Blog Post Quotes

A Positively Magical(?) Way to Foster Accountability

We can all become “energy vampires” at times – if left unchecked. Our role as leaders is to check that tendency at every turn- both in the culture and, perhaps more importantly, in ourselves.

Welcome to your Food For Thought. Today we are going to talk about positivity, but not in a Pollyanna way, we are going to talk about positivity in a culture of accountability. We are going to go over tactics for bringing about this balance of positivity and accountability in ourselves, our teams, and our company.

Some friends and I were joking around recently and we assigned ourselves doppelgangers from the Harry Potter universe that (loosely) matched our personas. In the early days of joking, mine was left open for one reason or another, but a few options were offered in jest. Let’s just say none of those were the ones I was hoping for!

Then the other day, during a side exchange that went into a similar space, I received the instant message – “You’re Dumbledore!” Humbling. For sure! Accurate? Not so sure, but certainly aspirational as he is the kind of leader I hope to be one day! (It made my month nonetheless.)

Like Dumbledore, I strive to be serious and effective, but not take myself too seriously. I live to teach and pass on to others what I have learned. I re-orient myself each day to understand that I have just as much or more to learn as the people I try to mentor… and the list goes on and on…. The reason I mention this in today’s Food For Thought is that one famous quote from Dumbledore sums up the Food for Thought for the day. It too describes an area I strive to be like the Hogwart’s headmaster in, although I fail often, much as he did. In fact, I think we all struggle with this – it is Positivity:

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light.

Albus Dumbledore

To be more specific, this quote and the subject of today’s Food for Thought is positivity and accountability in the midst of challenge, change, and negativity. If you’ve been reading for a while you may notice this is a recurring theme of these missives. The reason I harp on this so often (so often that I can come across at times like the mythical headmaster of a magical school or some Pollyanna version of a leader :)) is because…

…. it is precisely in times of tumultuous change, like those we find ourselves in, that the Voldemorts and the Death Eaters of the corporate world can rear their heads.

When we are under the stress of change, the constant pinging of those negative voices, born and bred out of fear of the unknown, and maladjustment to the changes that pry us screaming from our comfort zones, can be relentless. It can do serious damage to an effort, a team, or an individual if unchecked. Our role as leaders is to check that tendency at every turn- both in the culture and, perhaps more importantly, in ourselves.

As someone who has been on both sides of the fight, I’m here to tell you, it can be won! Much like Snape, (spoiler alert) who turns out to be the good guy all along, or Dumbledore is revealed to be a seriously flawed younger man, I wasn’t always as positive as I am now. At various points in my life, I too was what Jon Gordon calls an “energy vampire.” Do you know the kind of person I am talking about?

Here is how Jon Gordon, author of The Energy Bus, describes it:

An energy vampire is the person who sucks the life right out of their team, they’re focused on themselves, they don’t care about the team. If allowed to exist and persist, that negativity grows, and can sabotage the team or organization.

I guess Jon knows what he is talking about. He is not exactly a simple “Pollyanna” like yours truly, he works with organizations like the LA Dodgers, Dell, Southwest Airlines, The LA Clippers, The Miami Heat. He teams with major banks, with even West Point Academy, and what does Jon Gordon do? According to his clients, through his books and public speaking he inspires and energizes others, rallying teams around positivity, providing techniques and plans to turn organizations around and he makes a huge difference in the way these elite corporate and sports players lead their lives and their teams. Over the course of his career, he has had a tremendous impact on corporate culture and team culture. So I want to share some of his strategies with you today as your Food for Thought.

Note: Much of the content below is spoken in Jon Gordon’s voice – derived from a CNLP podcast conversation I heard on this topic found here.

Food for Thought Concept 1: Start with an Attitude of Gratitude

I found that you can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time. Jon Gordon

Here’s the tactic: Jon recommends that you take walks of gratitude every day, he calls them “thank you walks.”

