The Empowered Blog

Accountability to Possibility: The Next Frontier in Leadership Growth

Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, 
we lose the excitement of possibilities.   Gloria Steinem

When I was a little girl, my mother encouraged me to dream. She would often tell me … “Dream big dreams. It does not cost anything to dream.”

So as a child, I would imagine myself becoming …

       possibility thinking

possibility thinking

… A gold Olympic ice skater on one day.

… The first woman astronaut on another day.

… Then it was a toss up between a princess, a cowgirl or a Mickey Mouse musketeer on the other days.

Nobody ever told me that anything was impossible. I am grateful for those early days that shaped me to thrive possibilities.

Now that I work with leaders, I find the art of possibility thinking extinct in many companies. If you are a leader that …

  • Rarely challenges the boundary conditions of your thinking
  • Struggles in creating new visions that fire up you and your organization
  • Freezes at opportunities and problems with no precedence,

it is time to thrive in possibilities again.

Before addressing the what and how of possibility thinking, let’s look at how over-focus on accountability is preventing possibility thinking in your organization.


Is Too Much Accountability Stifling Your Organization?

While accountability is absolutely essential to the health of your organization, from a brain perspective, it drives your focus and thinking in an opposite direction to possibility thinking.


Accountability is all about …

  • Discipline
  • Control
  • Order
  • Measurement and metrics
  • Limit in focus
  • Here and now
  • Excellence in execution
  • What is
  • Stability
  • Norms

Accountability actually trains your brain to think in terms of boundaries … to stay in the box … to limit your focus. That’s a good thing to a point. You need accountability to achieve your company goals.

However, for many organizations, over-emphasis on accountability stifles creative thinking, innovation and visioning. The key for leaders is to know how to intersect and integrate possibility with accountability.

If you are like many leaders, the likelihood is that possibility thinking is the weaker muscle. Let’s look at how you can change that.


What is Possibility Thinking?

The only limits to the possibilities in your life tomorrow are the ‘buts’ you use today.     Les Brown

Interact with a child and you will know what possibility thinking is. For them, the world is filled with new things to discover. Their curious minds want to explore everything around them. Their imaginations fire up as they pretend to be their favorite heroes and villains.

As we mature as adults, we lose that creative spark. We lose our inquisitive thinking. We forget how to create the world around us.   We get stuck in our sense of reality and don’t dare new horizons.

We’ve stopped believing in what is possible.

From my experience, possibility thinking …

  • Is a mindset in which, as a leader, you think beyond limits (yours and your company’s).
  • Asks possibility questions.
  • Thinks BIG
  • Challenges status quo
  • Creates breakthrough solutions

If you want to see possibility thinking in action, watch this inspiring 90 second video clip.

Noah Galloway – an army veteran who lost both his right arm and leg in the Iraq War – was a contestant on last season’s Dancing with the Stars. He defied the odds in both what he could accomplish (with a metal leg and a missing arm) and how far he could go in the contest.

It’s a must watch video.   It will inspire you to eliminate excuses and reach new heights.


7 Ways to Cultivate Your Possibility Thinking

What we can do or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of true capability.  It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are.  Anthony Robbins

Possibility thinking is a brain muscle. If you let yours get flabby, it needs to be strengthened again. Here’s 7 ways how.

Ask Possibility Questions

Possibility questions are critical in your leadership role because they break through the boundary conditions of your (or some else’s) thinking. They transform disempowering beliefs to empowering ones.

Here are examples of possibility questions to get you started.

  • What if you could achieve ‘x’ (a seemingly impossible) goal, what would be the first step you would take?
  • What leader inspires you the most? What would they do in this situation?
  • How do we need to lead differently to double our growth in the next year?
  • How do you know “that” (such as belief) is true? Are there any other possibilities?
  • What is the ideal outcome you seek?

Find Who and What Inspires You

In NLP, one of the foundational principles is — if one person can do something, anyone can do it (through modeling).

