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.

Sucker-punched: Why Watching for Blind Spots is Mission-Critical

Bright Spots:  the places in our world where success is being created, where things are working well, where we are getting things right.  Being aware of our Bright Spots, and paying attention to what works and why, helps us better learn how to map a path toward success in the future.

Blind Spots:  the places where our failures and foibles, liabilities and lost opportunities lurk.  Blind spots are the aspects of a situation we are unable to see or understand.

Question: Why would anyone want to learn about their Blind Spots?

Answer: So that you don’t get Sucker-Punched.

I have been sucker-punched by a Blind Spot and I lived to tell you about it.

Here is what I have to say:  It stinks.  (I could be more colorful.)  And it can really cost you.

Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to learn the landscape of your Blind Spots.

I encourage you to practice these Blind Spot Banishing Skills, so that you don’t have to “learn from experience” (a nice euphemism for “I got Sucker-Punched”.)  How to see your Blind Spots:

Blind Spot Banishing Skill #1:  ASK

Be Curious.  Ask questions that are calibrated to help you discover the pitfalls and perils that lie just beyond your awareness.  Questions like,

Ø  “What am I missing that others are concerned about?”

Ø  “What are 3 different ways I could be looking at this situation, and what would you suggest I do differently based on those other points of view?”

Ø  “How might other people be interpreting my actions? What am I doing to contribute to these impressions?”

Blind Spot Banishing Skill #2:  IMAGINE

Think about the situation from the points of view of others who are impacted or involved.

Ø  What do they believe is true about what is happening?

Ø  What facts do they have?

Ø  How might they be interpreting those facts?

Ø  What experiences do they have that contribute to their different beliefs about the same events?

Blind Spot Banishing Skill #3:  RELATE

Build relationships with both confidantes and detractors.

We need all kinds of people to help us understand the way we come across.  I have learned some of my best lessons in life from people who were not the easiest for me to be around.

Ø  Create the conditions for people you disagree with or lack chemistry with to be honest with you about how you come across.  Their insights are a real gift.  Really!

Ø  Have candid conversations with confidantes as well.  A confidante is someone who can give you hard feedback, and you, for whatever reason, can hear them.  They will give you invaluable insight, particularly if you ask in an intentional, open way.  And because they “get” you,these people are often able to explain how to apply both their feedback, and the feedback you get from your detractors.

Blind-Spots are great until they cost us.  It is so easy and comfortable to be unaware of how we come across with what we say and do. However, moving through life blissfully unaware of a lurking liability is not the way for a leader to succeed in the long run.

So, stay open, be curious, invite new insights, and build relationships with people that are both easy and challenging for you to connect with.  When we show others we are open, curious and care about how we come across, you will find they are more willing to share with us that one piece of advice that might make all the difference between success and failure.

If you have a story to share about how you Banished a Blind Spot, I invite you to share it with me.  I would love to use it in an upcoming Lessons Learned the Hard Way series.  

You can email your story to me at


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.


Recently, I was driving to a healthcare client site through the mountains of Virginia.  It was a sunny day that illuminated beautiful fall scenery.  Going downhill, a sign that read “Trucks Use Lower Gear” grabbed my attention.  A short distance later, I saw a runaway truck ramp and thought, ”Yep, definitely better to use a lower gear”.

The same is true when navigating relationships at work and at home. We all have a Relational Gear-Box that allows us to shift into the right gear to navigate the conversational landscape.  In their excellent book, 5 Gears: How to Be Present and Productive When There Is Never Enough Time, Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram point out how to shift into the right gear for the circumstances we face (including Reverse Gear for when we need to back up from mistakes).

The Relational Gear-Box from Kubicek and Cockram looks like this:

  • First gear— you fully rest and recharge without any outside interference from work or technology.  You are completely off-line:  no smart phones, no computers, aka al natural.

  • Second gear—you connect with family or friends without the involvement of work.  You have arrived home from work and set boundaries to guard specific time for family.

  • Third gear—you are socializing.  You are at work or home and able to shift up or down as needed.  This is pivotal as it connects social to business (not just all business, all the time).

  • Fourth gear—you are working and multi-tasking, running and gunning.  Most of us spend about 80% of our working time in 4th gear.  Some of us wake up in and stay in 4th gear all day.

