Polarities, Polarities, Polarities-are everywhere?


I know you are saying…I know this word, but what the heck is Jeff talking about! Let’s start with a definition and then we will dive into our regularly scheduled blog. define polarity in the following way—



a. the property or characteristic that produces unequal physical effects at different points in a body or system, as a magnet or storage battery. 

b. the positive or negative state in which a body reacts to a magnetic, electric, or other field. 

2. the presence or manifestation of two opposite or contrasting principles or tendencies. 


a.(of words, phrases, or sentences) positive or negative character. 

b. polar opposition.


We will be discussing Polarities which are interdependent pairs that need each other over time to maintain and gain performance. Since polarities are unavoidable, they are present in every individual, team, and organization.

Here are some examples—

Inhale and Exhale

Rest and Activity


Notice, I say and not or. We need to rest or else we would end up stressed out and in the hospital due to exhaustion. However, if we only rested then we would stop learning and grow rather large! We need to be able to do both things. Let’s look at some polarities for you that might show up in the workplace.


Task and Relationship

Candor and Diplomacy

Encouragement and Analysis

Analysis and Intuition

Planning and Implementing

Coaching and Directing


Notice that each word is either positive or neutral. You do not want to frame one word as a negative because then you would not want to choose this word. Ex. Negative Feedback and Encouragement-who would want to pick negative feedback.

What words resonated with you? Did you find that you are attracted to one more than the other? This is natural. I will give you an example for me. I am more to encouragement than analysis. Thus, I can see the upside of encouragement (better morale, good ideas are developed, etc.) When I look at analysis, I tend to see the negatives (might take too long, might discourage brainstorming, etc.) However, when I am coaching people I ask them to look at the upside of both sides of the pole. Thus, I would ask me, what is the upside of using analysis for you? We might make fewer mistakes, we might choose better ideas, we could mitigate risks, spend our dollars appropriately, etc.


This also applies to teams and organizations. We often see teams that might desire to be:

Agile and Quality

Innovative and Stable

Encouraging and Challenging


Organizations might desire to be:

Centralized and Decentralized

Innovative and High Quality

Structured and Flexible

Okay, there is a lot to learn and understand about polarities. If you want to learn more, please listen to "Mastering Polarities to Achieve Greater Performance". Cara Wilson and I discussed polarities and how they impact the people and organizations we work with. I encourage you to start seeing the polarities in you life. Take time to notice which pole you are more attracted to. Who can help you see the upside of the other pole? What would happen if you challenged yourself to look at the downside of your preferred pole (too much encouragement might keep us from critically assessing ideas; might avoid conflict, etc.) Good luck and remember to look out for the polarities in the world.

The 5 Stay Questions


I recently attended a professional meeting where colleague of mine presented some excellent and timely information.  As our economy heats up and job opportunities become more plentiful, it is incumbent on employers to fully understand why people stay in their jobs. Improving employee engagement and retention is more important then ever to keep high performing people on your team.

It got me thinking about a recent radio show that Voltage CEO Jeff Smith and I did on the topic of retention.  We used the term re-recruiting to describe how to keep valuable people from leaving the organization.

Jeff made the point that when a star performer comes to you, the leader, and says, “I’m thinking about taking an offer from another organization. What do you think my chances are for advancement here?” By that time, it’s too late.  The star performer has already entertained and turned over in their own minds the proposition of working elsewhere, (you are just the last to know).

Below are what Richard Finnegan, the author of The Power of Stay Interviews, calls the five stay interview questions. These may be very appropriate to incorporate into periodic re-recruiting meetings in 1:1 mode behind the manager’s closed door.

1. When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?

The opening clause, “When you travel to work each day”, encourages the employee to imagine their daily commute to capture their everyday images in the here and now. Then asking them what they look forward to drives them to their positive images.

2. What are you learning here?

“Learning” in the present tense sends the compelling message that we want you to grow, to prosper for both yourself and our organization. When employees answer and hear their own lists, they
know they are developing and not standing still.

