suffered a loss or setback; or

·        To rebuild trust after harsh words.

What was the common practice? The starting point?


Learning to foster Conversational Intelligence™ takes time and a commitment, and it all begins with listening. Quieting the mind and opening the ears. Listening is an art that takes practice. To listen we offer our silence and ask our minds to think not about our response, but to instead imagine the world through the eyes of the speaker.

·       What is happening for them?

·       How is this experience they now share shaping their beliefs?

·       How might past experiences have shaped the beliefs that are interpreting the experience being recounted?

Right or wrong in their ideas and interpretation, people need to be heard before they are willing to change their thinking. Listening is the gift that opens up conversations, and gives rise to understanding.

Listen and Then…

Follow your listening not with a statement, argument, or view, but rather with a curious question.

Judith E. Glaser, the creator of Conversational Intelligence likes to say it this way:

“Ask question for which you have no answer.”

Ask a purely generous question. By that I mean a question that is not trying to convince someone else of your worldview, but rather a question that guides you and the speaker to discover something together neither of you knew before. A purely generous question changes the emotional climate of a room.  

On the other side of that experience is greater trust, respect and, best of all, some common ground upon which both of you can stand.

I wish you well as you curate conversations in your life and work today.

Listen. Be curious. Ask questions. Savor the answers. If you succeed, the person will become curious about you too, and trust will begin emerge from out nowhere.


Are you still using leadership methods, thinking and books from a previous generation? I think many of us probably are and I wonder if they are still serving us. I went to George Washington University for my Master’s in Adult and Leadership Development. We learned that it generally takes about 20-25 years for a concept to move from academia to accepted practice in the workplace. If that is the case and still true, then we are just now adopting the best practices from the late 80’s to mid 90’s.  Wow, let’s think about how much has changed since then. I started my professional career after graduating college in 1990. 

Here are a few things I remember about this time period:

1.      Inter-office envelopes

2.      Smoking allowed at each work station

3.      Wet bars in the leader’s offices; drinks offered to me at meetings starting after 4pm

4.      Coat and tie were expected every day

5.      No email

6.      Internet not used yet

7.      Videoconferencing barely available but not really used

8.      Leaders were expected to make all the decisions and held all the information

9.      I would describe the workplace as a command and control structure with lots of hierarchy; middle managers and not much transparency.


These were the formative years for a lot of the leaders in today’s workplace. Many of us learned how to be managers by watching what we were seeing and being trained in the classroom on the trends of this time period.


When was the last time you critically thought about leadership style, leadership brand and the behaviors you use to lead your team? Is it time for a check-up?


I see different things in the workplace today. Here are some of the best practices I see working with our clients:

1.      Set clear expectations and then give plenty of room for the person to perform. Employees need to understand where they are going but do not need to micro-managed each step of the way.

2.      Command and Control can be effective but cannot be your only style. If I am bleeding and coming into the emergency room, then I want someone to take charge and lead the situation. However, I also want that team to take time at the end of the shift to do an after action review and ask: Did we achieve our desired outcomes? What went well today? What could we have done better? Thus, a leader must be open to feedback to achieve optimal results.

3.      Purpose maters!!! People have a desire to understand the why behind their work. If you want engagement from your team members, tell them the purpose. Sure, we all have things that are delegated to us that we do not really want to do. However, if we understand why our work matters and who our works serves, it is much easier to do our best work and stay engaged.

4.      Feedback is a gift! Many leaders I work with are stuck in the old days—they say things like, “If I do not say anything to you, then you are doing a good job.” Or they think, “Nobody gave me feedback or cared about my development so why should I.” I say, “Too Bad!” Stop with the whining and instead think about what you wish you had received. Today’s workforce will have choices about where to work and they will stay where they have a chance to grow, develop, be engaged, recognized and succeed.


Good luck on your leadership style audit. Here are a couple of resources that I like to share with leaders to help them—Drive by Daniel Pink; Deep Work by Cal Newport and The Next Level by Scott Eblin. Let me know what you discover about your leadership style!


Wild- adjective, something or someone that is untamed, uncontrolled or unrestrained

Innocent- adjective, not responsible for or directly involved yet suffering its consequences

Shuffle- adjective, a dance done every day and every night with no clear steps, just to get by

On my way in to work last week, I noticed that the highway was jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive. It made me wonder, why were they on this power drive? The power drive can loosely be interpreted as turf protecting, aka the accumulation of political “power” with an end goal of spending it on the perceived need for self-preservation.

