What Positive Leadership is Not

It drives me nuts.

Few things make me crazier than when people misunderstand what it means to be “positive” in the workplace, and then project that misunderstanding onto others. Many people interpret positive leaders as being “nice” or “happy” all the time. While this may be true, being nice and happy all the time is not the goal of being a positive leader. My purpose in this blog post is to dispel three of the most common misconceptions about what it means to be a positive leader or to build a positive organization. By doing so, perhaps we can become better leaders, too.

I may experience uncomfortable misunderstandings about the nature of positive leadership and positive organizations more often than most (as managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations). Here are some interactions from a typical day in my life:

  • I get into an elevator, and someone says to his neighbor “uh oh, better be happy now!” Cue awkward laughter, and then silence.
  • A student is outraged when I give her a suggestion for improvement. “I thought you were meant to be ‘positive,’” she complains angrily. Cue difficult conversation.
  • A meeting participant apologizes to me — “I’m sorry, I know this isn’t very positive, but…” — before sharing his important concerns about a project. Cue concern about how many other people are holding back their good ideas because of this inaccurate interpretation of the word “positive.”

These minor situations reflect dangerous misunderstandings of what it means to be a positive leader, or to attempt to build a positive team or organization. Here are three of the most common misconceptions about people aspiring to be positive leaders:

1. “You have an overly optimistic view of the world (or yourself)”

Wrong. Positive leaders are actually trying to have a more accurate view of the world and ourselves than occurs naturally for most of us.

We are naturally wired to dwell on negative feedback longer than positive feedback. Indeed, studies suggest that our memories weight negative feedback more than three times stronger than positive feedback. As such, most people have an unreasonably pessimistic view of themselves. Think about the last time you received a combination of negative and positive feedback points. Which kind of feedback did you dwell on more? By consciously noticing, savoring, and celebrating positive experiences, we are actually just bringing things back into more of a realistic (and healthy) equilibrium.

2. “You are okay with poor performance, effort, or behavior”

Wrong. Positive leaders are committed to applying an affirmative bias, and to achieving extraordinary outcomes.

A foundational piece of research by founders of Positive Organizational Scholarship addressed the need for both/and attributes throughout organizational culture. We need to be both competitive and collaborative. We need to be both creative and have strong controls in our processes where necessary. And of course we need to be both supportive and challenging to help people grow. Bob Quinn has used the metaphor of a positive leader having one hand on her teammate’s back to push her along faster than she thought possible; the other is under her arm to break her fall if needed. Giving someone endless free passes for sub-par performance is not being a positive leader. In fact, it is not being a leader at all.

3. “You should be happy all the time”

Wrong. Positive leaders experience the same range of emotions as everyone else.

Unless you have truly achieved enlightenment, most of us experience a range of emotions. We are happy, sad, angry, curious, perplexed, excited, and much more over the course of any given day or week. Trying to force ourselves to be happy all the time, or pretend we are happy when we are not, is inauthentic. This lays the seeds for unsatisfying relationships with others, and sets people on a slippery slope toward depression.

We can choose to cultivate gratitude in our lives though. We can appreciate our good qualities and experiences. We can appreciate the contributions of others. We can deliberately try to notice and celebrate these things with sincerity and enthusiasm. Like a muscle, our ability to experience and express gratitude gets stronger with use. The more grateful we are, the more genuinely happy we are – and the better we will be as leaders.

Positive leaders are committed to finding and amplifying what works well in their organizations. They help to create elevated purpose for the whole, and help individuals find meaning in their work. They foster energizing relationships. They act with integrity and compassion. If they happen to be nice or happy from time to time as well; hopefully, the rest of the world will welcome that, too!

Chris White (@leadpositively, leadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Healing Spaces: Values and Politics at Work

This is a time of strong emotions and opinions in the United States. Most likely this is true around the world. How do we create workspaces where people can express and have dialogue about how they are feeling, without alienating others who may not feel the same way?

