Provision #719: Zapp! Matters

Laser Provision

As a leader, what kind of effect do you have on people? Do you drain them of energy or do you fill them with energy? That’s an important part of the equation when it comes to leadership. Our emotional impact on people has a lot to do with leadership effectiveness. Emotions matter. This fact has long been recognized and is now being documented through the efforts of social scientists, organizational developers, and cognitive neuroscientists. Almost 25 years ago, William Byham wrote a fantastic fable to illustrate how this works called Zapp!. The story still rings true today, and this Provision seeks to bring that home. Read on!

LifeTrek Provision


If last week’s Provision, Aventura y Amor, was in honor of my daughter and son-in-law, who were married on April 18, 2011 at a gorgeous location in Costa Rica, this Provision is in honor of my son and daughter-in-law. The day after we returned from Costa Rica, they purchased and moved into their first home • a fixer-upper in Northern Virginia. Talk about more excitement than we know what to do with! It has been an incredible two weeks.

Because of my flexible work requirements (the office moves with my laptop and phone), I decided to spend the week with them in Northern Virginia to help this grand adventure get off on the right foot. The home, built around 1960, is a handy-person’s dream. There is no end to the projects one can imagine and do.

For now, we have focused on making it liveable. A little electricity here, a little plumbing there, doors that won’t close properly, and a ton of painting to do throughout the house. You get the idea. This is one project that will never end; it will only run out of time, energy, and money. And for me, that happens today, as my availability comes to a close.

The whole project brings me back more than 30 years, to when my wife, Megan, and I moved into the inner-city neighborhood of Chicago that we came to call home for almost 15 years. We were working there in a variety of educational, religious, and community development projects. All of the efforts were non-profits with limited budgets. As a result, we relied greatly on the volunteer efforts of like-minded souls.

That was especially true when it came to purchasing and rehabilitating our properties. We couldn’t always afford to hire electricians, plumbers, carpenters, masons, and other trades people. So we would recruit volunteers with those skills and work alongside them to get the job done. That was when I learned what I know today about handling such projects. My natural curiosity combined with my mechanical aptitude made me an eager apprentice.

Fast forward to this past week and I have been putting all those skills to work (including knowing when to call in professionals for jobs that were too big or complicated for us to handle on our own). My son and daughter-in-law’s home is not in an inner-city neighborhood, but the repair projects have been very similar to what we encountered when we moved into our first apartment in Chicago in 1979. It has been a week of d•j• vu and mess.

I mention this at the start of this Provision for two reasons. First, I have definitely experienced the energy effect of wholeheartedness. I wrote about this recently in my Provision on Zest. In his book,Crossing the Unknown Seathe poet, David Whyte, tells an insightful story of what cured his burnout as executive director of a nonprofit conservation group. It wasn’t rest that recovered his energy; it was changing his calling to something he felt more passionate about: writing and sharing his poetry with the world.

Now it may seem like a stretch to compare plumbing to poetry, but not as much as you may think. I happen to be uniquely qualified to assist two people I care about greatly. So loading my car with tools, accumulated over many years, and spending a week in an environment that could put my skills to such good use has been invigorating as well as challenging. How do you install electrical boxes, rout out drains, lay floor tile, purchase supplies, remediate mold, rebuild walls, and coordinate contractors while at the same time teaching, coaching, and writing Provisions?

Phew! It only happens through wholeheartedness. That’s what has given me the burst of energy needed to get so many things done so quickly. Harkening to my Provision on Zest, I have felt this week like the swan who finds his or her water. When we are in our element, we become pleased, more fully grown, unmoving and marvelously calm, more like the king or queen we are each born to be.

Every leader, indeed every person, needs to find that element for ourselves. Whether you can do one thing or many things well, putting yourself in the place of greatest opportunity to use your talents will inspire your soul. And once you become so inspired, it’s absolutely irresistible, infectious, and empowering.

Which brings me to the second reason for writing this Provision in honor of my son and daughter-in-law. Wholeheartedness becomes irresistible, infectious, and empowering only when it is offered in the right spirit. When my son was a teenager he helped to teach me this lesson in a most profound and humbling way.

I was getting started in my coaching practice in the late 1990s when I bumped into a little book written by William Byham in 1988 called Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment. The book is written as a fable about a make-believe department head named Joe Mode who gets magically transported to the 12th Dimension, where he discovers the power of Zapp!.

