Wait For It. Something real good is coming.

Wait For It – Something real good is coming


To lead in December is to lead in the season of contradictions. Here’s the real bad part.  We average 3 hours sunlight per day, and our nights grow terribly long until the 20th.  There is too much stuff to finish. And there are new family tasks — to deck the halls and trek the malls.  Oh, and there’s snow, heating bills, final exams and freezing at the gas pump. Maybe you could use a little of the “contradiction,” I promised. Hang on, it’s coming, and you’ll like it! It’s worth the wait.  It’s pretty awesome.

Inevitably some company decides it’s time to hand out pink slips to right the balance sheet.  More people die at this time – seems I hear of three deaths every December.  Maybe it’s just a hard season to let go of a loved one, so it makes it poignant and forever- remembered. Yep, even deaths are hard in December:  The weather’s hard, travel’s hard, even the ground is cold and hard. For some this month is an especially lonely time. If you’re leading — leading your aging dad, school-weary kids, stressed workers — you’ve got to keep your eyes open and your head up.  And…are you ready for the contradiction? The upside, the real good part?

It’s Christmas. It’s Hanukkah. It’s the festival of lights. It’s family gathering time, gift-giving, little-kids-wearing-pajama time! Charitable time. It’s New Years and new beginnings. It’s Auld Lang Syne where we celebrate good friends and forgotten loves, and all the richness of life that we’ve taken for granted. It’s a new governor and a fresh start. It’s a liberated governor and our family’s fresh start. Aren’t you eager to give thanks and make a new start?

I find myself overflowing with joyous anticipation.  And so I’ve been watching what anticipation does to me and others. For one thing, anticipation itself is just luscious.* The anticipation can be better sometimes – and more long-lived – than the event itself. Anticipation gets us excited and able to tolerate the mundane and the challenges of life, because something unusually good is coming.  Our awareness seems heightened. People who are anticipating something good happening are more likely to cooperate, to listen, and to give a break to others.  The anticipation can be a little too high (just ask a 12th grade teacher how anticipation’s affecting their students’ achievement and focus in the Spring).  But most of the time anticipation’s just so darned good. Every kid knows it. Every adult can remember and re-experience it.

So, here’s the question I’m pondering, for which I would love your genuine and practical answers: Can a leader legitimately build, use, stoke anticipation? Can you generate  events or elevate events, in order to charge people’s batteries, create team rapport, shake the doldrums and uplift spirits – both as an end in itself and to increase productivity?  (Did you notice, by the way, how I started you off with the bad, but teased you to anticipate the good? Did the anticipation hold you through my two paragraphs of darkness and woe?  Did it work?)

As Jack, and many of my wonderful co-workers too, worry some about a new life, I’ll be watching how anticipation works and see if I can’t legitimately use it to encourage them along the way. I’m curious about your views and experience, as you

Lead with your best self!


* It’s also true that anticipation of something bad – a legal notice, a layoff, your girlfriend dropping you – is painful, too, well before the event happens (and even if it doesn’t). As Tom Petty sings, “the waiting is the hardest part.”

  • Dan:
    A leader has to be careful. A leader’s most precious resource, after the people themselves, is the TRUST of the people. He can’t afford to abuse it.
    Often it is better to under-promise and over-deliver. I am sure you have heard that before.
    The leader whose people discover that he is leading them on will regret using anticipation as a cheap trick. “Jam yesterday and jam tomorrow, but never jam today” leads to cynicism. We have enough (more than enough) of that already! The event anticipated must be meaningful. It must BE REAL!
    Vince in Grand Rapids

  • “Can a leader legitimately build, use, stoke anticipation?”

    Well there’s something taught to orators. Anticipation alone isn’t the entirety of what you do to a crowd, though (the same in writing as in speaking). There’s a flavor or color of the charge you give them in anticipation. By putting some things ahead of the cognitive curve, you create different tones without having to necessarily change words. Using repetition can level off or spike a response depending on how it’s used. By the same light, when you trigger across numerous anchor points, speak the key phrase, or utter the totemic enchantment the crowd has been waiting for, the tension you purposefully built up producers any number of different responses in the crowd depending on the cue’s “english” you could say.

    Or maybe you’re talking about a sort of phenomenal pattern holding. If you sincerely believe certain negotiable and transitory things are true, then they are. People are always trying to explore that and always have been. It’s not too far fetched to believe that leaders might use that to their advantage. Doctors and priests do. In fact, Western doctors have reported that prayer influences healing independently of acquaintances. Through the exact same principles, quantum mechanical forces submit to the power of the observer. So we could say scientists and mathematicians and philosophers do, also. If doctors and scientists, priests and qabbalists, clairvoyants and the insane can all do the same simple thing, it’s obvious that “leaders” can, as well. Successful members of each of those professions have been accused of the conscious or unconscious use of hypnotic suggestion, and so have many great orators. Much of what the brain does is automatically collapse patterns into functions, something inherent in sublimation, aesthetic, and illusion.