This is a different kind of column for me. Rather than writing about something I feel confident about because of research-based principles and practices, I am sharing something I am struggling with. Perhaps you are struggling with it too. Or perhaps you have figured it out and can share with me how to do so (feel free to comment below, or email me directly at chriswhi@umich.edu).

I believe that organizations have the potential to be places of healing. Almost all of us come to work with “baggage” – often counterproductive coping mechanisms learned from hard experience in past jobs, in our families, in our personal lives. Workplaces can provide an environment that allow people to unlearn some of these approaches and replace them with patterns that might be more trusting, open, vulnerable, creative, relational, and hopeful.

Here is a small example of what I mean by “organizational healing” in every-day life: I find that it often takes new team members some time to get used to being asked what they think on a problem or issue that they are bringing to me. In traditional hierarchical organizations, issues are escalated to the manager to be resolved by their supposedly “superior wisdom and experience.” Yet most of the time, the person bringing the problem actually knows what to do, they have just never been asked for their opinion or empowered to act on it. As a result, the manager becomes a bottleneck in the system and the team member stops thinking for themselves. Over time, people can break this habit and learn a new pattern: of either resolving the issue themselves without needing to take it to the manager, or bringing it to the manager with their thoughts and suggestions on how to resolve it. The manager ceases to be such a bottleneck, and the team member has the chance to grow in capability and confidence.

Another such coping mechanism revolves around expressing strongly held views. Indeed, in U.S. culture, it is often taboo to discuss politics at work (or around the dinner table). We fear alienating colleagues and friends, and so many of us choose not to openly discuss which party or presidential candidate we prefer. One difficulty with this these days is that it is increasingly unclear where to draw the line between what is political, and what is giving voice to values about society. If we do indeed want people to bring their whole selves to work, and let the workplace be a means to help us get to know our true selves, then we need to create a space to talk about the things that matter most to us.

Constitutional rights are not political. No political party “owns” values like freedom of speech, nor the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Everyone deserves the right to be treated with civility, and dignity. Virtues such as honesty, compassion, patience, forgiveness, tolerance, and humility are not political. Discussing such behaviors – including where public figures meet these ideals or fall short – are not only acceptable in the workplace, they are essential if we are to try to create the kind of workplace, society, and world that is possible. In any era, under any president, this would still be true.

In our team at the Center for Positive Organizations (we have 100+ students, faculty, and staff, plus an even larger network of scholars and leaders around the world), we are advocating this approach. It is not always easy, and it is certainly not perfect. Already, we have had some people expressing discomfort or concern. But it is important, and it is worthwhile. Positive organizations are an essential foundation for a positive society.

To support people trying to lead others through these turbulent times, we have created a website of essays and resources. Feel free to visit it here, and please share with us your advice and experiences too.

 

Originally at : http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/healing-spaces-expressing-values-vs-being-political_us_5894ae06e4b061551b3dfdc9

Everyday Courage in Organizations

When you think about courage at work, what comes to mind? Maybe it is fire fighters going into a crumbling, burning building to rescue people. Or our armed services deployed overseas, facing the threat of injury or death every day. Or even a pilot safely landing a plane on the Hudson River in critical conditions.

For me, the first image that comes to mind is taking one of the first flights back from New York to home in San Francisco after 9/11/2001. For a few days, no flights had taken off from New York as experts raced to understand and adapt to a new threat of items in our day to day experiences being weaponized. Throughout the flight, all passengers were told to stay in their seats. This wasn’t a recommendation, as it sometimes feels today. We were being closely watched by the multiple air marshals on the flight. After the plane safely landed, the flight crew hugged each other, the tension and relief evident on their faces.

These are examples of physical courage. Although most of us do not have working conditions that place us in harm’s way on a daily basis, we can recognize and appreciate the courage of those who do.