  • Fifth gear—you are fully focused and in the zone, working without interruption.  This is deep thinking strategic or creative time.

  • Reverse gear – you are stuck in a ditch.  You made a mistake and have to back up and take responsibility to get out of the ditch.  For example, “I am so sorry I missed the appointment, may we reschedule?”

Using these gears consistently allows us to bring a new level of relational intelligence to our lives which offer a competitive advantage in our task-driven world. 

So, on a given day I would ask these three questions:

 1.      What is your Gear order?

2.      What are your Stress Gears?

3.      What are the Gear Tendencies of the people around you?

All too often people go through life without truly connecting and, as a result, miss out on experiences and relationships that could have the power to bring them great joy and fulfillment.  When we recognize what gear we are in and then understand what gear we ought to be in for the particular time or place and shift accordingly, we can improve our ability to connect with the world around us.

So avoid the runaway ramp by down shifting when necessary and never forget that we always have reverse gear as an option to navigate our relational landscape.


I am working with an executive team that is having a challenging time with one another.  The team members have started to land in camps and defend their areas.  They think of themselves as marketing, operations, finance, HR, sales, etc. and they have lost sight of their greater purpose.  Additionally, most of the team members see the other team members as obstacles in the way of achieving their results. Consequently, the team also thinks that the CEO is an obstacle who is not changing the strategy and culture fast enough.  Wow, sounds like a lot of fun!  The funny part is that individually they are really great people, but they have just become objects to each other.  Does this sound like your team?  Have you ever been on team like this?  I know I have and it was no fun!

I led the team in an offsite recently and the first thing I had them do was to write down two things they admired or respected about each team member.  I then had them go around the room to each person, share their feedback and then receive the feedback from their peers.  I can see some of you rolling your eyes already!  No, we did not sing Kumbaya or do a trust fall next.  However, there were some tears, flushed cheeks and some mumbling.  Why did I start with this exercise?  I wanted each person on the team to re-see the people in the room as human beings and not as objects or VP of Sales.  They had lost sight of the fact that each person was trying to do their best work.  Most of the people thanked me for the exercise and said they could not remember the last time they had received positive feedback or given positive feedback to their peers.

Next, I worked with them to learn about Outward Mindset.  This concept comes from The Arbinger Institute and I highly recommend their new book, The Outward Mindset.  

An Outward Mindset exists when you are able to see the other person as a person and you work to understand their needs, objectives and challenges.  You then demonstrate behaviors and agree upon objectives that meet the collective result of your organization.  The stakeholders can be your direct reports, your manager, customers, peers, the Board, External Partners, etc.  

In contrast, an Inward Mindset exists when you demonstrate behaviors that focus on your or your department’s needs at the expense of others.  The inward mindset results in seeing others as obstacles, irrelevant or vehicles to accomplishing your goals.  The inward mindset leads to distrust and an inability to see possibilities.

Back to the original team:  it was clear to them after the discussion that most members were demonstrating an inward mindset.  We went through an exercise of describing the type of behaviors that would demonstrate an outward mindset (listening, collaboration, shared goals and successes, sharing of talent, etc.)  We also talked about how they felt when they were doing their best work together (invigorated, challenged, healthy conflict, aligned and fun.)  The team is not perfect, but they are working hard to see their teammates as people trying to do their best work.  They grant each other some grace now if there is a mistake or a miscommunication.  I hear a lot more “we can do this” vs. “they did this to me, my area, etc.”   I believe they are on the path to success.

Here are a few questions to ponder:

       Today, what would happen if I simply focused on helping others succeed?

       Who am I working with that I could be more helpful toward?

       Who is one person who needs more from me than I am currently delivering?

Good luck and go tell someone two things you appreciate about them and see what happens to the relationship.  



Relationships have value.  They add value and they cost us, depending on the quality and the character of the relationship.  It is true in both our personal lives and at work.  The quality and character of our relationships can make the difference between wanting to come to work and dreading getting up in the morning.

When we genuinely like the people we work with, we bring something extra to the table.  The extra might be extra time, or an extra measure of zeal for a project, or an extra idea, or going the extra mile.  These extras come more easily and frequently when we are engaged with and actively care about the people we work with.