The power drive is often symptomatic of the “C-Suite Shuffle” (ie, senior leadership or systems that are more concerned with “looking good” vs ensuring that roles, responsibilities and expectations are 100% crystal clear for all downstream stakeholders). The result may be a disconnect from middle management and the front-line job doers (the very people needed to deliver the desired results).

Lack of clarity about roles, responsibilities and expectations results in Confusion, Drama and Frustration or “CDF.” Once a culture is afflicted with CDF, it is very hard to de-toxify. It can lead to circumstances that cause some people to do something Wild. This may be the long-term contributor who has been a great employee but has become so frustrated, one day they do their best “George Bailey” and exit in flames of glory.

Lack of clarity may also impact the Innocent super star and rising star employees who may feel they have not been “heard.” Weary from the drama of living with the power drive and being very marketable, they defect, further exacerbating Confusion, Drama and Frustration.

Fortunately, we have an excellent tool to keep us from walking into a Tenth Avenue Freezeout. And it works with every level applied to. It’s called Ownership: 5 Steps to breakdown Confusion, Drama and Frustration.

Step 1: Each Team has its own Mission - Vision and Values that drives its behaviors & code of conduct.  This is not the same as the organization’s MVV and applies to every Team from the C-Suite on down.

Step 2: Each Team’s leader, regardless of their title, is responsible for ensuring that roles, responsibilities and expectations are 100% crystal clear for all stakeholders.

Step 3:  Each Team’s leader is responsible for ensuring that any issues resulting from Group Dynamics are handled by confirming that Step 2 took place. Absent that, it’s a performance issue for the Group.

Step 4:  Each Team’s leader is responsible for ensuring that issues resulting from Interpersonal Dynamics are handled by confirming that Step 2 took place. Absent that, it’s a performance issue for them.

Step 5:  Each Team’s leader is responsible for ensuring that issues resulting from Individual Dynamics are handled by confirming that Step 2 took place. Absent that, it’s a performance issue for the person.

Good luck and let us know how it goes. You can send us a comment or even your favorite Bruce Springsteen song if you want to!


Listening:  again and again leaders tell me they or their team member needs to develop this skill.  Across industries and around the globe I hear leaders say, “I wish they would just listen!” or, in a better moment, “I need to learn to be a better listener.  I would be a better leader if I were a better listener.

Listening is a skill most of us in modern culture have not practiced:  when I train clients and I give people time to practice listening, I always ask:

"When did you learn to read?”

 “How old were you when you first wrote your name across a page?  Was it with a crayon or a pencil?"

The answers come... Reading:  3, 4, 5; Writing my name:  preschool or kindergarten.

Then I ask: "When did you learn to listen?"

Only the sound of crickets breaks the silence.

A dawning realization comes:  we are not taught to listen as children. This has profound consequences on us as grown-ups. We might have learned to keep quiet, but listening is not silence, it is more.

 Listen to connect.

I have spent the last month engaged in an intentional practice of listening:  listening in order to connect with the other person.

Giving myself a month to intentionally practice my capacity to listen, and not to simply listen, but listening to connect has been profoundly impactful.

·       It has given space in my marriage for more compassion.

·       It has provided space to my clients for more self-discovery.

·       It has given space in training for more creativity.

·       It has given me a chance to have my confidence grow:  I have learned it will be OK if I am simply quiet and able to notice others more deeply.

Both my other-awareness and my self-awareness are greater.  I can see how much space I take up and the quality with which I take the space.

When I listen to connect, I inhabit the space in a more profound way:  I don't take the space, instead I share it.  There is more communion and community, less debate and dissention.  There is more conversation and questions, less combat and more creativity.

I find that I breathe more deeply and that, oddly, when I am more open and aware of others, I am more in touch with myself.

I come to the end of this month of intentional practice with more compassion for myself and others:  more patience; more wisdom.

My capacity to be perceptive and insightful lies in my ability to stop, look and listen.  I notice others more.  The atmosphere of my days has shifted and grown more meaningful.  All of this, I enjoy.

While my coaching and facilitation experiences with listening to connect have been rewarding, the most enjoyable moments of listening to connect have been with my son.  Asking him to help his Mama understand what it is like to be a 9 year old boy opened him up to all kinds of sharing.  All I had to do was ask him a question for which I had no answer.  He knew I didn’t know, and so he felt safe sharing openly.

While I am grateful for the insights with clients, I treasure the insights with my family.

I encourage you to take up this practice for 30 days.  Listen, really listen.  Listen to connect.

Here are some quick tips:

·       Strive to ask questions for which you have no answer.

