Do you have a friend or a co-worker that has amazing potential, but their actual performance consistently comes up short of their potential?  Do they understand why this is?  Can you put your finger on what their challenge is?  

One of the most frequent conversations that I have with leaders is regarding employee potential.  It begins, “Jeff, I have a person on my team that seems to have great potential, but their actual results come in below my expectations.  Can you spend some time with them and help me figure out what is going on?”

How about yourself:  do you feel that you have more potential than you are able to achieve?

Let’s start with one of my favorite formulas in leadership from Tim Gallwey, who described this formula in his book, The Inner Game of Tennis.

P = p - i

P = Performance

p = potential

i = interference

Performance = potential - interference

The goal is to be able to have your performance match your potential, but what gets in the way is your interference. 

Here are some common types of interference I see in my coaching clients: 

·       arrogance,

·       lack of building relationships,

·       overly task orientated,

·       lack of vision,

·       poor planning,

·       poor time management,

·       lack of ability to deliver feedback,

·       poor delegation skills,

·       trouble balancing work and home life,

·       alcohol or drugs and many other things.

Let me present a case study to highlight the challenge.  I am currently working with an executive who is a great problem solver with strong technical skills, strong experiences, great work ethic and who posts great results.  This is a promising beginning and a lot of great talents. What is the problem? This leader struggles to build relationships with peers and direct reports. His intensity, task focus and driving persona make it hard for others to connect with him. Thus, he gets great results on a project, but most people do not want to work with him again because of his intensity.  This interference is keeping him from being as effective as possible.  Additionally, it is keeping him from being promoted.  What should he do?

The good news is that he is aware of this part of his personality.  Next, I let him know that he judges himself by his intentions while others judge him by his impact and actions.  He would mean to start a meeting with an icebreaker question and he would mean to provide recognition at the end of the week.  However, he was not doing these things and his team was frustrated.  He now puts it on his calendar to provide recognition several times a week.  He also gets up a couple times a day and makes his way to see some of his team members.  He can sometimes still be a bit intense in these interactions, but he has worked hard on providing recognition and taking an interest in his team members and peers lives.  The results—people are starting to share more feedback with him, provide ideas and even seek him out. He is being more intentional with his calendar and the impact is positive for his team.

What is your interference that is keeping you from reaching your full potential?  Who can you feedback to help you reach your potential?


In the last blog post we talked about delivering feedback. Delivering is full of stress—worrying about getting your words right and striking a balance between directness and compassion. Now, it is time to address being on the receiving end.  Many people say that delivering a speech is the most nerve racking thing they do in their professional lives.  I think a close second place is receiving feedback. We often feel like we are going to the principal’s office and we are in trouble.  However, the top performers I work with have been able to overcome this fear and embrace receiving feedback.  How do they do this?  Practice, practice and more practice!

First, understand the intent of the feedback. 

Generally speaking, people are giving you feedback for one of three purposes:

1.      Appreciation:  Yes, we did a great job.  We may blush and get flustered during this but it is a good feeling overall!

2.      Coaching:  The other person has seen something that we are doing and they either want to reinforce a behavior we are doing well or they want to offer feedback on ways to improve.

3.      Evaluation:  This feedback is an assessment of our performance and how we stack up against a standard.

One tip:  when someone asks to give you feedback, ask them what type of feedback they are providing.  This will help you to know how best to listen and what ways you want to clarify the feedback you received.

One of the traps that I see people fall into when they receive feedback is that they believe it is the truth.  You are receiving feedback and it is a gift, but that does not mean it is the truth.  This is another person’s perspective and it is valuable to listen, clarify and understand the intent of the feedback provider.  

The next step is to take a deep breath, thank the other person for their feedback and recap what you heard to make sure what you heard and what was said match. 

After this, you decide what you want the next step to be.  I personally get defensive when I first get feedback and try to explain my point of view.  On my best days, I take the breath, thank them and recap their feedback before seeking clarity.  On my normal days, I start my comebacks and rationalizations about 30 seconds into the feedback. However, with practice I have learned to breathe and know that the feedback will make me stronger.  The strategy that works best for me is to process overnight and so I ask if we can discuss the feedback again in a day or two.

I find that taking the time to really hear the feedback and then come up with an action plan later has allowed me to be more present when receiving the feedback.

One final thought is that you do not have to do anything with the feedback you receive.  There have been times that I have been given feedback and I just saw the situation differently than the other person. I still thank them for the feedback and appreciate their taking the time to give me feedback.  However, I sometimes choose to hear the feedback and still continue the same action.  The feedback does help me think about how to approach a future situation and see if there is a better way to handle the situation.

I also appreciate all the people who take time to offer positive feedback to me and others.  The optimal level of positive to negative feedback is about 4-5 positive comments for every 1 negative.  I appreciate leaders that understand this and take time out of their busy days to acknowledge their team members.  You can see employees walk with a bounce in their step after getting authentic, positive feedback.

What can you do to better prepare for receiving feedback?  Who can you recognize this week for a job well done?  If you would like more information about giving and receiving feedback, I would encourage you to read Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Hahn. 


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

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

·       What went right this morning?

·       What do you want?

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

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

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

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

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

She asked each team member:

·       What is working well?

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

Asking those questions tapped new energy on her team.

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

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

Ask yourself:

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

·       What is working well?

·       How can you build on those successes?

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

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


The New Year is upon us and, to make 2016 the best year yet, I have a Resolution I recommend to all our clients.  Make new mistakes.  Make new mistakes this year.  Plan for them.  Prepare for them.  Get excited about the possibilities and then go make some new mistakes.  

Why do I recommend that our clients make new mistakes?

Setting an expectation that new mistakes will be made creates the conditions for creativity to occur and innovation to emerge.  Creativity and innovation do not exist in the absence of error.  They only exist in environments where error is allowed.  For creativity and innovation to be constant organizational assets, the first mountain to be climbed is the mountain of mistakes.

So make mistakes.  Lots of them.

Just be sure they are new mistakes.

The difference between an old mistake and a new mistake is that an old mistake begins to set a pattern of bad habits.  We confirm our poor performance when we repeat old mistakes.  We reinforce our ruts.  We design an environment for predictable un-improvement. 

When we repeat old mistakes, the voice in our head says:

·       “Here I am in this mess again!”

·       “I can’t believe this is happening all over again.”

·       “I thought we were past this.”

·       “Didn’t I learn this lesson already?”

New mistakes are different.  New mistakes reveal new terrain being crossed; new ideas being covered; new interpretations being applied.

When we make a new mistake it feels different.  The voice in our head says:

·       “I didn’t expect THAT to happen!”

·       “What was THAT?”

·       “I never expected . . .”

·       “That did not turn out the way I imagined.”

·       “Well, what do I do now?”

We learn something when we make new mistakes.  We grow.  We cover new ground.

Begin 2016 with this resolution at the top of your list:   #1Make New Mistakes.

Make new mistakes this year.  Adopting this leadership perspective delivers you from the mediocrity of safe, same old outlook decision making.  It liberates your creativity and allows you to approach problems with permission to innovate and adapt.  New mistakes deliver you to an environment of excellence where teams thrive, people are at their most engaged, and progress is possible.

Cheers and enjoy your New Year of possibility and progress.  Make new mistakes!