Getting to the Next Level of Greatness…

Judith E. Glaser

Judith E. Glaser

Judith Glaser

Judith Glaser

My clients are all leaders in corporations ranging in size from $150 million to $50 billion. I share this because I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter how small or large the company is, leaders have the same shared-challenge. How to get to their next level of greatness…

When I start a coaching engagement, I always ask leaders what they want.  What type of organization they want to create – what they are aspiring to build… 100% of the leaders I work with 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 and leaders rather than visitors and blind followers? Where people worked with each other to differentiate their brand and capture the hearts, minds, and souls of customers…

While each person articulates it a bit differently, the essence is the same.  Human beings are at their best when they are connected with others, working on achieving their greatest aspirations.  It doesn’t matter how large or small the company is – getting to the next level of greatness is something we all human beings share.

            The watchword of my company since our inception has been: 

To get to the next level of greatness, depends on the quality of the culture,
which depends on the quality of the relationships,
which depends on the quality of conversations.
Everything happens through conversations!

– Judith E. Glaser

And when human beings work together to co-create greatness, we shift into a higher state of consciousness called ‘aspirational consciousness’ and this higher level of consciousness catalyzes the growth of new Leadership DNA. What emerges is nothing less than a profound shift in how we engage with others, how we innovate with others and how we develop others.

Aspirations vs. Expectations

The word aspirations is quite fascinating, and when I work with leaders I teach them the difference between ‘aspirations and expectations.’ Expectations are ‘what is most likely to happen.’  Most expectations are not neutral. When we get what we expect, we feel a positive reward inside, and we send out positive signals letting people know we are satisfied. When we don’t get what we expect we send out negative signals of disappointment.  Most of us don’t realize that we send out these micro-messages but we do. When these signals land on others, they either trigger others ‘fear networks’ or ‘growth networks.’ Sending signals of disappointment, triggers fear which – in simple terms – closes down our ability to take risks, to experiment, and to grow. While signals of satisfaction and appreciation triggers our sense of self-esteem, enabling us to try more, experiment more and grow more ways to achieve our ultimate goals.

In the pursuit of achieving their goals, most leaders forget to look for the signals of how their ‘words and conversations’ land on others. They forget to observe and link their intentions and impact. This is the core work I do when coaching: linking Intention to Impact – and the better we coaches get at making this link explicit for leaders this the better our leaders get at leading their organizations.

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.

I’ve learned that the best gift a leader can give their employees is to ask them to talk about their aspirations. Aspirations are their hopes, desires, wants, wishes, ambitions and dreams. They come from inside. They are pure, without judgment. When we move people into talking about their aspirations, something shifts inside that defies gravity. Talking about aspirations takes us into the highest level of brain integration known on this planet. Our brains were designed to aspire. In fact aspire means to breathe, and when we aspire with others we breathe hope, and life into each other. That is what we were designed to do. That is what we are evolving to do.

From Power-over to Power-with

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; they need to direct and guide and decide everything. They create cultures guided by their expectations of others to perform against their expectations.  Power-with leaders are different. They create environments, which inspire people to talk about aspirations, and to create a shared reality where ‘everyone is in this together.’

When I work with leaders, I ask them to imagine they had the ability to open a new door in their lives and to step into a world where people were operating from Power-with others, and from this sift they were able to almost magically trigger this shift in others.   To move them into this state, I ask them to imagine what this world would look like and feel like … and with these questions, their leadership journey begins…

CONVERSATIONS that Transform a Culture

Shifting from Power-over to Power-with others is like resetting our brains to operate from it’s healthiest state.  Our brains are designed to be social. Our need for belonging is more powerful than our need for safety.  When we are rejected, we experience pain in the same centers in the brain and body as when we are in a car crash. Being emotionally orphaned is more painful than death.

When others show us love, respect, and honor us, it triggers the same centers in the brain as when we eat chocolate or have sex. It gives us a “high!” Learning how to create a “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, and that fosters 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? 

Seven Conversations that Trigger Vital Instincts for Growth

Here are 7 Co-creating Conversations that release the aspirations in yourself and others. If you are a coach, see how you can use these to activate the Vital Instincts for growth in your clients. If you are a leader, see how you can experiment with these to release a new level of leadership inside of your teams and employees…

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 fostering conversations about how to achieve organizational success together? Is there an ‘us-them’ mentality, or do people feel like ‘we’re in this together?’  Do people share a common language and a common reality?

• Be an Inclusive Leader: Engage in conversations which help people see how they can contribute and participate in creating a great culture and community.
Action: shift from exclusion (fear) to inclusion (growth).

