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Lighting The Spark

At a recent Women Presidents’ Organization conference, 17-year-old CEO, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author Maya Penn keynoted. She started her first business at 8 years old. She’s both impressive and inspiring, and she shared her journey and her wisdom.

In her talk, she called out a few things that have worked for her in her short but accomplished life so far. Among them:

  • Be positive so you can do your best work
  • Celebrate your failures and wins on an ongoing basis
  • Light your spark so it shows up in all you do

These are important areas on which to focus for all leaders, but coming from this young girl, especially surprising!

After Maya had finished speaking, an attendee approached the floor mic with a question for a book she is writing. She asked Maya “What extinguishes your spark?”

The audience was on a high. We had started thinking about how to follow her lead, and how we could look forward in our own work. And then, the question. I believe, this was the wrong question!

Map Making

Our brains connect events to make sense of our experiences all day long. They’re busy making maps and connections, and putting things together.

Exploring and asking about what we want (so that our brains focus there, and help us map our way) is much more effective than asking about what we don’t want. Why?

Because our realities and actions are shaped by the questions we ask.

So, when we ask questions about what we want to move toward (How do I best “light my spark”? How can I fully use my strengths in this situation? What outcome would have us both win in this conversation? How can I support and build more capacity in this person? How do I build a culture that the best workers are drawn to? How do I invite my people into the conversation? How can my employees contribute? What was my best experience when innovating on a team, and how can I replicate it? How can I challenge myself beyond my comfort zone today?), our brains are already starting to build the map to get there. They are filling in the blanks for what doesn’t work.

We begin to get somewhere in this question from a noted performance coach and psychologist: “When our questions focus on shortcomings, can we truly expect great things to be forthcoming?”

Flip The Script

However, the better question flips this around to: How can we ask questions that help recall our peak experiences, so we can amplify them? How can we ask employees questions that build their capacity and inspire them to be their best?

So, if we turn the earlier question to Maya around to: “what most lights your spark?” we bring forth an inspired journey that our brains then begin to map.

Strengths focused. Assets focused. Solutions focused. Amplifying peak moments.

Our Daily Spark

What questions are we asking during our meetings with “difficult employees”, during feedback, in strategic planning work, and in every day conversations?

Learning to ask these appreciative, spark-based questions seems simple, but takes a lot of practice. Finding a partner with whom to practice will help you make quicker headway. (Think; a trusted colleague or even your family).

The inner and outer dialogue and enacted changes that come from these simple, positively-focused questions can positively power an entire organization toward new ideas, engaged employees and provide greater returns.

What new questions will you begin to ask, in order to light your own spark and that of your people, and your results?

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Are Your Players Hitting Home Runs?

Devin Mesoraco is a baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds. He spends his time behind the plate catching a leather-covered piece of rubber. Sometimes it comes at him moving just a tad more than 100 mph.  I have some insight into catching a ball hurling through space. I was on both sides of the pitcher/catcher equation in fast pitch softball in college. I can assure you, I neither caught nor threw at that velocity!

As a catcher, and at that speed, you have to be ready for anything.

Even though the catcher gives the signals and expects the pitch to match the signal, that doesn’t always happen.  So, you have to align your expectations and understand what’s possible outside of them.

Batter Up!

The unexpected also peaks its head in when Devin steps up to the batter’s box. Read more

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Why People Follow

If I were to ask you what four words best describe the reasons people follow leaders, what would you say?

Perhaps, strategic vision? Maybe resilience? What about strengths and emotional intelligence?

Certainly, these are important, but they don’t quite get it, according to Gallup. 

Research, Research, Research

As you know, Gallup has been on a quest to research strengths and leadership for many years. They have studied more than 1 million work teams, conducted over 20,000 interviews with leaders and have interviewed more than 10,000 followers across the globe to see exactly why they followed the leaders who were most important to them in their lives.

They asked one key question for the study:  Read more

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Where Are Your Singing Mice?

Not long ago, I was reading through a Smithsonian magazine, and came upon a particular article that captured my attention.

The story was about a man in Detroit who discovered a singing mouse. No one, including the folks at the University of Michigan, knew what to make of it. They studied the mouse, but couldn’t quite get to the bottom of it all. Read more

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Where Leadership Lives

Last month, I met for the second time with a group called the “Sista Circle.” It’s a group of women brought together by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for the purpose of providing encouragement and support in various ways.

The women of the Sista Circle live in an expansive group of apartment complexes where drug dealing and the sounds of gunshots are not uncommon. I had exposure to some of these women last year through the Leadership Cincinnati program, and was touched by their honesty and open hearts.

Strengths and Leadership

Why am I writing about these women? Well, because I’ve found a tremendous strength in these women and clear signs of leadership Read more