  • He simply walks anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour every day and talks to himself about what he is thankful for. He attributes the effectiveness of these walks to the fact that he gets the most silent and is most receptive to Greater wisdom.

He agrees that it may not be a walk for you, it may be your time in the shower or on a bike ride, but he recommends taking that time to grow silent and be thankful every day and he believes you’ll get into a more positive mindset and generate more and better ideas as a result.

Jon also recommends: eating right, exercising every day, he claims all those things help us “stay healthy on this journey.”

Food for Thought Question 1: What habit(s) can you build in over the next month to become more thankful? more inspired by the silence?

Food for Thought Concept 2: Stay Positive Through The Challenges

I have another leader in my life, Jenn Williams, who talks about how life is lived, not in the “ideal outcome” we create in our minds, but in the “Messy Middle.” She and other leaders like Lysa Terkeurst and Brene Brown talk about the fact that we tend to get too focused on the outcomes and writing the end of every story, and we don’t spend enough time relishing in the progress of the messy middle. Like Jon Gordon, they advocate thankfulness in the midst of change to get you through.

In The Power of a Positive Team, Gordon describes that discouragement is so often why we give up.

That’s why staying positive is so important. We get discouraged, we give up. We stop trying, and so we don’t give up because of the challenge, we give up because we get discouraged. And if you could just stay positive and move forward one step at a time, and strive to get better every day, then you move, and you move forward in a positive direction, creating a greater outcome in the future.

So, that’s why encouragement is so important. That’s why we need more encouragement in this world. That’s why I do what I do. My job’s really just to encourage. I mean, I saw Dabo Swinney. I work with Clemson Football, you know, for the past seven years now, and I’ve seen this coach, this leader, just believe. Just stay encouraged no matter what happened. No matter what loss they had, he stayed encouraged, stayed positive, and kept on instilling that belief in others.

You have to realize that you’re transferring your belief every day to your team. That’s why you must be a positive leader today. Through all the challenges, you must lead your team in a positive direction, and I’ve seen the great leaders that do that.

Leadership is a transfer of belief, and so if you, the leader, are not believing what’s possible, if you’re not positive, your team will never be positive. Jon Gordon

When asked about common characteristics of high performing individuals, or high performing teams Jon Gordon answers this way :

  • From a team standpoint, they all have a shared vision and a greater purpose. They know where they’re going, and they know why they’re going there. They stay positive through the challenges.
  • It’s the teams that stay positive throughout the season that accomplish great things, ’cause right now we’re positive, but once we have our first loss, how do we respond? So, as a leader, and as a team, you have to work through those struggles, stay positive through them, continue to move forward, and that’s a key attribute for teams. They have this belief and optimism where they just don’t let it go, and then they’re really connected.

Food for Thought Question 2: How can I stay positive through challenges and focus on the progress vs the outcome in the Messy Middle?

Food for Thought Concept 3: Accountability: Move from Connection to Commitment to Love Tough and Positive Discontent

Below, I have provided more from Jon Gordon on how he teaches teams to make the transition from connection to commitment and then to a place of mutual accountability, to include difficult (but positive) conversations.

You have to be a connected team if you want to be a committed team. Jon Gordon

Everybody wants commitment on their team, but you will never have commitment without connection, and I have found that these teams get connected. They have what’s called emotional safety, psychological safety, where they have trust, where they build a bond. Where they feel free to fail, and be vulnerable with each other, and from there, this bond, this trust, this relationship, is what really drives true and lasting success. Again, you see the teams that give up halfway through the season ’cause they’re not connected, and not committed.

You see the teams that don’t have team grit. Everyone talks about grit. You’ll never have team grit without this connection and commitment. And then great teams also have difficult conversations.

They move from what I call to love.

Steve Shyman taught me this principle: Everyone wants to be liked, ’cause all the likes in social media, right? No one wants to rock the boat, but they stay surface level as a result of that. They never move to greater intimacy. They never move to love, because they don’t have difficult conversations. You have to have difficult conversations.

