Positive Discontent: How to Intervene Before Things Fall Apart

Positive Discontent: How to Intervene Before Things Fall Apart

While he was on vacation, one manager’s team lost momentum. We discussed how to intervene before things fall apart.

I gave him two phrases for reflection, protecting gains and positive discontent. “Protecting gains feels defensive,” he said. “It leads to stagnation. But positive discontent works.”

Abandon factory with moss growing on the floor. Know when to step in before stepping in is necessary.

Positive discontent:

Positive discontent is celebrating gains and working to improve.

Gains are platforms, not resting places.

Let celebration stand on its own.

Don’t devalue improvement by immediately saying, “Great job. How can you do better next time?” It’s ok to enjoy wins. Work on improvement this afternoon.

Wins are defeats unless they’re followed by, “What’s next?”

Intervene before things fall apart:

“What doesn’t get done when you’re on vacation?” I asked. He clarified a five-step process to teach managers.

#1. Be discontent when results decline.

Give your team an opportunity to acknowledge drop off. As long as people fail responsibly, declining results are learning moments, not punishment points.

When you punish responsible failure people stop trying.

#2. Establish trigger points.

Catch the drop off before it’s catastrophic by establishing a red-flag-moment, a point when you intervene.

He said, “When I’m here, I’m the eye in the sky. I have a goal for each team. When performance drops below that goal, I step in.”

#3. Ask each manager to establish a red-flag-moment.

What’s the metric?

Know when to step in before stepping in is necessary.

#4. Plan three interventions.

Ask managers, “What will you do when the red flag goes up?” Share some of your own strategies, if they get stuck. Be specific. Develop three options.

#5. Follow up.

  1. What did you try?
  2. How did it work?
  3. What did you learn?
  4. What will you do next time?

Positive discontent – When skills improve, expand the scope and raise the standard.

What does positive discontent look like to you?

How might managers maintain momentum?

Continue reading

Put One Big Rock on Your Calendar

Put One Big Rock on Your Calendar

The end of this week is your last opportunity to put a big rock on next week’s calendar. Once day-to-day urgencies appear, they prevent you from accomplishing important tasks.

You’ve been meaning to make a list of activities you can take off your calendar and give to someone else, for example. But you’re so busy you can’t find time to do it.

Most can’t resist screaming trivialities.

Rocky coastline. The longer you wait to schedule big rocks the smaller life becomes.

You can’t schedule next week’s important work next week.

4 reasons little rocks replace big rocks*:

  1. We haven’t identified big rocks. The first step in doing important work is deciding what it is.
  2. We think big rocks require dramatic action. But self-care might be as simple as taking a walk.
  3. Speed makes small rocks seductive. Unimportant tasks are often completed quickly. You think, “I’ll just check off this small thing first.” But you end up chasing small things all day.
  4. Big rocks are quiet. Small rocks are noisy. By the time a big rock gets noisy, you’ve neglected it too long. Think of your health.

*How to do things that matter most before it’s too late.

One big rock:

Put an appointment with an important task on next week’s calendar today.

Think of something you’ve been meaning to do. Schedule it. When someone calls, tell them you’re booked.

Big rocks contribute to the life you aspire to build but haven’t found time to build.

Big rocks expand opportunities.

Big rocks strengthen relationships.

Big rocks maximize your talent. Working on a big rock energizes. Constantly working on small rocks insults you.

Big rocks give meaning. But don’t think meaningful activities are always difficult. Big rocks are often simple.

Big-rock-activities make disproportionate contributions to satisfaction.

The longer you wait to schedule big rocks, the smaller life becomes.

Why do small rocks keep us so busy we don’t have time for important tasks?

What big rock do you need to put on next week’s calendar?

Continue reading

7 Truths about Chronic Complainers Every Leader Needs Today

7 Truths about Chronic Complainers Every Leader Needs Today

“Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain – and most fools do.” Dale Carnegie

Goose with tilted head. Chronic complainers aren't seeking advice.

Chronic complainers:

  1. Seek validation. Constant complaining is a plea for attention.
  2. Feel powerless. Complainers see themselves as weak and circumstances as powerful.
  3. Feel powerful when they complain. The only thing weakness can do is affirm itself and disrupt others.
  4. Don’t see themselves as pollution.
  5. Cuddle with problems and bristle at solutions. News Flash! Chronic complainers aren’t seeking advice.
  6. Play it safe. It’s easier to complain than seek solutions.
  7. Blame. It’s the boss. It’s the weather. It’s always something other than themselves. Chronic complainers are blamers. Chronic complainers are happy with themselves but not with others.