2. Honest Conversations: Is there a spirit of openness and appreciation, or judgmental and critical? Do leaders honor, respect and trust the people in the organization or are they judgmental and critical?  Can people tell the truth? Or is truth telling painful and hidden to protect people from reality?

• Be an appreciative and honest leader: Set the tone for open, honest, caring communication, helping people learn how to express what they are feeling and to move from being politically driven, to respectful, supportive, direct and open in all communications.
Action: shift from judging (fear) to appreciating (growth).

3. Aspirational Conversations: Are leaders providing opportunity for people to link their personal aspirations with the organization’s vision? Often the vision is too far out for people to grasp its implications, and too abstract to see where they can contribute to it. What’s missing is the interpretation of the vision down to the level of “what does it mean to me and what do I have to do or change to get there?”

• Be an aspirational leader: Are you limiting people’s aspirations and leading them to lower their sights rather than helping them to embrace exciting and challenging possibilities?
Action: shift from limiting (fear) to expanding (growth).

4. Navigating & Networking Conversations: Are employees collaborating and bonding across boundaries?  Healthy organizations create collaborative teams, where individuals find ways to contribute to the betterment of the whole organization. Healthy organizations form networks that allow vital information, innovative ideas, and best practices to be shared internally and with outside vendors and customers. The mental health of the culture depends on the “wellness” of the factions with sub-cultures co-existing and co-creating together in spite of their differences. People can have different voices, but when they come together they need to sing a common song.

• 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?  Are people learning from past mistakes and depending on each other to find new and better strategies for success? Cultures that encourage brainstorming with no support process for turning the ideas into reality create in credible frustration. Unmet expectations abound, and employees lose faith in their leaders and in themselves. An evolved culture puts in place support systems such as Ideation and Innovation Centers. The management team resources projects designed to test and experiment new ways of thinking and implementing. Making mistakes is okay in the spirit of discovery. People are rewarded for coming up with new products and services and turning their ideas into realities.

• Be a generative leader: Are you stuck in old ways and grooves— or are you help inspire discovery and innovation where you are harvesting next generation thinking?
Action: shift from knowing (fear) to experimenting (growth).

6. Enterprise Conversations: Are you developing the next generation? Do they have a voice? Are employees and management working together to develop the bench strength and talent to address the challenges of the present and the future? Are leaders enabling employees to challenge the status quo and have a voice? Are they developing leadership points of view? Are leaders pushing their ideas on others (creating a culture of compliance) or are they setting the stage for people to grow their points of view (take ownership and have strong commitment)? Do people feel suppressed? What forums exist for pushing against the current rules and culture and creating the next generation leadership?

• Be an influential leader: Are you setting the tone by teaching people how to speak up, express their voice, challenge authority and group-think, and develop their ideas, points of view and wisdom 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? Is everyone connected and working to realize a common purpose? Do we know how to celebrate success and focus on reinvention… 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).

Looking in the Mirror

Unaware leaders blame others for what goes wrong. Self-aware leaders look inside and explore the dynamics of their own nature, and the impact they have on their culture. They learn what it takes to create a culture that enables colleagues to be fully engaged and motivated.

Are you willing to examine your leadership and how you influence your own mindset as well as your colleagues? When you influence in positive ways, you have a more profound impact on growth, and you create a culture that sustains commitment and enthusiasm to achieve everyone’s vital goals and strategies.

About the Author

Judith E. Glaser is the CEO of Benchmark Communications, Inc., and the Chairman of The Creating WE Institute. She is one of the most innovative and pioneering change agents, consultants and executive coaches in the consulting industry – and refers to herself as an Organizational Anthropologist. A best-selling business author, Judith is the world’s leading authority on WE-centric Leadership, Neuro-Innovation and Conversational Intelligence®. Through the application of neuroscience to business challenges, Judith shows CEOs and their teams how to elevate levels of engagement, collaboration and innovation to positively impact the bottom line.

Judith has appeared on CBS, NBC’s Today Show, ABC World News, The Fox News Channel, CBS Morning News, The Martha Stewart Show and the Family Network talking about We-Centric Leadership and Cultural Transformation. She is frequently quoted on her revolutionary workplace approaches in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Crain’s, Harvard Management Review, AMA World, etc. and is a contributing Editor for Executive Excellence Magazine.


  1. Jean on November 18, 2012 at 5:59 am

    Thank you. A very good article. Comes just as I go into 3 days of very intense team building.
    Dialogue… conversation… I agree its the way to go as it creates communities of leaders.
    Greatness – are you drawing on the work of Peter Koestenbaum?