Begin With The Bright Spots

When leaders and organizations begin to work with us, it is often because they have a problem they need to solve.  Something is wrong, and that wrong thing is consuming an awful lot of time.

That is where we come in:  through conversations, carefully crafted experiences that change the climate, and a creative approach to processes and people, we equip our clients to solve problems and do things with more purpose, passion and focus.

When we are asked to solve problems for organizations, the first question I ask is this:

What do you want?

This simple question, repeatedly asked, uncovers many things:

·        Resistance: “What do I want?  Let me tell you what I don’t want…” and out pours the                   frustration.

·        The absence of vision.  “I don’t know what I want.”

·        A change in focus, “When I started this it was so clear, now I am not really sure.”

Over time, the answer begins to shift, and what begins to emerge is vision.  Common purpose. Passionate commitment.  Energy.  The challenge then becomes harnessing and deploying that energy effectively.

Sometimes our question, “What do you want?” shows leaders where the broken places are:

·        “I don’t know what the end game is.  It isn’t clear to me what we are trying to accomplish in the big picture, so I don’t know what I want because I don’t know what will contribute.”

·        “What I want is to be able to do my job well and execute effectively the work we are charged to accomplish.”

·        “I want us all to be on the same page.”

Whatever “it” is, asking this simple question begins to reveal what is working and what isn’t in the organization.  It also uncovers something about the people in the room:  their current level of willingness and abilities begin to emerge. We have a place to start.

The place I like to begin any engagement is with the Bright Spots.

Ø  What is working?

Ø  What is going well?

Ø  Where is the strength and energy?

It is from this place that people can begin to see what is possible. What can be created.

When we begin a conversation from a place of strength and success, people are more able to tap into creative solutions to the issues and obstacles before them.  Success begins with a success mindset:  we map our way from here to there with the guideposts of what is working, where our strengths lie, and how we can solve the problems before us with the assets, learning and lessons we are gathering today.

A destination can begin to be charted.

To begin to map your next moves around the challenges that are arising in your organization start by asking:

Ø  What do we want?

Ø  What is working?

Ø  What is going well?

Ø  Where is the strength and energy?

With this inventory of what you have, you will be more aware of what and how to harness and deploy your best abilities and tools as you move toward your destination.

Mapping our successes and our desired outcomes builds something essential into the climate of our teams.  It builds trust and resilience.

The problems and pitfalls that lie before us are best solved with our collective creativity and a common resolve.  “What do you want?” is the place to begin.  It creates the space for the deeper, tougher, more challenging questions that follow.

What do you want?  What do you really want?

How can the choices and challenges before you lead you there?

What Do You See—Obstacles or Clear Sailing?

I have been working with many teams recently that are working on their vision and outlining their strategic goals for 2018. They know how to do a SWOT analysis, have a good sense of their customer base, and even take time to consider how they will communicate their messages. However, I see many of these organizations fail to hit the vision and goals they create in these sessions. Why? I believe the biggest reasons are:

           1.     Overly optimistic goal setting

           2.     Poor translation into action

           3.     Failure to understand how this impacts the daily lives of the team

           4.     It is an event, not a process

We use an experiential exercise we call the obstacle course with our clients. Here is the basic overview—we blindfold 3 people and then ask the rest of the team to get the 3 blindfolded people safely through the obstacle course and retrieve the 3 prizes and bring them back to the starting point safely! All three blindfolded people must enter and exit the course. The course is generally about 3 feet wide and about 6 feet long with foam letters and kids small toys in the course. The sighted people think that the course should only take 1-2 minutes to finish. We state that we will give them 10 minutes. Normally the sighted people huddle up without the blindfolded participants for about 2-3 minutes of planning time. Then they tell the blindfolded people the plan and they get started. Chaos ensues within one minute. There are often too many voices speaking at once, so it is hard to gather clear instruction.  In addition, trying to balance on 1 foot while blindfolded and stepping over kid’s toys is hard! So often, people get their left and rights confused when giving direction.

