THE BLOG
09/07/2010 03:14 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Kindling -- How to Ignite the Potential Fire in Your Business

But if these, as I am sure they do, bear fire enough to kindle cowards and to steel with valor the melting spirits of women, then, countrymen, what need we any spur but our own cause to prick us to redress? -- Brutus, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare.

There seems to be a common frustration experienced by many leaders who have true vision -- how do I get 'the others' to see, feel and act on the possibilities I, myself, see and feel?

I was talking about 'possibilities' with a director of a large international operation the other day. They are doing very well -- but not even close to his sense of the potential. His feeling of overwhelm was palpable. Yes, there were a select few who could lead the organization into a new league, but there were so many in key leadership roles who are not ready to embrace new ways and scary-hairy goals. Why bother trying to break the mold? What's the point? They always came up with 'perfect reasons' why things should just plod along the way they'd been going -- if it ain't broke, why fix it? We're lucky to be in profit in these hard times. Why rock the boat?

Can't argue with that logic. Add to that the data from all kinds of failed initiatives and you have your evidence sewn up tighter than my pants after a bowl of spaghetti carbonara.

And there's the thing -- no matter how perfect the reasons and how compelling the evidence -- he was still unhappy to settle for sloppy seconds without denying a greater truth within him -- and feeling the pain that is the inevitable consequence.

I was on the point of leaving when I felt the same pain in myself. Without realizing it at first, I was colluding with the conspiracy of inertia that was paralyzing not only his business but mine and everyone else's too.

What was I resisting? What was I afraid to ask? Was I expecting this to be handed to me on a plate -- without my taking a risk in the first place?

Not only was he unconsciously adopting his colleague's perfect reasons as his own -- but so was I! Not only was he afraid to challenge the 'majority view', but I was afraid to challenge his. Obviously, my fear was that of rejection -- if I challenged his seemingly sewn up position I'd risk losing his approval and hence the relationship and the work. But if I didn't, I'd lose it all anyway -- so what the hell?

Without alienating him and without a 'coaching contract' yet in place to give me permission, how could I challenge his limiting beliefs about 'how it's not possible for just me and one or two others to transform this business unless all the top people were in one accord'?

My 'little voice' came to the rescue. I remembered a line from a seminar given by my mentor, John-Roger. It went something like: within the concept of coal is the potential of fire.

I felt a metaphor coming on.

At first I felt what I needed to say was all about him. But as I opened my mouth I realized his issue was just a mirror of my own -- duh!

Imagine you were me, I said. My organization is represented by a ton of coal. I'm saying it's impossible to ignite this coal and release its energy with one single match. I have this genuine sense of all the heat, power and possibility to transform things that is inherent in this coal, but I am approaching it in a way that allows it to remain untapped. I am taking all the responsibility for unleashing the potential upon my own shoulders. My sense of 'the perfect way this should happen' is a fantasy expectation with no basis in reality. I am not using the resources that are easily available to me right now.

Yes, he said. I understand. I agree. I am too. (My fear also had no basis in reality!)

If you were advising me how to ignite this mountain of coal with one match, what would you do?

Kindling, he said. Use kindling. Start with paper because it burns easily. Get some twigs to create a bit more heat. Then some logs. Then I'd put a few lumps of coal on. Then eventually I could burn it all.

Exactamundo! I exclaimed with delight. Although this absolutely was true for me, by the end of his feedback, he was owning his own creative solution.

So who is your kindling material right now?

There's an song by John Denver that began playing through my brain -- 'What one man can do'. Apparently it's written as homage to Buckminster Fuller. What one man can do is take the risk to strike a match and light a small flame.

Fire is contagious.