We encourage managers to engage employees in career discussions built around the word “skills”. For example:

“What skills would you like to build?”
“What skills do you think are required for that position?”
“What skills do you possess that are not being fully utilized on your present role?”

3. Why do you stay here?

The goal here is for the employee to drill down, identify, and then verbalize why they stay. The initial response might be something mundane like,” I have to pay the bills” or “Because its familiar and steady”. The manager may respond by saying something like “Of course, me too, but I really want to learn why you stay. Please take a few moments and let me know what you really think”.

The point is that few employees really take the time to consider why they stay and voice them once they have been challenged to think about them. This is a very “local” discussion, one that hits close to home. It needs to be done thoughtfully as the employee just might be thinking, “Yep you are right. I am so out of here.”.

4. When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?

This question gets to the core of retention issues. Everyone at some point in their tenure thinks about
leaving at one time or another. Some of the drill down questions are:

“How important is that issue to you today?”
“Can I count on you to come 1:1 if you ever feel that way again?”

“What’s the single most important thing I can do to make it better?”
“How often has that happened?”

5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

This question is often seen a lip service or as a cliché. It is about building the trust bridge behind the manager’s closed door. It requires the manager to be comfortable in their own skin and not react defensively. The responses from this dialog often provide insight into regarding how the manager can adapt their leadership style with each employee.

 “Do I recognize you appropriately when you do something well?
 “How do you like to be recognized? Privately? In public?”

“Are my work instructions clear?”
“Are there times you don’t always understand what is expected?”

“Do I seem genuinely interested in your career here?”

“Am I with you enough? Not enough? Too much?”

Love the One You’re With

I am borrowing the song title from the Stephen Stills famous hit from 1970—here is the link in case you want to sing along with me.

I got the idea for the blog listening to an interview on NPR’s Marketplace recently. Host, Kai Ryssdal, asked Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, to discuss a recent mistake that he had made. Nadella paused and then said he sometimes gets distracted by shiny bright objects and forgets about the needs of his current customers. He gets excited about potential new products and forgets that these new features might impact the current customers who have been loyal to Microsoft. He went on to say that he has stopped short of making the mistake, but not before nearly forgetting about the current customers.

What about you? Do you get distracted by the potential new customer and forget about the needs of your current customers? I know I have made this mistake. A couple of years ago, I landed some new customers that took me out of town a good bit, and made it hard for others to reach me for live meetings. The work with the new customers was lucrative, but were short term projects.  My current customers missed the extra touch that I normally gave them, and it was harder to renew work the next time around. If I had spent more time with my current customers, I might have gotten new work and I know I would have had greater loyalty if I had stayed connected. Thus, love the one you’re with! What are you doing to retain your top customers? Do they know how much you value them? What can you proactively do to amaze them?


I think this same concept can apply to our employees. It can be easy to look at our current team as good but not always great. We go to a conference and we meet someone and think they can be amazing for our team. This might be true, and I am not saying to not look for new talent. However, are you taking the time to truly develop your current team that is loyal to you? It is a lot easier to keep a team member that believes in your mission, understands your leadership, and is a cultural match. Instead of loving our current team members, we often covet other people. We tend to see the weaknesses of our team members and forget about their current strengths. I have one client that was loyal to his organization for years. He would receive feedback that he needed to be more direct. He would do this and then he would get feedback that he was too direct. He then would be told he was almost ready for a promotion and then they would bring someone in from the outside. He recently left and is a superstar in the new company. His old company called me and asked if I knew anyone like my coaching client because they said he was a superstar. If they had told him that while he was there and given him more positive feedback, he would never have looked for another role.

Take time this week to re-recruit one of the superstars on your team. Tell them why you love what they do for your organization. Call one of your customers and tell them why you enjoy working with them so much. Let me know how the conversation goes and in the meantime, “Love the One You’re With!”

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?


I spend a great deal of time in creative climates. Voltage Leadership has a sweet spot for successfully equipping people to scale their businesses quickly.

Day in and day out I get to see what success looks like. What I notice, most brightly, as I work with these dynamic, creative teams, is the openness they have. They are open when their thinking and assumptions are challenged. They are willing to admit mistakes (and then they move on). These teams are resilient, strong, collegial and candid.