Find the leader who inspires you. Someone whose success and excellence you would like to model. As Isaac Newton said,

“The reason I see so far is because I stand on the tall shoulders of those who have come before me.”

Once you have identified someone, the next question is: what specifically about this person would you like to model?

Externally, it could be his/her behaviors, habits, physiology, etc.  Internally it could be his/her beliefs, values, character traits and more.

For example, if Richard Branson inspires you, you might want to model his beliefs (such as, business is fun) or personality traits (such as, resilience) or values (such as, adventure). The person you pick can be someone you know or don’t know, someone alive or dead.

In a future article, I will address the process of modeling at greater length. The first step is to decide who and what to model.

Creative Destruction 

In 1942 Austrian economist and ardent capitalist, Joseph Schumpeter coined the phrase creative destruction – his theory about what drives busts and booms in the economy.

Creative destruction is the process in which new technologies, new kinds of products, new production methods, etc. made old ones obsolete, forcing existing companies to adapt or fail. Kodak is a good example of a company that failed because of creative destruction.

Given the pace of change in today’s business world, modern leadership must learn to embrace the concept of creative destruction within their companies to create new possibilities. Such as:

  • What ways of thinking from your past should you obliterate to make room for a brand new future?
  • What systems and structures should you destroy to keep up with change?
  • How must you destructively and disruptively instigate change (before needed) to stay ahead of the competition?

“Dream One Size Bigger”

In his book, How Successful People Think, John Maxwell addresses 6 ways that possibility thinkers think. One of those ways is to dream one size bigger.

Are you a leader that tends to dream small? Do your visions and goals fall well below who you can be and what you can achieve?

Challenge yourself to dream more expansively. Push your team to set bigger goals. Ask your peers every time that you get trapped in impossibility or “realistic” thinking to step up your game. Get into the habit of dreaming one size bigger.

Change Your Beliefs

The biggest obstacle blocking your possibility thinking is your beliefs.

  • Beliefs about what’s possible
  • Beliefs about yourself and your capabilities
  • Beliefs about the effort required
  • Beliefs about the risks

and more.

Because I have covered the topic of beliefs in great detail in other articles, I recommend that you check out:

Cultivate “Out of the Box” or Lateral Thinking

My favorite expert on creative, “out of the box” thinking is Edward de Bono.

My two favorite tools of de Bono are:

  • His book, Whack on the Side of the Head
  • His creative brainstorming deck of cards, Creative Whack Pack.

Next time you get stuck in your thinking, I recommend the above resources to recharge your creative juices to a whole new level. They are always my “go to” tools for out of the box thinking.

DECIDE Your Leadership Future

While you may not fully embrace this one truth yet,

you are the creator of your leadership future.

 The clearer you are about who you want to become and what difference you want to make in your future, the more power you have to achieve it.

However, knowing what you want is not enough. Deciding your future – even without knowing how – is the catalyst that transforms bold dreams into reality.

Are you ready to give up your old stories that say you can’t?

Are you ready to decide your future story?

In Summary

While possibility without accountability is wishful thinking. Accountability without possibility is a dead end street.

The new frontier in leadership is knowing how to intersect the two.

What are you doing to make that leadership leap?

If you’ve enjoyed this post, I’d be grateful if you’d share it with your friends and network on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook. Thank you!



Denise Corcoran works with CEOs and executive teams seeking rapid growth yet are challenged by the “invisible barriers” that keep them stuck, overwhelmed or in crisis mode. Her company —The Empowered Business — is one of the few companies providing whole brain, strategic solutions for unleashing leadership and organizational potential. Her secret sauce is assisting CEOs and executive teams develop the “X factor” – i.e., the mindset, attitudes and game-changing thinking -- that drives double and triple digit growth … by design.


Posted by Denise Corcoran on August 18, 2015 in Accountability, Goal Achievement, Leadership Development, Leadership Performance, Mindset, Vision and tagged , , , , , , , , , , .

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