As William H. Lever, the founder of Lever Brothers observed, “If we leave the human factor out of our business calculations we shall be wrong every time.”  My colleague Mary learned this lesson early in her career, and her story brightly illuminates this point:

 “It was early in my career and I was still learning about leadership and executing business expectations with ease, but it wasn’t long before I discovered that I had something that many of my colleagues did not have.  I had the X Factor:  people who cared about each other and who cared about me.

One of my strongest leadership memories comes from this time.  I was a young leader and it was the week of my first corporate visit.  We had been working hard that week getting ready for this visit, but there was more to do.  One by one these people who had families and responsibilities and lives outside our workplace came to me and said,

‘I am coming back after dinner to get this done.’  

‘I will stay tonight so we can have this just right.’ 

‘Why don’t we order pizza so we don’t have to leave to eat?’

‘I will call my husband and let him know it will be a late night.’

Hours later, I looked at my watch as we got ready to walk out the door.  It was 2 AM.  I looked around at this incredible group of people that was gathered.  None of them had been asked to stay, but each one had offered to go the extra mile.  I remember the feeling of both gratitude and joy.  We were laughing and tired and we were something more:  we were a team.  Not in name, but in spirit.”

What does it take to build a great team?

T            time,

E            effort,

A           appreciation and something more,

M          a sense of mission.

When people gather around a common purpose; when they care about getting the same result, having the same outcome; amazing things happen.  Mission is a great motivator.

So how is your team?  Here are some questions to ask that will help you build a winning team:

·       When do you give your team your time?

·       What effort do you make to cultivate their relationships with one another?

·       Do you regularly appreciate and acknowledge your people and their work?

·       Is your team on a mission that matters?

Teams do not happen by accident. They are shaped and formed over time, with effort, appreciation and a common mission.  Asking yourself these questions regularly will ensure that you have a team, not just a group of people, when the stakes are high and the outcomes matter. 


One of my favorite training topics is about crucial conversations based on the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High by Al Switzler, Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, and Ron McMillan. This is because it provides a solid framework from which to navigate potentially energized human situations.  In a perfect world, leaders are 100% rested, engaged and focused.  Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

When the heat is on, we multi-task (also known as attempting to do multiple things at once with the risk that only a portion of them will turn out right) and we become vulnerable.  Our workplace landscape has shifted in the last 8-10 years.  This is sometimes referred to as the New Normal.

We may triple-book the calendar to the point where it looks incoherent, respond to electronic communication at all hours of the day (or night), and have the hammer so far down we have forgotten when to let it up again.  In this attention-starved condition of sensory overload, is it any wonder that what comes naturally may not be our best?

“Deadlines and commitments…. What to leave in, what to leave out” Bob Seger.

Crucial Conversations defines a “Story” as our default position.  It is a response to the lens through which we view the world around us.  The images we think we see can become energized quickly when we are too

·       Hungry

·       Angry

·       Lonely or

·       Tired (HALT).

I have a colleague who has a son in college in the Midwest.  His phone rings a fair amount with his son asking for an electronic transfer of funds.  Naturally, the request comes with little or no warning and usually at a time when my friend is multi-tasking to the max.

After one of these requests, my colleague stopped what he was doing to fill out and copy forms, IDs, account numbers, addresses and sent it all off as instructed.  Then the bank called and said that the account was closed.  My friend’s Story about his son immediately surfaced. “You are so irresponsible!  You must take after your mother’s side of the family.”  (Apparently they can’t manage their bank accounts either.)

But guess what?  He was wrong.  Can you believe it?  He was the one who, in his haste, transposed numbers on a scanned form which resulted in the account closed message from the bank.  The happy ending is that my colleague put some new boundaries in place for his son.  He now insists that these requests come with respect for his calendar (and bank account.)  And so they do because his son recognizes these boundaries. 

The point is that my colleague jumped into the angry blasting mode because the circumstances triggered an internal Story.  This was his internal set of beliefs about a person or situation formed over time. This did not happen with a co-worker or customer, but it could have. The story was there.

According to Jon Kabat-Zin (1994) “Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way- on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”  It’s a good model to follow in our New Normal.

So when the heat is on, step back.  Go slow enough to allow yourself to respond instead of react.  You’ll be glad you did.  Especially if there is a story waiting to escape that could seriously damage relationships.