Two team members I am working with recently had to renegotiate their working relationship. The way they were interacting was leading one team member to feel his skills and competence were being doubted by the other. He didn’t wait for months for the problem to fester and spread. He sat down and the two of them had a conversation about what they could do differently to work together toward a better result. Course corrections were discussed and changes began immediately. The collegial relationship remains strong.

Where did all this capacity for candor begin? I trace it back to the founding element of this organization: its vision is shared. Yes, the skill building classes along the way gave them some additional tools. It is true that the one-on-one coaching helps them to explore new ideas and provides the environment to test new behaviors. But the root of the candor in this organization is that its vision is shared collectively by the people who work there.

This group of people has a vision about what they want to accomplish, and that vision is the source of the creativity and passion for their work. It keeps them open and willing to try new things. It is a truly shared vision.

Successful organizations have a Shared Vision.

A shared vision is one that is not told to people, it is one that is sold to people.

What does a vision sold-not-told accomplish?

Sold visions are shared, co-owned. Told visions are imposed.

When the vision is shared, people become co-owners of the vision. They are stakeholders in the effort they are undertaking. The vision is theirs. They believe in it, and want to see it come to pass.

The challenge is this: sharing. Yes, it is just as hard for working adults leading business operations to share as it was for us as kids. But, like we learned all those years ago, the payoff is worth it!

Sharing a vision means that the vision is co-created. Yes, this means some of the leader’s control over the vision is lost, because the vision is influenced, shaped and transformed by the people who are working together to pursue it. This does not mean the vision changes on a dime, but it does mean that the vision is not pronounced on high by a mighty Leader. A shared vision is cast, and then engaged and re-formed by the people around the leader, until it becomes something everyone owns.

In climates where a shared vision prevails, people work with another level of performance. Some gear beyond 5th gear is engaged. Overdrive: the passion gear.

You have to engage this gear thoughtfully, because it is hard on the engine, but, with regular pit stops, repairs and careful maintenance, these teams experience a lot of victories together, and weather breakdowns successfully. Teams with Shared Vision are intense, resilient and, most of all, fun. They laugh and cut up together, and they also get down to work and focus very quickly. They want to perform well, and so they stick their neck out to talk about problems and they ask for help. They do all this because they trust each other and because they share a common motivation: the vision.

The Shared Vision. 

Recently I worked with a CEO who is casting a new vision for his business. He knows what he wants to accomplish next, and can see the re-imagined company sitting there, brightly, in the future. We sat down to talk through the vision he wanted to cast, and to discuss the approach he plans to take to engage his team.

What lies between him and the realization of this emerging vision is a series of conversations and experiences he will craft for his people that will teach him the other side of the equation: what they want, what they imagine is possible, what they hope for. These ideas and aspirations of his team, engaged thoughtfully and intentionally will do something critical: his vision will be refined and revisited in ways that will deliver the team to a Shared Vision. One that all of them love and pursue together, not one he has to kill himself trying to fulfill and implement alone.

This is the brilliance of Shared Vision. Shared Vision moves an organization from running on one cylinder, to running on all 4, or 6 or 8 cylinders. Sharing the vision gathers the collective horsepower of an organization under the hood and puts it to great use.

What approach did we come up with to begin to cast (and then release) his vision into a Shared Vision process? We designed a series of questions to guide a collective conversation about the future promise of the business.

These questions are intended to unleash the creativity of the team, to untether people from their assumptions about the future, and to guide them to gather together the force of their collective imagination to bring about a vision they can share, own and pursue, together.

I can’t wait to see what happens next for them. I know great things are on the horizon. A vision is about to move from Me to We.

If you have a vision that you are having trouble getting off the ground ask yourself:

·       Have I been curious about what others imagine?

·       Have I asked thoughtful questions?

·       Have I asked about the experiences and insights of others?

·       Would the people on my team say I am curious about and engaged in their own aspirations?

·       Would the people on my team say I am committed to their long-term success?

·       Would the people on my team indicate that I regularly solicit their thinking and ideas?

