"What we’ve got here is…"


    Looking for a new Ice Breaker? Try this!

It is intended for break out groups, team meeting or shift huddles. This usually means groups
of 15 or less, but larger groups can be sub divided as needed. Pass out the list below and give
them these instructions.

“For the next 5 minutes, everybody here can only communicate in lines from tv commercials,
 tv shows or movies. Please use choices from the list below or use your own. It’s a family show,
so nothing too risqué. Each selection can only be used once per group”.

The leader starts if off by saying, “On my way into work today somebody told me ______”


From past experiences with this exercise we can say that most people had fun.
Some erupted in laughter as the connections were made, ie “Got Milk – You Talkin’ to Me?” or "You can pay me now, or pay me later - Show me the money” or "Raise your hand if you're sure - There’s no crying in baseball!” or Mama says, 'Stupid is as stupid does.”

Typically, some go off the script and use their own favorite quotes which gets them even more engaged. To the few who were annoyed - “Go ahead, Make my Day”

Have fun with this ice breaker and notice the energy in the room shift. Let us know what you learn by doing this with your group!

Characteristics of Good CEO’s


I am asked often what defines a good CEO. This is quickly followed up by stories of “let me tell you about our CEO!” Normally, it is not to tell me a good story! I have the pleasure of coaching many CEO’s of large and small companies, public and private, family owned and employee owned. I can say that there is no perfect CEO but I have found some characteristics that I will share here. I would also encourage you to listen to the Freakonomics broadcast. They have been doing a great series on How to Become a C.E.O.

HBR wrote an interesting article in the May-June 2017 issue called “What Sets Successful CEO’s Apart” by Botelho, Powell, Kincaid and Wang. Here is the link: https://hbr.org/2017/05/what-sets-successful-ceos-apart 

The 4 keys from their study were:

1.     Deciding with speed and conviction

2.     Engaging for impact

3.     Adopting Proactively

4.     Delivering Reliably

Here are some of the ones that I see in the successful CEO’s I coach—

-Set clear expectations

-Spend 50% or more of your time on long term planning

-Set clear expectations and give people room to be creative

-Learning continuously

-Spend time networking with people outside the organization

-Invite conflict but find consensus before moving on

-Mentor key talent

-Understand the needs of the Board/Key Stakeholders and Lead them

-Recognize accomplishments and celebrate the behaviors you want to foster

-Understand you are on a stage and everyone hangs on your words

-You have a serious job but do not take yourself too seriously—show you are human

-Find a coach, mentor or good executive round table to be able to have a thinking partner

The CEO role is a demanding, challenging and can be all consuming. Many of the CEO’s I know are lonely. This is the reason that many seek executive coaching or join an executive round table. I highly encourage this so that the CEO has a thinking partner which can help hold them accountable. The most successful CEO’s are really great at prioritizing and know how to say no. They also know how to delegate effectively without directing the work. The CEO’s that I see that get burned out tend to direct work, feel it must be done a certain way or do not hire/grow strong enough talent around them.

A final characteristic that I see in successful CEO’s are their ability to not take things so personally. They do from time to time but most of the time they can hear the feedback and can attach the problems they are choosing. My favorite line from this week was from a female CEO who said this about a star performer-“I personally think she is a b*t$h, but I think I will let it go.” I asked why she felt this way and she said, “I do not have to be her friend, she does great work and her people like working with her.” This is a hard thing to learn but sums up life as a CEO. You have to pick your battles, be confident in your decisions, lead with vision, expectations and recognition and try to understand that everyone is watching while still being authentic.

If you are a CEO or hope to be one, what is the characteristic that you want to develop? For me, it has been not getting distracted by the day to day and spending time thinking long term. It also took me a while to not let things affect me personally. Let me know what you are working on or if you need help. Good luck!


These Steps Map Your Future Fulfillment. Are You Ready to Take Them?


In my recent blog article, Look Back to Move Forward, I encouraged a Review Process of the previous year before sitting down to reflect on the changes to make in 2018.  The review allows our vision to be tethered to reality, while simultaneously harnessing the energy of success.