·       Make eye contact:  catch and maintain that person’s gaze.

·       Savor their words.

·       Stay curious:  try to imagine the life and experiences that person has had that led them to string those words together in that particular way.

·       Suspend your agenda.  Simply listen.

As you listen, search for ways to connect with what you are hearing, and to help that person feel that you have truly heard them and value their words.

Conversational Intelligence®, or C-IQ™, is an emerging concept among Leadership Development professionals.  The ability to cultivate conversations that allow us to speak openly and honestly, and then to make wise decisions together is essential for innovation environments in business, in government and at home.  C-IQ™ empowers organizational resilience and creativity, and creates a path forward in the face of conflict.

In recent weeks, the work of Conversational Intelligence® in our culture, corporations and community has become more urgent than ever.  It is essential that we grow in our capacity to listen, to share and to discover from one another in deeper conversations that are grounded in an effort to listen and understand, and then to find ways to collaborate, compromise and create for the common good. 

The High Potential Zone

The baseball season is winding to a close, and for this Cubs fan, the close of this season is both exciting and excruciating. What will happen next? I almost can’t look. So, in this particularly compelling season as a former Chicago northsider and in honor of my Chicago Cubs, Voltage Leadership brings you this baseball themed set of Peak Performance tips:

Welcome to the High Potential Zone!

The High Potential Zone is a ballfield where, with all the right moves you can advance your team across home plate by hitting all the bases: Roles, Recognition, Review and Refine.

 1.       Roles: Define Expectations

2.       Recognition: Appreciating Effort

3.       Review: Giving Feedback

4.       Refine: Teaching and Coaching so that the team achieves its next level of performance.

 We begin with the pitch across the plate.

 The first thing every employee or team needs is a clear role to play.

·       What is the assignment?

·       What is the objective?

·       Who do you need this person to be to get the job done successfully?

These are the questions your employees are asking when they step up to the plate.

Leaders: Are you delivering a clear understanding of your employee’s role today?

Tip: Ask!

Does your team know what they need to do to succeed in this season of your company’s life and leadership? Do they understand their Roles?

And have you asked yourself this question: Are they in the right Role in the right season?

When leaders ask their team members to describe their strategic role within the organization or project leaders discover the missing links in their own communication and can make course corrections early.

In baseball the batter needs to know if they need to bunt, hit a grounder to third, or swing for the fences. A good manager will send their player off to the batter’s box with a clear idea of what the assignment is and how it fits into the overall game strategy.

I recently met with a team that was not clear about the purpose of the game they were playing. That lack of clarity was slowing them down. People knew what the assignment was, but they did not understand why. After meeting with the team I immediately signaled the leader and let him know the problem: The team needed to understand their “Why?” They needed to know why they were doing what they were doing.

A lack of clarity about strategy (Why are we doing what we are doing?) can create a lot of unnecessary resistance.

The leader’s response was swift: he course-corrected, shared the vision for the future and the specific why for this assignment. The next time I was onsite the team was clipping around the bases at their normal speed.

To get the runner on base, Clarity Counts.

Once you have a batter on base, it is time for Recognition.

It is a big achievement to get on base. Now you don’t have a batter, you have something more: you have a runner! Celebrate the success, and keep them focused on the next goal: rounding the bases.

Recognition keeps things moving and lets your people know what to keep doing.

To continue to advance the runner, it is time for Review.

At second base the runner watches for signals from the third base coach so they know when and how hard to run. Even the best employees need to know how they are doing and what they need to do next to keep succeeding. One easy tool to use is a quick “Start, Stop, Continue” conversation. What do I need to start doing, what do I need to stop doing, and what do I need to continue doing to be successful and stay in the game?

Finally, we get to third base. It is time to Refine the skills.

At third base the player and the third base coach are together. It is a time for clear, specific coaching on how to cross home plate and score. It is time for direct one on one conversation that is specific and succinct. Refining skills means learning something new, taking a different approach, and preparing for the final stretch. The team is in scoring position, and all you need is for a couple things to go right and you can score another point and get ready for another trip around the bases.

Roles. Recognition. Review. Refine. When you are in the High Potential Zone, you get to do great work with great people and get great results.

Once you get around those bases once, keep it up! Leadership never stops, so keep going. Get better and better. Cheer for your team. And for this baseball fan that means: Go Cubs!



What causes us to notice and reflect upon both how we behave and how we are responded to by others?

It might be that sinking feeling we have when we walk into a meeting that we’ve prepared for, only to realize that what we are ready for is not what is about to happen.