Warning: Chronic complainers seek followers.

How to respond to chronic complainers:

#1. Don’t offer solutions.

Every solution you suggest to a complainer motivates them to pile on 10 more complaints. Offering solutions to complainers is exhausting to you and empowering to them.

#2. Open the door for imperfect solutions.

Ask, “How likely is it that we will be able to solve this today?” The answer is, “Not very.”

#3. Create commitment.

Ask, “Can we make this a little better?” Wait for a yes.

Solutions never come from people who don’t believe they’re possible.

Those who aren’t committed find fault. Those who are committed find a way.

Move to #4 only if there’s commitment.

#4. Generate three imperfect solutions.

Ask, “What small thing could you do to make this situation a little better?” (Notice the pronoun ‘you’.) Don’t say ‘we’ unless you plan to get involved.

After generating three imperfect solutions ask, “Which would you like to try?” Making choices empowers.

#5. Establish accountability.

“Let’s get together next week to discuss what you learned and what to do next.”

From your perspective, what’s true of chronic complainers?

What suggestions might you offer for dealing with chronic complainers?

Bonus material:

Managing a Chronic Complainer (hbr.org)

How to Stay Positive When Dealing with Difficult People (happify.com)

Continue reading

Navigating People-Threats with Confidence

Navigating People-Threats with Confidence

In nature the strong eat the weak. We live in a threatening world. Thankfully, no one is trying to eat you, at least literally.

Threats happen when:

  1. Competitors gain a foothold with your clients.
  2. Boundaries blur and colleagues intrude on your turf.
  3. Someone wants your job.

Malevolent people are bigger threats than difficult circumstances. The most dangerous people smile while they cut you down.

Image of a magnified fly. The more you think about something the bigger it gets.

Navigating people-threats with confidence:

#1. Listen to what people say. Believe what they do.

Threat wants to be perceived as a friend. It approaches with a smile on its lips and a knife behind its back.

#2. Obsessing is natural. Don’t condemn yourself.

Fear demands attention. Before long all you see is fear and all you taste is bitter.

#3. Recurring thoughts are magnifiers.

The more you think about something, the bigger it gets. Yes, take threats seriously, but focus on solution-finding, not catastrophizing.

#4. Agreements aren’t solutions.

Negotiated agreements with a threat might help, but they don’t remove concerns. The enigma of Ronald Regan’s statement comes to mind. “Trust but verify.”

#5. Protecting yourself is only half the battle.

When threatened you tend to build walls to protect your turf. But the walls that keep others out, hold you in. The added question is how you will expand your boundaries and add more value to others.

#6. Reconnect with your best self.

Threat pushes you off center. You forget yourself. When you forget yourself, you are never your best self.

Never let a threat be an excuse to do things you can’t tell momma about.

#7. Grow through, don’t simply push through.

  1. How will you be a better person as a result of growing through a threat?
  2. What’s going to be different about you when this threat is over?
  3. How will you live up to your aspirational self today, not when this is over?

The above list is only a beginning. What suggestions do you have for succeeding when facing people-threats?

Continue reading

7 Top Strategies that Break the Grip of Self-Inflicted Anxiety

7 Top Strategies that Break the Grip of Self-Inflicted Anxiety

Healthy anxiety rises to face challenge, opportunity, and threat. That tension in your gut means you care. But self-inflected anxiety causes leaders to…

  1. Struggle with decision-making.
  2. Flip flop after making decisions.
  3. View others as threats.
  4. Over-react.
  5. Obsess.

(I’m thinking about anxiety as something we do to ourselves, not anxiety as a disorder* that may need professional treatment.)

Bunny ears sticking out of the grass. The difference between self-reflection and self-absorption is one leads to anxiety.

Looking inward to reflect is necessary for self-awareness and growth. But constantly thinking about yourself contaminates life.

The difference between self-reflection and self-absorption is anxiety.


  1. Reveals who you are.
  2. Empowers healthy decision-making.
  3. Exposes negative patterns before they become destructive habits.
  4. Enables useful service.
  5. Maximizes joyful contribution.

The purpose of self-reflection is expanding capacity to serve.

Self-reflection enables you to escape unhealthy navel gazing.


