All Posts By

Lorella DePieri

The Case for Optimism at Work

“What’s so bright about the bright side?”

Sometimes, uncertainty makes it hard maintain your optimism at work. What’s so bright about the bright side when all around you is constant change and growing complexity? It’s hard not to think in terms of good or bad when your boss is promoted, your colleague departs, or you’re given a difficult deadline.

But why must these events be either good or bad, or indeed have any value at all? What if we just saw them as an unfolding, a kind of plot development in your organizational environment’s story? After all, what seems like a misfortune could lead to something better, as in this fable.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A fable about optimism at work.

There was a village and, in this village, to own a horse was considered to have much wealth. One day this old man’s horse broke out of the corral and ran into the forest. The villagers gathered around and commiserated with the old man “what a terrible misfortune has fallen upon your home.” The old man responded with, “Well, maybe yes, maybe no.”

A few days later his horse returned with six wild stallions. Well you can imagine if one horse was considered wealthy, seven was beyond imagination. The villagers gathered again to praise the good fortune. The old man again responded with, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

A week later his eldest son was trying to break one of the stallions, fell off and broke his leg. This was most unfortunate in that the old man needed his son to help with the farm work. Once again the villagers gathered to bemoan his misfortune. Once again, the old man again responded with, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

Two weeks later the army came through looking for young men to recruit to war and could not take his son. Was this good fortune?

As the man would have said, “maybe yes, maybe no.” Who’s to know if his son would have saved lived or lost his own?

The moral of the story

Work and workplaces are disrupted constantly. Budgets are cut, strategy changes or your software upgrade fails. They could be disruptions or welcome changes: the point it not to judge them; but remain optimistic about the eventual outcome.

As my colleague Rhona Berengut says, “It all works out in the end. If it hasn’t it isn’t the end yet.”

Making Lemonade from Everyday Workplace Problems

“When work gives you lemons – make lemonade!”

How often do you hear these everyday workplace problems? Travel restrictions are in place, budgets must be cut, no client expenses for the next quarter, how can we pull in biz from the next quarter into this one, can you get that completed in less time, we need it now or we’ll lose the client. We are all familiar with the current workplace mantra: we have to do more with less.

No doubt, time and money are scarce, and there is a drive to be more innovative in how we work. While most of us understand the logic behind scarcity in our workplace resources, it is still emotionally stressful. And when we can’t get what we need to do our job, it’s easy to look over at your boss, another co-worker or department and compare. We wonder why they get more while we get less.

However, doing more with less gives us a chance to be creative: perhaps we can make lemonade from lemons, as the saying goes. Maybe we can find more efficient ways of doing business.

What if, rather than competing for scarce resources, we became curious and collaborated? What if we asked each other questions? The following fable explores the power of asking why do you need it, and what could happen if we did that.

Lemonade from lemons: A fable about everyday workplace problems

Two sisters found themselves in the kitchen both reaching for the last lemon in the house. Neither one wanted to make the effort to buy more – besides, they had no money. Neither one wanted to exert power or manipulate the other so each did the honorable thing and compromised. Each begrudgingly took their half of the lemon to their spot in the kitchen. With much chagrin, one sister grated the rind to make a half of a lemon cake. The other, feeling resentful, squeezed a half a glass of lemonade.

Neither got what they wanted. But had they asked each other why they needed the lemon, they could each have had the whole.

The moral of the story:

When we get fixed on what we want rather than why we want it, we miss creating opportunities for innovation and win-win solutions.

Next time you find yourself in a budget meeting negotiating for resources, try to set aside what you think you need and ask the other why they need what they are asking for. You never know… sometimes you might both walk away with a whole lemon.

Powerful Questions

“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes”

Albert Einstein

The question you ask determines the answer you get.

Q: “What most impresses you when you meet someone that you want to work with? What builds trust and credibility?”

A: “I can always tell, how experienced and insightful a prospective business supplier is by the quality of their questions and how intently they listen. That’s how simple it is.” -CEO of $12 B company

The ability to ask insightful, provocative questions is a powerful sales and sales coaching skill. Not only do great questions prompt acquiring new important information – asking and hearing the answer allows you to re-frame and expand your perceptions and come up with more innovative solutions. Most importantly it shows you care about what’s important to your clients.

The worst question sales professionals ask a customer is “What keeps you up at night”. Clients report that it’s an overused, lazy cliché. It demonstrates you haven’t done your homework, researched the company, looked at issues from their point of view and prepared for the call.

Asking powerful questions requires more than putting a question mark at the end of a thought.

Powerful questions:

  • Open the door to rich dialogue and discovery
  • Invite reflection and digging into the real need
  • Expand possibilities or focus attention
  • Bring underlying assumptions to the surface – consider the following situation:

A man is at home, he’s wearing a mask, another man is coming. When I’ve asked sales people to use closed-ended, yes/no questions to determine what’s going on, they will ask up to 12 to 15 questions and still not get the answer. Asking the open-ended question of ‘why is the man wearing a mask?’ surfaces the assumptions made about the word ‘home’. The answer ‘to protect his face from the baseball’ is reached more efficiently. This mirrors the assumptions made when your clients use the words quality, timely etc. It’s natural to assume what that means and you could be going down the wrong path or take much longer to get at the real need.

From a sales management perspective asking provocative, insightful coaching questions can have a powerful ripple effect. A great question has the capacity to ‘travel well’ – to spread beyond the place where it began with you and your sales person into the sales person’s client organization. Empower your sales people with insightful questions by asking those in your coaching sessions.

Provocative questions can alter brainpower up or down. Thought provoking questions that come from positive intent evokes the neocortex – the creative, problem solving part of the brain. Short, curt inquisitions can activate the freeze, flight, fight reaction of the brain. Do your typical coaching questions stir up brain chemicals to turn brainpower into innovation, insight and ‘aha’ moments or do they cause people to run from your inquisitions?

Coaching questions need to be:

  • Short & succinct – be clear in what you are asking!
  • More open-ended vs. close-ended questions. Typically sales professionals ask 20 closed-ended to every 1 open-ended question. The ratio should be more like 3 closed-ended to every 1 open-ended question.
  • Evocative to produce insight and/or learning vs. factual answers “by rote”
  • Asked using active & visual verbs (ie. compare, describe, illustrate, predict)

Great questions cause people to “pause” & think in new innovative ways. How can you create value through your questioning?

Connect & engage emotions – Examples “What excites the client most about the potential of x?” “What is your #1 concern with your energy management right now?”

  • Disrupt current perceptual frames – Examples “If there was 1 crazy idea around x, what would that be?” “How else could the client solve their problem?”
  • Evoke insight – Examples “What is a key insight from this analysis?” “What one new thing did you learn from your client research?”
  • Explore and cause reflection – Examples “What is the value of engaging the customer with this approach?” “What is driving the customer to act now?” “What’s the consequence to the customer’s business if they don’t act now?”
  • Focus on the priority need – Examples “What is the most important outcome for this project/meeting?” “If the customer’s budget was reduced, what is the most critical component of our offering for them?”
  • Explore and expand for deeper understanding and exercise the imagination – Examples “Why is this aspect of our solution particularly important to the customer?” “If there were no limits what is the ideal solution you and the client could imagine?” “What does the client mean by x?”

Approach every coaching interaction with an intense sense of curiosity and you will learn more and be of value to your sales professionals.

The 7 Cs of Fearless Leadership

“Command and control is yesterday’s management model. You need to inspire, empower and develop your team.”

Today’s changing business environment demands a new kind of leadership. Gone are the days of command and control. Today’s leader needs to fearlessly foster meaningful engagement, alignment and inspire innovative performance.

All humans share the reptilian brain’s fear of extinction and pain, an essential evolutionary survival mechanism. But the fears that typically rule us in business today are ego-based: being judged by others; not measuring up; being separated or left out; or being out of control. Making decisions based on these fears terrors often leads us astray, and makes us less effective leaders.

We believe fearless leaders can inspire, empower and develop their team by modeling these seven attributes:


Courage means facing our own fears as leaders and being open hearted and willing to lean into change. It involves awareness of our strengths and weaknesses and tapping into our passion. It takes courage to quiet the chatter of the ego self-talk and tap into your intuitive inner voice. By role-modeling transparency and vulnerability, you engender trust, and encourages others to be courageous in turn.


A healthy profit should not be the purpose of a business; rather, it is the outcome of doing all the right things. Great leaders know that a meaningful “Why” galvanizes an entire organization to achieve a common purpose. A cause requires both a compelling ‘story’ of your personal “Why,” and an organizational purpose. What do you believe in, and what are you passionate about? A great exercise to help craft a compelling ‘cause’ is to write a personal and organizational epitaph.


Compassion first starts with compassion for self; only then can we feel true empathy for others. Great leaders are willing to sacrifice own personal ego wins to serve the development of their team members.


True collaboration is letting go of ego to co-create what is waiting to emerge. Collaboration requires facilitation and open hearted communication. It also requires trust, inclusiveness and a powerful desire to create win-win outcomes. This often means letting go of what you think is the “right” way and being open to something new.


The positive intent of coaching is helping others to be their best. We refer to it as “coach the doing.” Guiding people on the basis of their strengths, asking insightful questions, and listening to feelings as well as facts leads to greater commitment and performance. Great coaching involves being both highly nurturing and willing to have tough conversations. It is also about providing balanced feedback on a consistent basis while developing team members’ ability to self-diagnose their strengths and areas for improvement.


Fearless leaders are catalysts and have an ability to unleash the imagination of those on their team, which sparks new ideas and practices, which creates innovation. This often involves unlearning old stories we have about not being creative. Creativity is like a muscle—it can be unleashed and learned.


True commitment requires leaders to invite radical accountability—to be “all in.” Great leaders are able to delegate the right things in the right way to empower their teams, and to, develop and instill accountability at all levels. Leaders must have the bird’s eye view of the overall strategy, but also cascade the strategy down to team member’s individual tasks if they want to ensure flawless execution.