Then, with clear eyes and a sense of accomplishment, we can look ahead to the coming year.  

With a clear picture of the change that has already taken place in our lives, we begin our thinking about the coming year with a sense of possibility:

I achieved.

I learned.

I am ready to do something new.

Something more…

You are ready for your Future Fulfillment Questions.  Here we begin to Imagine:

1.      What do I want to accomplish in 2018?

2.      What do I want to learn?

3.      What do I want to achieve?

4.      What new approach do I want to explore?

Jot all these ideas down.  Then go back and look at what was possible last year.

With that as your reality check, plan and prioritize.  Ask:

·        What can I really commit to accomplishing?

·        What habit could I add to my day that will best contribute to accomplishing my priorities?

·        What habit could I erase that will best contribute to accomplishing my priorities?

Now you are ready to Commit.

All you need now is a Habit App, and you are ready to go.

HabitBull, Productive, Strides and Habitica are just a few of the free apps that can help you make progress on a productive, rewarding 2018.

Cheers to your success as we ring out one year and ring in the new!

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.

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?


You’re there again…sitting with the team or the boss or maybe a client or colleague and want to make sure you don’t miss anything important. Later, as you review the meeting notes, you may be struggling to understand what they mean. How can that be? After all, you were there and wrote the notes. Though some of the notes may resemble a really impressive collection of doodles, meaningless symbols or some foreign language. Other than this meaning that you were supposed to attend medical school, it is a very common affliction we could call “Notus Incompletus.

You almost never need to write everything down that’s said in a meeting; in fact, you probably shouldn’t. Writing too much during a meeting can keep you from being totally engaged with the conversation happening right in front of you. However, you do want to capture the important themes and to do’s from the meeting.

Fortunately, Voltage Leadership has some helpful options for making your notes super-efficient. Try one of these strategies in your next meeting:

  • One Summary Sentence. If one person is speaking, then, you only get to write one sentence to summarize what they said. This forces you to process the information they shared (as opposed to automatically writing it down) into what is meaningful to you.
  • Make Each Meeting Point a Single Word. Try to distill each person’s point into just one word. Often, a person is really only trying to express one main point, even if they use copious words to get there.
  • Only Write Down Questions. When you have a question, write it down. When you get the answer, write that down. That way, you have a record of everything you thought was important enough to ask about.
  • Go Last - Wait until the end of the meeting to take notes. What did you learn? What do you need to take action on? If you had to get someone else up to speed on this meeting, what would you tell them?
  • Be Present for Whomever is Speaking. If you’re having trouble focusing on the topic at hand, try focusing on the people instead. Set a goal to give every single speaker your undivided attention.
  • Ask if You Really Need to be there.  You don’t have to be rude in order to get out of a meeting. Ask the organizer if you are really needed in this meeting? If are not essential for the meeting but need the information, ask if you can read through someone’s notes after the meeting.
  • Develop a Team member by Sending Them.  Make sure the organizer is not expecting you to bring something your proxy won’t be able to provide. You can catch up later on what you need to know.

Give these note taking methods a try to find the one that works for you. We hope they'll help you become more focused and engaged during your meetings.

For a more detailed discussion on getting the most out of your meetings, check out our radio show, VoltCast: Illuminating Leadership.


Overwhelmed.  Frustrated.  Or both.

I sit across the table from leaders and hear these common refrains time and again. Either the comments are autobiographical or they are directed toward others:  their peers, team members, direct reports, the CEO.

“I have too much on my plate.”

“There is too much on the horizon.”

“So much is changing so rapidly in the marketplace, that I feel my brain can’t keep up!”

“They don’t move quickly enough.”

“The thinking isn’t right to meet our need right now.  They need to be focused on different things.”

“Where is the accountability: the sense of urgency?”

“Why can’t they think more strategically?”

Leaders at every level wrestle, in different ways, with these same questions:

  • What do I keep?
  • What do I give away?
  • How do I decide?