    Or maybe you’re talking about event planning and coordination, a useful marketing approach. Everybody loves a great bash, and if parties are meant for anything, it’s release. Perhaps the anticipation of a really great holiday party season is the sort of mild thrill-building a lot of tired people need to help ease their way into the next chapter of Michigan politics.

    Any way you look at it, sure — the future, like a change of mind, is mostly a measure of potential difference. It doesn’t really exist, but the use of it begins with the assumption of being present when that time comes. For parties, you make invitations as part of preparations. For a great speech, you carefully match the buildup to the conclusion. For great leadership, I suppose you simply let people know ahead of time that you have great things in store for them, “plans to prosper” (them).

    Is any of that legitimate? I’d say it’s all legitimate by virtue of its delivery and acceptance. Consider Moses; he led his people through the desert on an undelivered promise of land and goaded them along using the magic of the secretive Egyptian high priesthood he’d been adopted into. Very legitimate? Well, he’s Moses. It’s still up to debate whether Jesus was really rebelling against the Mosaic occult’s precepts or not, and for the most part both Moses and Jesus are accepted as very legitimate leaders. In context, here, Moses’s shtick was almost entirely anticipation.

  • Mr. Petrie,
    A great line: “In context, here, Moses’s shtick was almost entirely anticipation.”
    Good one!

  • Vincent,

    You’ve clearly articulated that there’s a boundary out there you don’t want to cross, where using anticipation is a big manipulation. But what about actually creating something REAL that generates that anticipation and energy. For example, a team outing to celebrate or to learn. Kelly Brennan, who’s managed the governors’ residences would take interns to catering type shows, so they could get inspired by outside ideas.

    Again, your point is well taken, and you have helped us to try to locate some boundaries for this activity. REAL good job!


  • Hey Dan,

    This is a REAL good topic today! 🙂

    I agree with Vincent. It’s not only possible to fire people up, but that’s a big part of what a leader does. The bigger the arena (for example, a CEO of a company, NFL head coach, governor, senator, or president) the more people can in turn energize each other. But there’s a trust factor involved in leadership. Those people who history has judged the poorest leaders are those who have set expectations high but failed to deliver. That might be easiest to see in the big arenas I mentioned, such as a head coach whose team fails to deliver. (I won’t mention any names of teams here!) That’s why it’s important to set the goal to a high but achievable and realistic level. When JFK committed us to sending people safely to the moon and back within ten years, he fully expected to be alive to see the end of the decade, and to join in the celebration if it succeeded or take the blame if it failed. That’s the kind of leader he was. Gorbachev took a similar risk when he led the movement to disband the Soviet Union.

    And now for something completely different: By now you might have heard that my CEO at Pfizer, Jeff Kindler, resigned yesterday at the age of 55, saying he needed to recharge his batteries and spend more time with the family. I can well imagine that you and the governor have a similar anticipation right now. I still remember when the governor and her opponent in 2002, Dick Posthumus, ran against each other. Both of them said how difficult things were, and that it wouldn’t be easy to turn the state back in the right direction. Tax revenues were starting to drop, and the unemployment rate had doubled in the two years prior to Gov. Granholm taking office. Further, laws were being passed by Congress that tilted the playing field against Michigan and many American workers. However, I don’t think anyone could have imagined how tough things would be. At first glance, there seems to be some irony in the fact that the state’s economy seems to be turning the corner just as Gov. Granholm is ready to pack the boxes to leave office. But she, you, and many others (people like Alan Mulally, Southwest Michigan First, and the Kalamazoo Promise, to name but a few) have been diligent in not giving up on our great state, and those efforts are paying off.

    There could be some REAL good times just around the corner.

  • Leader’s facial expressions convey feelings much more accurately than any words that are said. Research about messages estimates that 55 percent of meaning is derived from body language, 38 percent from vocal intonation and only 7 percent from actual words.

    We discern emotional content from others’ facial expressions, with seven universal emotions that can be found across all cultures, according to studies by Paul Eckman:

    Positive: happiness
    Neutral: surprise
    Negative: anger, fear, sadness, disgust and contempt

    Studies of CEOs’ facial expressions reveal that honest and robust social smiles trump all others when one wants employees to feel hopeful and buy into goals.

