innovation leadership Sparkplug

Vitality Rediscovered

We just sold a house. Many of you have the same experiences in moving that my wife Pam and I did. Much of the pain was about book decisions. Thousands of volumes one or both of us found indispensable, often surviving previous moves.

In conducting the necessary pruning, I had a chance to revisit many books read over the years. I am an inveterate underliner and turned pages until I saw something I once thought important. In this toil, I came to a 2004 book called Vitality…Igniting Your Organization’s Spirit. The authors, Chuck and Mary Mead Lofy, are well known for their many years of research on vitality in corporations. I came across two underlinings I had made.

The first followed the authors’ observation that rather than to dissect the inherent meaning of the term, it is best to focus on how vitality is seen and heard in an organization. The first underling I saw was the first entry in a section called “Markers of Vitality”: Spontaneous leadership. This occurs when people assert leadership regardless of their position in the organization. This one stuck with me for the connection between vitality and spontaneity. People are much more likely to pitch in and take leads when they can do so without formal designation in a plan or a structure. A culture of vitalness brings out widespread engagement borne in energy not requirements.

The second underling is very short: He left his spirit at home. This was the explanation for an executive that fizzled. He fell short not because he checked his knowledge or skills at the door. It was his spirit that was left out. The Lofy’s connect vitality with spirit and with energy more than with systems or processes. Before you can be powered by data you need to be powered by vitality.

Years ago, I wrote an article called “Character in Organizations.” My premise was that while many organizations have characteristics, few have character. I described how valuable it was to apply personal traits, values, dispositions, and other factors we use to form a clear view of a
person’s character to organizations. Vitality holds up well in that translation. You can see it in persons. You can see it in organizations. And it is at the core of success in both places.


Evolving into an “Outcome Guide”

When Consulting Just Doesn’t Fit the Narrative of Our Results First Work

As a Results First leader, I am different than an every day consultant. I chose the term “Outcome Guide” for six specific reasons:

  1. Guiding is in a result context.  You don’t need a guide to wonder through a field or a forest—whether literal or figurative. You need a guide to reach a destination—whether it is mountain top, a creel full of fresh trout, or a specific accomplishment for an organization.  

  2. Success is clear and agreed upon in advance.  You either reach your summit or you do not.  The point is not to write a plan but to use a plan to get to a stated place of achievement. So many consultants are paid by the hour or the output. I am paid when you arrive where you wanted to go.  And I offer a warranty. 

  3. Guides are expected to know the route and share that knowledge. They do not ask their clients to discover their own paths.  They are a resource-full partner, not simply a facilitator for reformulating  what group members already know.

  4. Guides help with provisions.  I find the analogies to organizational life playful and helpful.  Many organizations, for example, set forth on program voyages loaded with murky baggage of evaluation and outcome terminology. They have packed too much to sustain the pace. 

  5. Guides  are expected to know the terrain.  Think, for example, of swamps as places that can mire you down and cause great loss in momentum. Most organizations can anticipate these after the blush  of project launch is over.  Knowing about when swamps (as well as mountains and other obstacles)  will be encountered gives a huge leg up on how to avoid or get through them. 

  6. Guides must know the starting point.  Whether on a map or a Garmin, you need to know present location as well as destination.  Starting half way up the mountain is very different than starting at the bottom. Further, most groups find it difficult to confront unpleasant discrepancy between aspiration and current reality. Jim Collins is among those that feels that confronting reality clearly is essential for greatness.
Photo by Pixabay on

I developed many of my thoughts and tools while President of The Rensselaerville Institute (TRI) , “the think tank with muddy boots.”  I recommend the Institute for project-scale engagements.  Its Outcome Group is especially good at insuring that an outcome framework gets to your “shop floor” in a way that builds energy and intense focus on achievement.  I especially like it that TRI is the first to take its own advice.  Its signature program, School Turnaround puts a set of outcome tools to use to reverse failure in public schools in short order.