A simple working definition of courage is “the ability to do something that frightens one”. If we are being honest (or self-aware), what scares us goes well beyond the threat of physical harm. Indeed, psychological fear is probably much more prevalent for most of us than fear for our physical safety. Let’s call managing this fear and moving ahead anyway “Everyday Courage”.

One of the ways that we have the opportunity to experience and enact Everyday Courage is in standing up for our values. Bullying is all too prevalent in our organizations, as it is too in other parts of our society. In fact, 20 years of studies by Christine Porath and others suggest that 99% of people have either experienced or witnessed incivility in the workplace. Taking a stand against toxic behaviors – whether toward ourselves or others  – is an important and inspiring form of Everyday Courage.

We also express Everyday Courage in what we stand for, not just what we stand against. When we take action to create change without authority, we can often be entering into psychologically threatening territory. It is likely that all of us have experienced being excited about an idea we have had, that we think will really help a colleague, our team or organization, or other stakeholders. It is equally likely that we have experienced our idea being rejected. In some cases, we may also have had our wrists slapped for making the effort. Stepping on invisible landmines in organizational politics can be treacherous!

It is not pleasant to experience these mini (and sometimes not-so-mini) electric shocks from the organizational system. It is tempting to internalize them as a message to stop trying to make a difference. After all, as any parent or leader knows, we humans respond to pleasure and pain as we learn behaviors. We learn to do what earns us pleasure (or praise, or a bonus, or intrinsic satisfaction), and we learn to avoid what brings us pain (or criticism, or rejection).  I believe that this cycle is a significant contributor to so many people checking out at work. Sure, they show up, but they stop trying to make a difference. Or, worse still, they ally with those knocking down the folks who are still trying. Because it is so much easier (i.e. Requires much less psychological courage) to be a Monday morning quarterback than the guy (or girl) on the field trying make plays.

So what can you do to bolster Everyday Courage in your organization?

  1. Give yourself – and others who try to make a positive difference – credit for your efforts. This is an act of Everyday Courage. By giving this behavior this label you are narrating a positive identity for yourself and others. In doing so you are bolstering the resilience needed to keep going even when you run into resistance.
  2. Prepare yourself psychologically for the interaction. The father-son team of Robert and Ryan Quinn suggest asking yourself four questions to help enter the “fundamental state of leadership”. What is the result you want to create? What do other people think about this? Who would I be in this situation if I lived up to the standards I expect of others? What are 3-5 strategies I could employ here?
  3. Build your skills at creating change without authority. When plotting how to advance your idea, my co-author Jerry Davis and I recommend you consider four factors: When to move ahead? Who are the allies I need on board? Why is this a good idea for the people (and organization) affected? How should we organize around this?

Thank you for everyday courage in making a positive difference in your organization and the world. You inspire me!

Chris White (@leadpositivelyleadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.
Post originally appeared here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/58767913e4b0f8a72544843d?timestamp=1484162172876

Sustain Motivation for New Year’s Resolutions

As this year winds down and the new year approaches, many of us are reflecting and setting new goals. Maybe we want to get a new job, or form closer relationships with partners, colleagues, or friends. Maybe we want to get more involved in helping our communities. Maybe we want to get fitter or healthier (this is mine, by the way… again…).

Our underlying motivation for these goals is crucially important in determining whether we will be stick with the pursuit of a goal or not. So often when setting goals, we focus on what we want to do and do not dig into why we want to do it. Yet it is this deeper self-reflection that drives sustained commitment to a new habit or behavior. Michelle Segar, a faculty associate at the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, has called this process “finding the right why.”

So what is the right why? “People are more motivated by immediate rewards than they are by ones they have to wait to experience,” says Segar. In other words: when debating whether to lace up your running shoes, thinking about the endorphin rush coming your way in 30 minutes is often a more sustainable motivator than living a little longer in thirty years. This translates to organizational goals too. If you are considering organizing a team-building activity, focusing on how fun it will be may encourage better attendance than emphasizing that the group might experience less turnover or burnout next year.