What’s that? Listen to some of Byham’s descriptions:

  • Zapp! gives you more energy, makes you feel younger, and even happy.
  • Zapp! enables you to see how people feel, what’s going on in their minds, what it’s like for them on the inside.
  • Zapp! travels like lightning through the air.
  • Zapp! makes people feel empowered, responsible, and capable.
  • Zapp! turns people on about their work and projects.
  • Zapp! energizes people and gives them power.
  • Zapp! enables ideas and programs to succeed.
  • Zapp! connects leaders with people in constructive ways.

In contrast to Zapp!, Byham describes its opposite in terms of Sapp•:

  • Sapp• takes credit for the ideas of others.
  • Sapp• tells people what to do without getting input or consent.
  • Sapp• posts memos and issues orders from on high.
  • Sapp• listens but fails to understand people.
  • Sapp• ignores competency, merit, and good work.
  • Sapp• sets unrealistic timelines and demands compliance.
  • Sapp• doesn’t care about people and quality.
  • Sapp• fails to communicate about things that are important.

Zapp!, in other words, is emotionally intelligent leadership while Sapp• is emotionally ignorant leadership. It’s not that leaders who drain people of energy are malicious, evil, or wicked. It’s more that they are unaware of how leadership works. Such leaders fail to pay attention and, as a result, do more harm than good both to the people and projects they care about.

Antoine de Saint Exupery, author of The Little Prince, captured Byham’s message in his book The Wisdom of the Sands, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to gather wood, give orders, and divide the work. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

Zapp! leadership teaches people to yearn by empowering people to do. When people have their autonomy needs met, feel respected and heard, understand the constraints, participate in decisions, get meaningful feedback, have the ability to measure their own performance, and enjoy their coworkers, then they will wholeheartedly (there’s that word again) accept the challenge and responsibility of getting things done.

Enter my then-teenage son. In the summer before his freshmen year in high school, Megan announced that in order to finish up her dissertation, she would like a week to herself to write and suggested that Evan and I take a father-son vacation canoeing on the French River in Ontario, Canada. That turned out to be a transformational week for our relationship, and it had a lot to do with Zapp!

As we were paddling and camping, I shared with Evan my excitement about the book I was reading, called Zapp! He made the observation that my parenting style often had the effect of “Sapping” him of energy as opposed to Zapping him with positive energy. Throughout our week together, he pointed out specific examples of times when he found my tone and way of communicating with him was discouraging and a drain on his energy.

Well, that was sobering feedback! I certainly didn’t want to Sapp• my son’s energy, but apparently that was happening. By telling him what to do without getting input or consent, by not really listening to his feelings and needs, by failing to recognize and appreciate the good work that he was doing (rather than the work I wanted him to be doing), by setting unrealistic timelines and demanding compliance, I was making it less rather than more likely that he would be successful.

Things began to change as I came to take Byham’s book and other such resources to heart. I shifted from the role of parent to the role of coach, and that made all the difference. Not coach in the sense of trainer or director but coach in the sense of listener or learner. The more I paid attention to the effect I was having on my son, the more we developed a strong and positive relationship.

Evan’s high school years were formative for both of us. Through design and experimentation, we were able to apply what I was learning about the coach approach and put it to good use in our relationship. As a result, my son has gone on to a successful career in systems engineering and I have spent a week in Northern Virginia, up to my eyeballs in projects!

Life is like that. You never know where it will go or how it will turn out. But for my part, I wouldn’t change a thing. The coach approach to parenting is one and the same with the coach approach to leadership. Unless we learn to Zapp! people with energy, there’s not much chance we will get where we want to go.

Coaching Inquiries: What kind of effect do you have on people? Do you Zapp! them with energy or Sapp• them of energy? How could you become more fun to be around and work with? What fears do you, if any, about empowering the people you work with to make decisions and take responsibility for getting things done? Why not try that for a day and see what happens?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form to arrange a complimentary conversation.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.


Mazeltov on the wedding and may they have a long lifetime full of joy – and marvel! Smiles.


Congratulations from Germany to You both and most of all to your daughter and her husband. Last summer you organized a marvelous wedding on the island “Ruegen” for our daughter Janina and our son (in law) Luke… The three themes “nature, culture and adventure” exact could be theirs… We still love to remember the ceremony as you will remember the ceremony of your daughter and new son (in law)!!


Remembering such days means a lot of sun all over – over all :-))


Congratulations Bob. What a wonderful setting for a wedding. I bet you are the proudest Father of the Bride.


Megan’s poem on Culture for your daughter’s wedding was precious. Thank you sharing it. 


May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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