Does this sound like your workplace? This also sounds a bit like our strategic planning. We go off and brainstorm these great ideas with limited feedback from our employees. In the obstacle course debrief, I identify that the sighted people are the leaders in our organizations that can see what needs to be done and have to communicate the goals, but they are not the ones to do the actual work (these are the blindfolded participants—we call them employees.) From this activity, we see that the end goal does not look easy, but it does look like it can be executed. However, we rarely sit in the employee’s seat and look at it from their perspective. I encourage you to take time to ask your team members questions like:

1.     What inspires you about our vision?

2.     What barriers do you see blocking you from achieving our vision?

3.     What is one thing I could to do to help you achieve our goals?

4.     What is one thing that I am doing well that you want to keep doing?

5.     When we hit our goals, how do you want to celebrate?

Another common challenge is that as leaders we get distracted. We do this goal setting and then we go back to our daily lives. This causes confusion for our teams. Do we pay attention to the presentation we saw last month or do we just go with the status quo? Most people want to be led and they watch what gets rewarded. Thus, if they see you, the leader, go back to reinforcing the old strategies or goals, then they are going to deliver this to you. If you want to achieve the vision and new goals, it needs to be a process not a one-time event. One of my clients has started doing monthly virtual town halls to reinforce the new vision, key goals, and to celebrate successes. They are not over emphasizing the new vision and goals. Instead, they are saying this is the direction we are heading in and these are the type of behaviors we need to be successful. The leader also says what behaviors they are leaving behind. The energy in this environment is fantastic, and people are saying how transparent the organization is and that this is the most aligned they have felt in a long time.

So, what does your future look like—clear sailing or obstacles? It probably varies by the day. However, I encourage you to get curious, meet with your team members and listen to their feedback. Strategic planning is great but also remember to reinforce the goals and behaviors you desire on your team. Good luck and let me know how you are doing achieving your vision.


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!


Smile at somebody and watch what happens!

Chances are they smile back.  People tend to mirror behavior and smiling is the quickest way to establish instant rapport.  (And it’s free!)  Unfortunately, the reverse is also true.  When people look cross or sad and carry that message on their face, it tends to put people off.  This is obvious, right?  Sometimes I am not so sure by the sour puss look people choose to put on their faces.

So smile at somebody and watch what happens!

In 1971, UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian published a book, Silent Messages, in which he discussed his research on non-verbal communication.  This became known as the 7%-38%-55% Rule.  He theorized that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal.  The non-verbal component was made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent.).

 While some disagree with Mehrabian’s findings and claim that they are often misused, it remains a basic framework for examining just how much human communication is non-verbal. For discussions’ sake, if 55% is body language and 38% tone of voice, it stands to reason that a pleasant smile and a sincere, “Hello”, have a greater than 9 in 10 chance of hitting their mark.


If You’re Happy and You Know It, Tell Your Face

According to recent NIH studies, smiling helps reduce stress of mind and body, almost similar to getting good sleep.  Smiling also helps to generate more positive emotions within you.  That’s why we often feel happier around children – they smile more.  On average, children smile 400 times a day.  Happy adults smile an average of 40-50 times a day.  The average adult smiles only 20 times a day (and who wants to be average?).

 Here are some quotations from famous people who agree, if you’re happy and you know it- tell your face.

 “We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.”  (Mother Teresa)

 “Smile in the mirror every morning and you'll start to see a big difference in your life.” (Yoko Ono)

 “When I look out at the people and they look at me and they're smiling, then I know that I'm loved. That is the time when I have no worries, no problems.” (Etta James)

 “If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don't be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning 'Good morning' at total strangers.” (Maya Angelou)

 “You'll find that life is still worthwhile, if you just smile.” (Charlie Chaplin)

 “Anyone who has a continuous smile on his face conceals a toughness that is almost frightening.” (Greta Garbo)

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.” (Leo Buscaglia)