    For an example of how to stimualte anticipation with positive surprise during this time of year, listen to and watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXh7JR9oKVE&feature=youtube

  • I think they can generate anticipation, but I have noticed that fear/anxiety is normally generated. It is about method, communication, and the leader’s own feelings on the subject. A leader who is concerned/fearful/anxious can not generate anticipation. You speak of anticipation at the next stage of your family’s life as the Governor leaves office. You speak of hope/new beginnings, not “we aren’t sure what we are going to do”. You are using positive words – that helps!

  • Wow,

    Just weighing on on the great comments you have already received. I appreciated every single comment thus far and actually learned something. You have great followers Dan.

    New Changes are on the horizon and we need to be ready to address them. In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt~ “Know Where You’re Going (or leading). At the end of the day, people follow those who know where they’re going. It is a terrible thing to look over your shoulder when you are trying to lead and find nobody there.”

    PEACE Dan
    The TIP Lady

  • I’m struck by the notion that a leader’s job is as much about reframing/reducing anticipation of negative events, as it is about building anticipation of positive ones…..

    I suspect that people don’t need much help getting excited about the good stuff that is clearly on its way. And while helping build anticipation for the less obvious good stuff is important, in my experience it is the anticipation of the negative that keeps people from achieving/performing at their highest level, or enjoying it while they do. Effective, real leadership in that context requires that you acknowledge the fear, and then help people realize that they can’t control the future, just their behavior/performance right now–and that a high level of performance right now will have a positive impact on that future. “I’m worried too–really worried. But I don’t want to let that worry eat us up. I’ve decided that the best way for us to make this work is to hit a homerun on that presentation tomorrow, which means that we’ve got to really focus on this work right now. What do you think?”

  • Though excitement and anticipation can be great motivators, they can also be used to overlook real issues that need to be addressed. I’m thinking of the shopping metaphor, where someone tries to get their needs & satisfaction met with each next exciting purchase, only to realize that it doesn’t really fulfill . . . and worse yet, leaves the real issue or void unresolved.

    Similarly, the first and most important thing in any organization, community, family, is to foster a space in which meaningful and genuine dialogue can be held about the things that matter most. Why are we feeling down? How are we dealing with our needs for (fill in the blank)? How does the environment in this community help or hinder our ability to be effective and feel fulfilled? If we were functioning at our best right now, what would that look like, and how can we get there? What gift do you have to offer, and how can we help you live more fully into that gift?

    If you are committed to fostering that kind of dialogue and space, then a little anticipation of something exciting can build up some fun and positive energy.

  • If you are genuine and it is your truth, people will respond. Don’t let fear keep you from doing something wonderful!

  • As someone who has led a nonprofit before, I would say a strategic plan is a business tool that kind of utilizes the anticipation you write about. “OK gang, here is where we’ll be in five years!” People will see work that needs to be done – and probably some projects that are larger than in the past – but being 30% bigger or having a new building or something provides really nice goals, and anticipation of those good things motivates people to do the work.

  • I personally did not need to hear all the bad stuff emphasized before you got to your point about anticipation. I do think having an achievable goal out there is key to what a leader does (as opposed to a manager–there’s a book about that, written by a guy who did a lot of research into Nielson polls). It has to be a goal that folks want to sign onto, one where they can see their part in achieving it. It tends to pull teams together, like aiming for the moon, or a manned trip to Mars. Look at all the excitement and anticipation those ideas generated!

    In my office–and we have a great office–the manager, who is a leader, might call together a team meeting where she says where we were last quarter (number one on a number of variables) and where she thinks we might do better. She affirms that we’re all doing our best, but casually observes that it would be interesting and cool if our best turned out to be a little better next quarter on a couple of those issues and oh, yeah! we’re already more than a month into this quarter! So… we’ll see. That’s her attitude.

    She’s very quiet about it, with a little smile on her face. No pressure. But oh, how that little smile becomes a great big shining grin when we DO achieve that goal in the next quarter.

    The important thing is that we don’t do it for her. We do it for us. Because we feel so good when we can show how good we are. We like that, take pride in it. That’s leadership that forms a really effective team.

  • By the way–don’t make us wait! Will RFL continue after you’re no longer First Gentleman?

    WE HAVE TO KNOW! (Anticipation!) 🙂

  • Activeadvocate,

    You have described most of the core elements of a great manager. You are fortunate (and likely chose well) to have someone so great at the helm!

    And as to your other question . . . you bet I’m going to keep writing RFL. I look forward to writing from new perspectives, and hope the great people in this community will come along with me!


  • Dear Mr. Mulhern,

    Heh. You have a legitimately “great* sense of humor, I might add. And I hadn’t even considered filioque when I wrote that; I honestly wrote naturally out of mindful response to what you were saying. Well that’s great, I’m glad you liked it. Gosh, it’s almost hard to write now because I keep checking the damn joke for connotations; what a thick joke. I keep reading the headline of the RFL.

    is this a set-up?