Pete Carroll has tell-the-truth Mondays after their Sunday football games. Seattle Seahawks. Tell-the-truth Mondays, right? Okay, every Monday we get together, we’re going to tell the truth. This is what you did wrong. These are the mistakes you made. Here’s what we need to do better. But no one gets defensive, ’cause they know it’s part of their culture. It’s about accepting feedback. It’s not demeaning. It’s demanding, but not demeaning, and in that process, everyone gets better. Great leaders and teams are demanding, just not demeaning, and they’re all moving towards a standard of excellence where they really want to improve every day.

They’re always striving to get better. They have what I call positive discontent, where when they win they say, “Okay, we won, but what could we do better?”

This is not Pollyanna. This is about confronting negativity. It’s about dealing with negativity. It’s about addressing the challenges, and it’s about pursuing greatness together.” We’re not just here to have fun together, we’re here to pursue greatness together. Because we believe the best is yet to come, we give our best to each other, we give our best each day to create the best outcome.

That’s the key to great leadership today, it’s the key to great teams. Two words: love and accountability. You have to have both. If you have a lot of love but no accountability, you’re gonna be a great family. You’re gonna love each other, but you’re not gonna be very accountable, and you’re not gonna be moving towards greatness. If you have a lot of accountability, which is the way a lot of us lead, but not enough love, well, then you’re always pushing, you’re grinding, you’re challenging, but there’s not enough love to invest in that relationship, and so what do you do?

Food for Thought Question 3: How can I create connection and then hold myself and others accountable through Loving Tough and Positive Discontent?

Food for Thought Concept 4 : (Lovingly) Slay The Energy Vampires

This concept gives you a set of tactics from Jon Gordon to address truly negative people or energy vampires, as well as some advice on how to manage and maintain the right ratio of conflict on the team.

The energy vampire is often bringing their own personal wounds, and their own struggles, and their own issues, and they’re bringing it to everyone else. Jon Gordon

Energy Vampire definition (reprise): The person who sucks the life right out of their team, they’re focused on themselves, they don’t care about the team. They’re just really, really negative and they bring the team down, and so, as a leader, one of the biggest mistakes we make is that we do not focus on dealing with the negativity. We do not confront the negativity. We allow it to exist and persist, and then the negativity grows, and it winds up sabotaging the organization.

So, we have to address it, but we do so in a positive way. Where they say this, from The Energy Bus,

“You’re either on my bus or off my bus. You decide.” And that’s not the intention.

You have to love tough, not tough love. Love tough is the key.

Love must come first.

Photo by Church of the King on Unsplash

If your team knows that you love them, then you earn the right to challenge them but love must come first, and so a lot of people, unfortunately, though, have taken my book The Energy Bus, and what they’re doing, now, is they’re using it as a way to control people, and to say, “You’re either positive or not”

If someone is an energy vampire, you address them in a positive way. You try to help them become a part of their culture. You try to transform them with love, empathy, coaching, mentoring, and guidance.

But if that person, then, at that point is really negative, if they’re not willing to change, if they are sabotaging the team, and there are those people, then you may have to let that person off the bus.

And time and time again, they accomplished the very thing that they thought impossible. Now, you wanna have some of those people on the team that, again, try to bring some objectivity to it in a sense. They wanna bring maybe even some conflict because those people might get you to think about things you wouldn’t normally think about, but once you have those discussions, then they must join the team and get on the bus and believe about what’s possible when you have those discussions.

If that person just wants to be negative for negative’s sake, they’re an energy vampire. If they’re trying to make the team better, and that’s their intention, and they do so, and they made you think about things that you normally wouldn’t think about, that’s actually an attribute to the team, so you need that as part of your time. Notice, we’re talking about some conflict. You have to have some conflict, as our friend Patrick Lencioni talks about.

