THE BLOG
06/03/2013 10:10 am ET Updated Jul 31, 2013

Getting to the Next Level of Greatness

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My clients are leaders in corporations ranging in size from $150 million to $50 billion. I share this because regardless of how small or large the company, leaders have the same shared-challenge: how to get to their next level of greatness.

When I start a coaching engagement, I ask leaders what they want. What type of organization they want to create - what they are aspiring to build. They all have the same aspiration:
To create an organization where change and transformation were exhilarating and natural, where people were devoted, engaged, and accountable to act as owners. Where people worked with each other to differentiate their brand and capture the hearts and minds of customers...

When human beings work together to co-create greatness, they shift into an "aspirational consciousness," catalyzing the growth of new Leadership DNA. What emerges is a profound shift in how we engage, innovate and develop others.

When we get what we expect, we feel a positive reward, and send out positive signals. When we don't get what we expect we send out negative signals of disappointment. Signals of disappointment trigger fear, which shuts down our ability to take risks, to experiment, and to grow. Signals of satisfaction trigger self-esteem, enabling us to try more.

So where do "aspirations" fit into this leadership story? They are not expectations, they are something else. Expectations emanate from the lower brain (Neocortex and Limbic Brain) - a more I-centric brain that focuses on getting what "we want" to happen. Aspirations emanate from the higher brain (Prefrontal Cortex & Heart Brain) - where we bring into creation our greatness with others.

The best gift a leader can give employees is to ask about their aspirations. Talking about aspirations takes us into the highest level of brain integration. Our brains were designed to aspire. When we aspire with others we breathe hope and life into each other.

I've created a framework for leaders to help them shift their conversations from "expectations to aspirations." It starts with making the shift from Power-over leadership to Power-with leadership. Power-over leaders feel they need to have all the answers, to direct and guide everything. Power-with leaders create environments where "everyone is in this together."

Shifting from Power-over to Power-with others is like resetting our brains to operate from their healthiest state. Our need for belonging exceeds our need for safety. When we are rejected, we experience pain in the same centers in the brain and body as a car crash. When others show us love and respect, it triggers the same centers in the brain as eating chocolate or having sex. Learning how to create this "high" in your organization will change how you lead.

Ask yourself this question: Am I creating a culture that enables colleagues to co-create the future? Am I facilitating a culture that is highly engaging, building relationships for mutual success? Am I setting the stage for growth and generativity, where people are collaborating and co-creating positive CHANGES with others?

Here are 7 Co-creating Conversations that release the aspirations in yourself and others.

1. Co-creating Conversations: Are conversations about the company and where it's going inclusive and healthy, or exclusive? Are people working in silos, or are they conversing together? Is there an "us-them" mentality, or do people feel like "we're in this together?"
• Be an Inclusive Leader: Engage in conversations which help people see how they can contribute and participate.Shift from exclusion (fear) to inclusion (growth).
2. Honest Conversations: Is there a spirit of openness and appreciation, or judgmental and critical?
• Be an appreciative and honest leader: Set the tone for open, honest, caring communication. Action: shift from judging (fear) to appreciating (growth).
3. Aspirational Conversations: Can employees link their personal aspirations with the organization's vision?
• Be an aspirational leader: Are you limiting people's aspirations and leading them to lower their sights rather than helping them to embrace challenging possibilities?Action: shift from limiting (fear) to expanding (growth).
4. Navigating & Networking Conversations: Are employees collaborating and bonding across boundaries? Healthy organizations allow vital information, innovative ideas, and best practices to be shared internally and externally.
• Be a collaborative leader: Are you sharing information, exchanging best practices, reducing the need to protect turf, and breaking down silos to explore uncharted territory, test the waters, explore, and pioneer new territories?Action: shift from withholding (fear) to sharing (growth).
5. Generative Give and take Conversations: In what ways are colleagues engaging with each other for mutual success? Cultures that encourage brainstorming with no support process for turning ideas into reality create frustration. Unmet expectations abound, and employees lose faith.
• Be a generative leader. Are you stuck in old ways and grooves-- or are you helping inspire discovery and innovation?Action: shift from knowing (fear) to experimenting (growth).
6. Enterprise Conversations: Are you developing the next generation? Do they have a voice? Are they developing leadership points of view? What forums exist for pushing against the current rules and culture and creating the next generation of leadership?
• Be an influential leader: Set the tone by encouraging people to speak up, express their voice, challenge authority, to contribute to the growth of the brand.Action: shift from dictating (fear) to developing (growth).
7. Spirit: Is there a spirit of shared success? Are people learning from past mistakes and using them to work better and smarter? Does the brand engage the hearts, minds, and sprits of employees and customers?
• Be an enterprise leader: Are you setting the tone for enterprise spirit, helping people move from a focus on making the numbers or from "win at all cost" or "I win, your lose" to contributing to their growth in the context of enterprise growth.Action: from compliance (fear) to celebration (growth).

Unaware leaders blame others for what goes wrong. Self-aware leaders look inside and explore the impact they have on their culture.

Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results by Judith E. Glaser (BiblioMotion - Forthcoming October 2013; Pre-order now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble)