The State of Your Cup

Water Glasses

I’ve seen a variety statistics that indicate somewhere between 40% and 85% (depending whose numbers you believe) of the things we worry about never actually happen. Studies have shown there are ‘promoters’ who try to make good things happen, and ‘preventers’ who try to keep bad things from happening ( There are glasses that are half full, half empty and — in a nod to my oldest son the engineer — ones that are twice the size they need to be.

So what does that mean for leaders? From my perspective, it means that context is everything. In actuality, the glass that is half full and the glass that is half empty have exactly the same amount of water in them . . . it’s all about what direction you think the water is going — up or down — and whether you believe you can impact the state of your cup. Because if you believe you can impact the state of your cup, you will take proactive steps to do just that. If you see your cup as half empty, and fixate on all the ways your water supply can be further depleted, you can become paralyzed with worry and ultimately create a glass-draining, self-fulfilling prophecy.

Let me give you a real life example of what I am talking about. Recently, we asked our staff to complete a SWOT analysis. We ask for this feedback on a regular basis, and report back to all staff their cumulative top five responses in each quadrant. This year, under the Opportunities quadrant (the “O” in SWOT) one of our staff’s top five responses was “changes in government.” I was thrilled! Why? Our state government is in total chaos. (No, that’s not why I was thrilled.) The fact that our staff could see this as an opportunity means they understand that they can impact the state of our cup! Yes, they also listed “changes in government” as a threat, but think about how their approach will be different if they can see the current volatile environment as an opportunity . . . something they can positively influence . . . a chance for them to help fill our cup. With that perspective, our staff will look for creative ways they can position the agency for impact. They will be seeking new solutions, while their glass-is-half-empty colleagues will be hunkering down for the next blow. Our staff and their colleagues in other agencies are facing the exact same external circumstances, but unlike some organizations, our staff believes they can impact the state of our cup . . . and so they will.

What is the context of your leadership? Do those who look to you for guidance see your organization’s cup filling up or inching lower? Are you fostering a can-do attitude or encouraging a defensive shield? The current water level isn’t the critical issue. The critical issue is the direction it’s headed.

What is the state of your cup?

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