  • Dear Mr. Mulhern,

    Please disregard my previous response, on re-reading, I found that its content chafed me and left me feeling acerbic. Little did I mean vitriol! I often feel writing offers us little chance to catch our breath and be in company.

    Oh. Well, DID I just read that RFL will be continuing beyond the official change-of-office? Congratulations, Mr. Mulhern!

    I have to tell you. For most of my life, I’ve been very put-off by a lot of literature and commercials that wanted me to believe in the “personal power” of the pitchman, or the “amazing” qualities of the espoused belief system or “prophecies”. The well-to-do advocates of claiming wealth and power have often seemed to be capable of offering little but the wherewithal to make their own claims.

    So when I see, read, hear, or encounter this next person — consider yourself — who offers “leadership”, alongside the offers for “control” or any number of steps to whatever fell dream is in the offing, I cringe. Albeit not physically, I withdraw and defend. So of course, I down any number of “methods”, “steps”, and other divisive measures on the way to uncluttering my way to personal success (without the quotation marks).

    But you don’t present yourself like the rest of that crowd. For all I know, you aren’t even aware that there’s an entire market for “help” and “step programs”. On the contrary, your publishings over the years have given me an opportunity to experience what real leadership, from the following and leading edges, really is.

    I can only imagine what kind of amazing and beautiful life you and your family have before you. I wish you the best in all your endeavours, communications and trusts, and I hope you find what *you* are seeking. And, should you find it, I hope you get back to the rest of us.

    — Gabriel Arthur Petrie

  • Hello Dan,

    I am just getting back from Tennessee; My wife and I went to help celebrate our grand daughter’s birthday party who turned 3 years old on 12-05-2010!

    This week’s RFL message does take me back in time; Your two paragraphs of darkness and woe does work for me, thank you. My grand daughter was born on 12-05-2007, my mother passed on 12-16-2007. It is this time of year when I think about after my daughter delivered her first child, she was told the bone chilling news that she had to have a blood transfusion before she could go home. When my daughter heard this news, I was not in the room with my wife, son in-law, mother in-law and brother in-law, (I can’t remember exactly where I was in the hospital) but, my brother in -law tracked me down and said your daughter wants to see you right now! I sensed the urgency and went directly to my daughter’s room. When I arrived to her room, my daughter wanted to speak to me alone; I cleared everyone out of the room including my wife (Lord have mercy). My daughter began to cry and said to me, “I do not want to have the blood transfusion, it is to risky”. I sat on her bed and put my arms around her and said,” It is risky if you do not have the blood transfusion, and you cannot go home until you do”. My daughter continued to cry but agreed to have the procedure done. I summoned for everyone to return to my daughter’s room and told them the news. Three days after my daughter had the blood transfusion, my grand daughter and her were able to go home.

    Mife wife continued to stay with my daughter and son in-law (in Tennessee) to help my daughter until she got her strength back, meanwhile I returned home. On 12-16-2007, after arriving back home, I recieved a phone call from a friend of my mother (My mother lived in Sacramento, California), to tell me my mother died that morning. While the news shocked me, I started thinking about my granddaughter. While I was trying to pull myself together, I pictured in my mind my mother and my granddaughter. I was smiling and crying at the same time.

    All my life, my mother had been there for me, I knew I had to be strong for my family. I was able to have my fit while I was alone, but when my wife came home from Tennessee to go with me to California so I may bring my mother’s body to Michigan for final burial, I started having a better appreciation of who I am, what I have accomplished, where I come from, what my my mother has taught me.

    Today, what I anticipate for myself and my family is a tradition to be handed down to my children, their children, so they may appreciate who they are, where they come from and most importantly, understand that life only come once for everyone, thank God for giving us life.

    Thomas K. Burke-Mentor

  • Dan – I want to take the opportunity to say thanks for your many great columns on leadership and this was an enjoyable and uplifting one in particular. I have no doubt that great things are coming as a result of the terrific leadership we have from your wife’s administration these past 8 years. Just this morning I listened to the news about Chrysler investing in the Sterling Heights plant instead of shutting it down like they had previously planned. Over time they are going to add to it and that means more jobs for Michigan families. Your family, as First Family, has always put Michigan’s families first. And just as parents raise their children to the best of their ability, the fruits of their labor are not always realized until the child (projects courted and and seeds planted) matures. So when Gov Granholm’s efforts reach their full maturity, some may not realize it was her doing but I know I and many others will. I cannot thank you enough for your selfless service to this state in its’ time of need.

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