  1. Replaces self-refection by focusing on what’s happening to you.
  2. Disempowers decision-making.
  3. Reinforces negative patterns until they become destructive habits.
  4. Disables useful service.
  5. Prevents joyful contribution.

A person absorbed with themself feels frustrated and offended when you don’t focus on them.

Healthy leaders think, “It’s all about others.” Sick leaders believe they’re the center of the universe.

7 top strategies that break the grip of self-inflicted anxiety:

  1. Turn inward so you can turn outward. Turning inward is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
  2. Take care of yourself so you can take care of others. Healthy habits keep anxiety at bay. Rest. Have fun. Eat good food.
  3. Do something kind, generous, and unexpected every day. If possible, do it for someone who can’t pay you back.
  4. Develop routines.
  5. Engage in things that capture your attention. Engagement cures anxiety. You forget yourself.
  6. Get a friend, mentor, or coach that helps you process and get outside yourself.
  7. Do something physical. Take a walk in the park.

There’s more to self-inflicted anxiety than what I’ve written.

What causes self-inflected anxiety?

How might leaders break the grip of self-inflicted anxiety?

*Anxiety Disorders: Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatments (clevelandclinic.org)

Continue reading

The 5 Key Resilience Traits You Need Right Now

Photo by SHaHraM Anhari on Unsplash

This message is excerpted from the book Life Coaching for Successful Women: Powerful Questions, Practical Answers by Valorie Burton.

Research shows that resilient people think differently. They have a set of skills – sometimes learned, other times innate – that allow them to persevere, manage stress, and triumph in the face of challenges. In the midst of your current challenges, which of the five traits of resilient people is it time to lean on?

1. They are authentic.
Resilient people are at peace with their humanity. Perhaps it is because their mistakes along the way have humbled them, or life experiences have helped them accept their own vulnerability, but resilient people don’t let imperfections hinder them. They don’t think failing makes them a failure. They learn as they go, making course corrections that lead them to positive outcomes.

As a leader, your ability to navigate challenges and lead effectively in an uncertain environment can set you apart and positively influence those you lead. Your team looks to you for clues about how to respond in these ever-changing times. Organizations that thrive with change are those who have high psychological capital – a workforce that has the resilience to see the big picture, embrace a new vision, and work together to persevere towards it.

2. They are flexible thinkers.
Even if they initially struggle with negative thoughts, resilient people are self-aware enough to notice when their thinking is counterproductive. They don’t jump to conclusions or make assumptions. Instead, they gather the facts they need to move around obstacles and face challenges head-on. If something isn’t working, they make adjustments. They find aspects of the challenge that are within their control, and they exercise that control.

3. They are (mostly) optimistic.
It’s hard to bounce back from setbacks when you see every obstacle as the end of the world. Research shows that optimists live as much as nine years longer than pessimists. But it isn’t just about positive thinking. Resilient people see risks and take precautions to prevent problems. When faced with a challenge, they are more likely to say, “I can get through this.”

4. They reach out.
Resilient people don’t go it alone. They have close friends and are not too proud to ask for help when they need it, talk out problems, or help others in need. When faced with a stressful situation, just knowing you have support can alleviate the pressure.

5. They use their strengths.
Everyone has innate talents and strengths. When faced with a challenge, there is power in tapping into those strengths – the things that come naturally to you. It takes less energy to use your strengths – and, in fact, you are energized by them. Know what your strengths are and use them.

Coach Yourself

Of the five key resilient traits, which do you possess in abundance? What is an example of a time…

Continue reading

12 Growth Moments People Often Miss

12 Growth Moments People Often Miss

Bluebirds sit on nearby branches dangling bugs in their beaks to tempt hungry adolescents to fly.

Flight is motivated more by hunger than passion.

Discomfort drives growth.

Sailboat One of the hardest parts of growth is casting off.

12 growth moments people often miss:

#1. An old relationship is disintegrating. It might be a job, a friend, or a mentor.

#2. A new relationship is emerging. Someone unexpected reached out to you. Open the door and let them in. They might have an ulterior motive, but what if they don’t?

One of the most important factors of growth is inviting new people in.

#3. You feel a need to get away. Go ahead. Your brain processes new ideas when you’re having fun.

The desire to avoid suggests there is something to avoid.

#4. You notice how the opinion of others has too much influence in your life.

#5. You realize that others need to do some of the things you’re doing.

One of the hardest parts of growth is casting off.