Segar suggests four action steps to begin applying the Right Why to changes you want to make in 2017:

#1: Reflect
Consider your “whys” for initiating a lifestyle change; and ask yourself if it has symbolized that this change/behavior is a chore or a gift?

#2: Reset

Know that we’ve all been socialized to think about and approach “healthy” lifestyles from the same perspective, one that has turned them into medicine instead of the vehicles of joy and meaning that they truly are – let go of any sense of personal failure because the formula we’ve been taught sets us up for starting and stopping but not sustaining. People feel like failures and this is very bad for motivation.

#3: Choose

Consider the specific experiences, that if you had more of them in your day, would lead you to feel better and drive greater success in your roles. Do you feel drained and need more energy? Do you need more time to connect with loved ones? Then pick one of these experiences – this is what the Right Why is – and identify what lifestyle behavior might deliver it to you. It’s important to focus on changing one behavior at once because the goal is to institutionalize it into our lives. Humans have a limited capacity for decision making so we must strategically use it as the limited resource it truly is.

#4: Experiment

Experiment with a plan for one week to see what happens, including the types of things that get in the way. Plan a date on your schedule to sit down and evaluate whether that behavior helped you realize your Right Why and also what you might want to tweak going forward. Because it’s an opportunity to learn, there is no failure. It’s about continuing to experiment with whys and ways to achieve them until you discover what works for you.

What is one of your goals for 2017, and what is your motivation for pursuing it?

Chris White (@leadpositivelyleadpositively.com) is managing director of the Center for Positive Organizations (@PositiveOrg) at the University of Michigan’s Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

 

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/sustainable-motivation-fo_b_13580772.html

Can You Create Change From the Bottom Up?

An interview with the awesome Michelle McQuaid. Originally at http://www.michellemcquaid.com

 

Do you lack the authority to create the kind of positive changes you’d love to see in your workplace? Have you tried to get leaders on board and had no luck? What if there was a formula that helped you fly under-the-radar and create the kind of changes that would really help people flourish?

Be it helping our organizations to become more responsive to customers’ experiences, supportive of the needs of employees, environmentally sustainable, or community minded, it is clear that businesses can truly benefit from the social and environmental passions of their employees.  But let’s be honest, convincing business leaders that this is the case is easier in some workplaces than others.

So how do you get leaders on board with these approaches?

“Trying to create positive changes in an organization when you don’t have authority, is like trying to create change in society so there is a lot we can learn from social movement activists and apply it workplaces,”explained Chris White the Managing Director of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and the co-author of Changing Your Company from the Inside Out, when I interviewed him recently. “For example, successful social activitists look for the right opportunities at the right time to harness and mobilize support to get the traction they need to push from the bottom up and turn their radical ideas into action.”

Chris suggests that social intrapreneurs – those who create positive change in organizations even when they don’t have formal authority – are most successful when they follow the social activists formula of when, why, who and how in workplaces. It is how employees at IBM created the corporate Peace Corps, how a team at eBay developed a fair trade marketplace, and how people convinced Ford to embrace an ambitious global human rights code.

“Like a martial arts master, intrapreneurs are able to achieve their objectives by aligning their movements with the momentum of their organization, and acting without causing serious harm to the system,” Chris explained.

But do organizations really want social intrapreneurs?

Chris suggests that by tapping into the ideas, passions and energy of social intrapreneurs, organizations not only foster more innovation, but in the process they also can increase the engagement and retention of talented employees, improve their bottom line, and help advance social and environmental solutions.

For example, the UK-based Barclays Bank regards social innovation as about ‘doing good’, and at the same time representing real business opportunities. As a result of some persistent intrapreneurial work they have established an innovation fund to address social challenges, and are fostering more initiatives by encouraging their intrapreneurs to apply for financial support, coaching or mentoring.

So what does it take to be a social intrapreneur?