Casting Shared Vision is a two way street. To have people come along with you, it helps to show you are willing to go along with them. Enjoy the ride!


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.


“Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” (Proverbs 29:18, NASB)  They can’t focus, can’t reach their goal, and can’t follow their dream.  An older translation says, “Without vision, the people perish.”  (KJV)  Without vision, people lose the vitality that makes them feel alive and engaged.

 Vision is more than a vision statement to be dusted off once in a while and then forgotten.  It is the foundational “here is where we are and there is where we are going” cultural underpinning that defines an organization’s uniqueness.  

So why then is so little energy invested in keeping vision vibrant?  Often times, this is because the Leader doesn’t understand, or has forgotten about, their role as Initiator.

 In the organizational construct, there are typically 4 predominant roles:  

·       Initiator

·       Ideator

·       Elaborator

·       Completer

Without the Initiator, there is no initial vision.  More importantly, without the Initiator functioning as the visionary pace setter, the organization lacks common purpose.  We could almost say the Initiator functions more as the pace maker rather than the pace setter as they keep the muscle of the organizational heart (vision) pumping new life into the culture.

They do this by functioning in a space that focuses primarily on their role as Chief Futurist i.e.,   living in and concentrating on what will be and not getting lost in the minutiae of what is happening now.  They delegate appropriately and trust accordingly.

Of course it takes a well-balanced Team to optimize overall performance. However, without the cultural heart beating consistently and continuously, nourishment does not flow to the other parts of the organizational body.

In that case,

 Ideators, who focus on innovation,

Elaborators, who focus on execution, and

Completers, who focus on getting the job done,

might develop cultural tachycardia (a bad condition where each bodily organ rushes off in its own direction in an uncoordinated fashion with dire consequences.)

Warning Signs of Organizational Vision Problems

1.      Your employees do their work, but there is little zest or enthusiasm.

2.      After meetings, people do not implement agreed-upon actions.  We have all been there!

3.      If asked what the company’s vision is, employees give different, vague answers.

4.      The leadership team members are all polite with no heated discussions.

5.      Employee productivity is low and focused on issues not solutions.

6.      Few people are taking responsibility and making things happen.

So avoid the crash cart!  Make sure that the appropriate Leader is nourishing the organizational culture by owning and reinforcing the vision at every opportunity.


I recently moved into a new home.  You notice a lot of things about a home once you buy it and move in that you never noticed before.  There are cracks in the ceiling, leaky pipes, broken glass, and loose floorboards.  Most of these things are not important. They are cosmetic.

What does matter is the foundation.  Is it solid?

The people who previously owned this home did not spend time in their basement.  It was obvious when we walked through the house before buying: the interior was pristine.  The basement was a mess.

The first thing my husband and I did to our new house was to clean and repair the basement.  We addressed the cracks we found down there:  problems that no one would ever see but which were, ultimately, important.  A house needs a strong foundation and so we started in the basement and worked our way up.

The same rational applies to organizations.

Is the foundation solid?  When issues arise, and they will, do those issues get traced back to their source and addressed at a systemic level, or is your organization a series of patchwork fixes?

Here is one easy way to check and see if you have a foundational problem or a cosmetic problem:  does it recur?

Recurring problems indicate there is something flawed in the system itself.  It may be that the processes and procedures have not kept up with the times, and a new way of doing business that relates to the current contest is necessary.  It may be that the size and scale of the business has changed, but the system is still functioning as it once did.  In this case, the issue is two-fold:  the organization does not have a habit of planning for growth and, therefore, does not have the necessary infrastructure to deal with changing demands.

Take some time to do a walk-through of your current business.  Don’t be distracted by the cracks in the ceiling.  Look instead for the deeper foundational issues that are facing the organization.

Competition, a changing business climate, a dated organizational structure, leadership habits that so not speak to the current generation:  where are the flaws in your foundation?  It is of much greater importance to investigate and invest in those deeper issues:  they are what will deliver you long term success and vitality. 

Fix the foundation!  It will be worth the effort and investment and, ultimately, you will have fewer cracks in the ceiling!