Let’s say that you’re the coach of a team in the last moments of the championship game.  Your team is behind with little chance of winning.  You can choose to say, “It looks like we’re going to lose, but do your best out there!” or “Team, we’re mere moments from victory. We’ll win if we go all in!” 

If you think about it, both statements are true.  While the team is more likely than not to lose, they could also be just moments from victory.  How you frame the conversation will determine how the players see it. 

Building the Right Vision

In David J. Schwartz’s timeless classic The Magic of Thinking Big, the author tells readers to “Promise victory and win support.  Build castles, don’t dig graves!”  Schwartz implores readers to anticipate success and to speak about it as if it were imminent.  He stresses that great leaders focus on the expectation of a positive outcome, even if a bad outcome is more likely.   

Setting the expectation of success allows people to believe it is possible. This is true both for your team and the business as a whole.  If you tell your team that they’ll never get above 50% participation in the Ethics and Culture survey, they won’t be inspired to push the business and to work with the Communication department to come up with innovative ways to get people interested in taking the survey.  Likewise, if you tell the business that data breaches are inevitable and a cost of doing marketing, they are less likely to come to you to try to figure out how to stop them before they happen.

Speak positively with conviction that the best outcome is not only possible, it’s probable.   

Reframing the Situation

If you find yourself in a difficult situation, consider reframing.  Reframing is the process of seeing a problem from a different angle such that the opportunity is highlighted.  No matter what the situation, frame it in a way that puts the best possible outcome front and center. 

For instance, if, after a poster campaign, the compliance team is inundated with too many calls to the hotline, frame this as the natural outcome of the fabulous work they put into the speak up campaign.  If there’s been a restructure of the business resulting in lost staff, tell the team that they’ve got the opportunity to discern what matters, which will make them more efficient.     

If You’re Having Trouble…

If you’re having trouble reframing a difficult situation, visualize yourself at a dinner party three years from now.  Hear yourself telling the story of how you successfully navigated the problem and created a big win.  Listen to the future you describing the turnaround you fostered to resolve the challenge. 

This exercise enables tremendous creative problem solving because you are mentally moving yourself to a place where you’ve already beaten the challenge.  By confirming your status as a victor, you’ll be able to inspire your team with your vision of their success. 

Schwartz said, “Big thinkers train themselves to see not just what is, but what can be.”  By framing problems as opportunities, you’ll be a better leader and an even bigger success.