It could be the frustration we feel when, after many years of successful collaboration on another team, we join a new group only to discover that we can’t seem to fit in, find our role, or figure out how to be successful.

It may be that we have achieved a new level of success, but find that, with that change, we have lost our competitive edge, our confidence, and our camaraderie with colleagues.

Paying attention to how we land on other people; how we make them feel when they are in our presence, is essential if we want to succeed in the long term.

Being a bull in a china shop might get us promoted a few times by people impressed by our bravado, but eventually we will get handed a bill for all the damage we have done.  We ignore the impact of our actions at our own peril.

In my cohorts of leaders who are working to define and refine their executive presence, I encourage them to begin with two simple steps:

1.      Become Aware of your behavior and how your words, actions, silence, and inactions affect the people around you.  Everything we do and don’t do has some kind of impact and the higher we ascend in leadership, the bigger our impact zone becomes.

2.      Be Intentional about your choices:  your words, your tone, your timing, and your approach have various impacts.  Thinking through the effect we want to have on others and then designing our presence to match that desired outcome is worth the time it takes.

So the next time you have a sinking feeling when you walk into a meeting, or find yourself feeling frustrated about your interactions with your team, follow these four steps:

1.      Stop.  Pausing is powerful.  It gives you a moment to respond instead of react.  Next,

2.      Reflect.  What is actually, factually happening?  Who, What, When, Where, Why and How questions are a good place to start.  Then ask yourself, what part of this is fact and what part of this is my interpretation of the facts?  Seek to know the difference. Remember the meaning changes depending on the point of view of the narrator. Try to narrate your stories from the point of view of the people around you.

3.      Imagine.  Get a clear picture in your mind of the effect you want to have.  This allows us to then think: what approach do I want to take to achieve this outcome?  And then: what next step can I take with this person/people?

4.      Act.  Always act with intention.

When I practice these four steps; Stop, Reflect, Imagine, and Act, the interaction usually goes well.  When I feel rushed, or like a victim of circumstance and I don’t take time to act with intention, I miss the mark.  My coaching colleague Scott Eblin says it this way, “Awareness + Intention = Mindfulness.”[i]

What kind of impact do you want to have on the people around you?

How can you design your actions to be in alignment with your desired outcome?

 Asking these questions is the first step towards getting where you want to go.

[i] Scott Eblin, Overworked and Overwhelmed (Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley and Sons) 2014.


I was working with a leader recently who said she felt like she was just scrambling through every day and could not remember the last time she had any fun.

I asked her, “What is it like to be one of your direct reports?”

She stopped for a moment and said, “I bet it is stressful, confusing, tense and not a lot of fun.”

I went further and asked her to describe her one-on-one meetings.  She said she was often late, distracted and multi-tasking (for example, she would email while “listening” to her employee.)  She said that there really was no agenda and that it often felt like they just hit the crisis of the day and rarely got to the important conversations.  She would finish (often a few minutes late) and then race off to the next meeting. Does this sound like your day?  I know it sounds a lot like the day of many of the leaders I work with.

In our highly caffeinated, always go-go work world of today, it can be hard to ever slow down and really connect with others.  We are constantly getting pings, bongs and alerts from our phone about the next important topic, meeting or task. When was the last time you were in a meeting and everyone was really present?  It seems like people are always sneaking a glance at their phone, laptop or tablet.  All of the noise and distractions keep us from being really present.  We miss out on using the brainpower in the room and really connecting to solve the business challenges. 

We can make a choice and decide to be really present.  In an earlier blog, I discussed becoming aware of our choices and then being intentional with our actions.  Let’s go back to the first leader. 

She is aware that the one-on-one is not going well. 

·       What if she was intentional about being on time?

·       Next, she could ask her direct report what their desired outcome for the meeting was.

·       She could then share her desired outcomes. 

·       They would then agree to stay focused and put away the electronics.

When the leaders I work with employ this strategy, they find that they can finish a one hour meeting in 30-45 minutes because both sides are really listening, present and connected. The direct reports also feel listened to for the first time in a long time.  Additionally, the leaders are reminded how much they enjoy the conversations with their direct reports.  If they are not careful, they might even find they are capable of relaxing a little and having fun!  What, what?!!

I know some of you are saying this sounds great but who has the time to do this?  I would counter that you are spending the time, but much of it is wasted trying to do too many things at once.  Take a moment to plan out your next one-on-one, use the method above, and see if you are able to really be present with your direct reports and/or team this week.

Thanks and create a great day!