#6. Past accomplishments aren’t as grand as they once seemed.

You’re wondering if this is all there is.

#7. The feeling that you have something important to contribute is making old routines unsatisfying.

#8. Contentment is going down. Dissatisfaction is rising.

Rising discontent doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to change jobs. It might be time to find new ways of doing your current job.

#9. Purpose and meaning are becoming more important than achievement.

You lose yourself in the pursuit of achievement and find yourself in the quest for meaningful contribution.

#10. Being with people who love you means more than ever.

Growth needs nurture.

#11. Being with people who outshine you is fascinating not intimidating.

#12. The journey is a little more satisfying than reaching the next goal.

Bonus: You have a lousy boss.

Which of the above ideas seem most useful to you today?

What might you add to this list of ways to notice growth moments?

Continue reading

How Leaders Add Value to People

Some years ago I worked with a client who wanted as his legacy that he added value to people. We spent half a day at my office brainstorming what that would look like and how to do it. Eventually we determined 27 actions he could take.

I wonder how many of us are intentional each day about adding value to others, to making each day matter to someone other than ourselves.

My wonderful friend, the late Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, was a speaker, author, publisher and philanthropist (and wore other hats as well). He was bigger than life in the best way: he lived large and he made it his mission to help others live larger. Observing him, as well as being the beneficiary of his wisdom and kindness, I had a living example of someone who added valued to others every day.

What can you and I do to lead like Charlie?

There are some simple things any of us can do every day if we look for opportunities. Here are four ideas, as it turns out, that form a simple acronym about how to make a big difference.

To add value to people and make a bigger difference to others each day, consider P.I.E.S.


People like to be recognized for the good that they do, and many labor in obscurity without the praise they deserve. Some continue on despite the lack of praise, but others become discouraged and give up. It is easy to spot the bad in others, and notice what they do wrong or poorly, but finding the good is an art. It means paying closer attention and making time to praise what you find.

          Make it your mission to find and acknowledge the praiseworthy in others.


Inspiration is the fuel for extraordinary performance. I define inspiration as motivation to the power of purpose. Inspiration elevates thinking and vision and is the fuel of the extraordinary. Sharing  compelling stories, memorable quotes, and, most importantly, a positive example are some of the ways we can inspire others.

           Help others find inspiration in their lives by demonstrating it in your life.


To encourage means to give support, confidence or hope to someone. Notice those who are struggling. Don’t offer faux hope, but remind them of their past successes and current capabilities. Show them they have the skills they need to meet present challenges.

           Find those who struggle or need a boost and offer words that encourage.


There are so many things we can do to serve others. It can be simple like holding a door or helping someone with directions. If you know someone is unable to get out, don’t offer to bring them food–show up with a pizza. And the needs we meet don’t have to cost money. A listening ear and sympathetic response make a difference as well.  


Continue reading

How We Really Learn to Lead

How We Really Learn to Lead

You learn to lead the same way babies learn to walk, by observation, training, and experimentation.

Development in any arena begins by seeing what’s possible. Moms and dads show children what’s possible. Michael Jordan and Andre Bocelli show athletes and singers what’s possible.

Leadership growth begins by choosing the right models.

Mother duck with ducklings. Imitation makes learning easy.


You learn to lead by imitation. Yes, you learn from books, but you learn more from imitation. The necessities of leadership are learned by imitation.

Imitation isn’t being fake. It’s finding your own path forward.

Too many novices prematurely rush to be themselves. They would be better off imitating someone else. Don’t rush to be yourself. Instead, rush to choose a model and be like them.

“Models are people who show us what is worth wanting.” Luke Burgis

Imitation makes growth easy.

Imitation happens every time you ask yourself what someone else would do.


Admiration fuels imitation. In other words, you become like the people you admire. One secret to becoming the leader you aspire to be is admiring the right leaders.

Negative models:

Choosing negative models is undervalued. Who don’t you want to be like?

The easiest way to be disgusted by your own negative behaviors is to see them in someone else.

Lousy leaders teach you things to not do. You always rise when you jettison the sandbags of negative behavior. Think of your worst boss and ask, “How am I like them?”

Go ahead, rage against that lousy boss. Make a list of their negative qualities. Record the things they do that you’ll never do. But most importantly, determine what you will do.

Reacting against bad is a delightful way to discover the good.

Who are you modeling your leadership after?

What qualities of a lousy boss do you strive to jettison?

Continue reading