We need to choose wisely what to delegate and what to keep.  Deliberate Delegation.

When choosing which assignments to give and which to do, I recommend beginning with these 3 questions:

  1. Is the assignment too large for me to accomplish alone?
  2. Does this work present an opportunity to develop others?
  3. Can someone else do this better than I can?

If you answer “yes” to any one of these questions, the task is one that could be delegated.

The next step is to know if it should be delegated.

Once you know you could delegate something, you then need to assess if it is wise to delegate this particular task.  What is the risk? To capture the risk, ask the next two questions:

  1. How urgent is the task?
  2. How important is the task?
  • If something is Very Urgent and Very Important, proceed with caution.  You may not want to delegate this one, unless your team is seasoned and successful.
  • If something is Very Urgent but Not Important, it is a great task to give away to build skills on your team.
  • If something is Not Urgent but Very Important, you have time on your side.  This is a great opportunity to develop your team; building skills, trust, experience and confidence in their work and in their relationships with you and one another.

With these questions in mind, you can make an informed decision about what to keep and what to give away. This is where Deliberate Delegation actually begins. But what are the steps to the process of effective Deliberate Delegation? Check back next week to find out!


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.



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!


Growth environments are created and cultivated intentionally. Business leaders need a growing environment in their business just as farmers need healthy soil and enough rain and sunshine to grow their crops.

If your people cannot grow inside your business, ideas will not take root, productivity and engagement will falter, passions will wilt, and the organization becomes irrelevant.

Have you ever worked in a killjoy environment?

Those kinds of workplaces don’t just kill our joy; they can also kill ideas, our growth, our productivity, our creativity.

When we don’t create growth environments:

·       New ideas don’t take root

·       New experiences are not allowed

When we do create growth environments:

·      people have new experiences

·       individuals and teams learn new things

·       everyone continues to gain competencies in new areas, AND

·       they feel safe even when they fail.

Recently we launched a new radio show at Voltage Leadership.  It was an opportunity to both do something new, and to share what we are discovering about today’s best practices from the successes of our clients.  Here are some simple lessons that we teach and applied to our own new experience as we continue to grow as a company and as a leadership team:

1.      The leader goes first.

Our CEO, Jeff Smith, launched our show by having himself as the guest. In this way, he learned about the experience firsthand before asking the rest of his colleagues and other thought-leaders to join him.  This is both good hospitality and good business.  You can’t be a coach unless you have had the experience, and he gave himself the opportunity to go first and learn so that he could then lead.  

2.      Leaders keep learning.

A great leadership practice is to put yourself continually in the position where you are learning something new from someone else.  There is no better way to equip others to lead than by being constantly in the experience of learning.  We learn and grow as coaches every day, and it is our responsibility to be on the forefront of leadership innovation in order to equip our clients to be at their best.

3.      Start small.

Yes, we chose to launch a radio show, but we committed to a few shows, not a full year. We want the chance to evaluate our progress and measure the experience for impact. Then we can refine, retool and re-launch the experience based on that new knowledge. Usually when you start something new, it fails in total or in part.  Be ready for that and plan accordingly.  Start small so that you can fail fast and fail small.

4.      Create learning environments.

This is the cornerstone of our success and a key ingredient we find in our most successful clients.  When people are allowed to learn, the conditions are right for both the people and the business to grow.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself and your people to test your business’s growth capacity:

·       When was the last time you tried something new at work?

·       Tell me about what happened the last time you failed?

(Was there punishment or coaching?  Did you get pulled from the assignment or encouraged to try again?)

·       How would you rate your ability to test new experiences and ideas?

With these questions you can discover more about the capacity of your culture to punish or to coach, to strip responsibilities or to encourage engagement and accountability.

I have two hopes for you:

·       The next time you miss the target, someone encourages you to aim and try again, and

·       When someone falls short of your expectations, you offer them clear coaching and new tools and tips to go back to the drawing board and try again.