Ratios: What’s the right ratio of positive to negative comments to know if the conflict is a positive conflict or negative conflict?

  • The ratio you want is like five-to-one or greater positive to negative interactions.
  • Three-to-one or greater. Seven-to-one or greater is awesome, but if you get to 13-to-one, 13 positive to one negative, the team starts to fall apart, ’cause no one’s dealing with the real issues, then we are too Pollyanna.
  • Clarifying question: If you have an hour meeting do you want a three-to-one, five-to-one, seven-to-one positive over negative?
  • Answer: Mostly in terms of over the course of a relationship, over the course of the time of being together, and so forth. Maybe not in one meeting. In one meeting, you might have more negativity that meeting, but over the course of a relationship. John Gottman’s research shows, in marriage, is the ratio, it’s five positive to one negative. As a ratio approaches one-to-one, one negative to one positive interaction, the marriage is more likely to head to divorce.

Special Challenge:

  • What do you do with folks who say : "I'm not negative. I'm a realist."
  • Gordon's Suggested Tactics/Anecdotes:

STEVE JOBS: When Steve Jobs would say to his team, "Hey, we're gonna do this software in this amount of time." And they'd say, "There's no way. There's no way that it's gonna happen." They said how he had this amazing ability to distort their reality. He distorted their reality. His reality distortion field, they called it, from pessimism, or realism, "I'm just being a realist," to optimism.

GORDON's SON: When my son, for instance, says, "Dad, I'm just being me." 'Cause he's got the, "I'm just being me," thing. "You said you should be authentic." Yeah, you should be authentic, but you should be the best version of you. Right? This is not, like, "I'm just being me, but I'm a jerk. That's just who I am." No, no, no. You don't have to be that. You can be the best, most positive version of you.

Bottom line: You wanna make sure that people on your team are contributing to the team in a positive way.

One person can’t make a team, but one person can break a team.

  • Additional Tip: If you have to let someone go or ask them to leave the team continue to mentor that person.
    • Keep that person close. Call ’em up. Encourage them. They may not be on your court, or your field, but they could still be on your team where you love them and you care about them.

It’s not a perfect science. There’s no perfect formula. The leader’s job is to figure out who needs to stay, and who may need to go.

Food for Thought Question 4: What will it take for me to identify and slay the energy vampires around me (or the one in the mirror?)… and how do i ensure I do not drive out healthy conflict in the process?

Bringing it all Together:

Your Food for Thought is to pick one of the four concepts above and try it out next week. Ask yourself:

  1. What habit can I start to help me “get silent” each day and be more thankful?
  2. How can I stay positive through challenges and focus on the progress in the Messy Middle vs the (fantasized) ideal outcome?
  3. How can I create connection and then hold myself and others accountable through Loving Tough and Positive Discontent?
  4. What will it take for me to identify and slay the energy vampires around me (or the one in the mirror?)… and how do i ensure I do not drive out healthy conflict in the process?

I hope you find this valuable, I would love to hear your thoughts and comments, and remember, if for any reason you don’t…it is all just Food for Thought.

For more from:

Jon Gordon go to Twitter / Instagram : @jongordon11

Jenn Williams blog Better Together can be found at and she and her sister Laura Brown’s podcast is The Sisters of Industry

Lysa TerKeurst is at

Brene Brown is at

More from Four4Soaring if found here

By J Johnson

I am seeking to discover, find and share salt and light into the world. After growing up in financial poverty, but with a wealth of loving people lifting me up all along the way, I struggled for a good while to "do it all on my own." Until I finally found something indescribable in a mere "about me" section of a blog. Now I have the peace that discovery provides as well as the overwhelming urge to share everything I can with as many as I can. I am now trying to use those life experiences, my formal and informal education, and my over 25 years of human resources and leadership experience to have a broader conversation with the world about that something, that Light, and about Love and Leadership...with a dose of Laughter along the way. 4 Ls to Live by and to Soar by: Four for Soaring.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.