Chris has found there are four levers from the social action moment that are vital to selling ideas within an organization:

  • When? – A great idea pushed at the wrong time is unlikely to get traction. Conversely, a counterintuitive idea can be successful if the timing is right. Look for shifts in leadership priorities, which create an urgent need for new solutions. Your goal, like a skilled dancer, is to position your idea to be carried along by the momentum of the system — not swim against the tide.
  • Why? Make the case for your idea using the language and strategic priorities of your company. In many corporate cultures, making the ideas sound like a natural evolution rather than a radical departure, can reduce resistance to adoption. Your goal is to create a mental image that activates the support of important allies, but does not trigger alarm bells for potential resistors.
  • Who? Take time to map the decision makers for your idea, and the influence system around them. What are their priorities? How will you need to adapt your case to each of them in order to be effective? Your goal is to build support along the way, making the eventual decision a straightforward sign off.
  • How? Look for sensible solutions” to organize your initiative. Maybe it is a smaller pilot program to manage risk smartly. Maybe there is a previously successful program that can be largely replicated. How can you use technology to connect and scale your idea? Your goal is to make this an easy idea to grasp as rollout begins.

Chris suggests that many of us to hold back from originating radical change due to fears our leaders will not be supportive of bottom-up change created without authority. However, in reality he has found senior leaders are often very supportive and welcome their social intrapreneur’s initiatives.

What positive changes could you initiate in your workplace?

This interview was produced in partnership with the Positive Business Conference held each year at the University of Michigan. For more on the conference please visit http://www.positivebusinessconference.com.

Creating a Healthy Relationship with Technology

Walking down the street is a hazardous experience these days. People have their heads down, eyes glued to their smartphones, while walking full speed ahead (or unconsciously zigzagging), oblivious to people walking in the other direction. From time to time, collisions occur and people and gadgets come crashing down in a heap. Other times, those without a device in their hands are forced to adjust their path to avoid the oblivious human-meteor coming toward them.

Collisions happen in organizations too. Sometimes they happen physically, in the corridor as they would happen in the New York street scene described above. Other times, they are psychological collisions. The collisions take different and more subtle forms, but are real nonetheless. For example, studies show that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table is enough to reduce the extent to which we experience empathy for those around us. It doesn’t matter if it is turned on. It doesn’t matter if it belongs to anyone around the table, or whether it rings or not. Because we are now primed to check our devices so much, their mere presence is enough to cause a collective empathy-reducing psychological collision. Yikes.

Choosing to give your attention to your device over the person in front of you can be experienced as a values-based decision. Many of us have prioritized our gadget ahead of the person in front of us, me included. In fact, doing so is so widespread that we have come to accept it as normal and okay. It is not. It is a small example of the psychological collision described above. It takes a de-energizing toll on the workplace and the individuals in it.

Do not get me wrong: I do not believe the solution is tech abstinence. Technology can offer many benefits. It is about constructing a healthy relationship to technology in our lives and our families and our organizations. How can we get the benefits our gadgets offer us, while mitigating the downside to ourselves and those around us. An example of this paradox in action is down the street from me in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at Menlo Innovations. Menlo is an excellent software company; their job is to create technology. (Disclosure: Menlo is a member of the Consortium of Positive Organizations at the Center for Positive Organizations. I am an unapologetic fan). They do so in very thoughtful and innovative ways. One such way is by having project boards made from pen and paper rather than sophisticated project management software. At Menlo, they believe this gives a better way to visualize work in progress, and allow team members to connect with each other around the work in meaningful ways. Founders Rich Sheridan and James Goebel are making deliberate choices about when to get technology out of the way.

In recent months I have found myself running some small experiments. My goal has been to increase my overall presence, wellbeing, and effectiveness by making deliberate choices about my use of technology. In some cases, this has involved using more technology. In others, this has involved using less technology. So, yes, I keep my cell phone off the table. And here are four other such experiments that might be of interest:

1. Removing email and social media from my smart phone.

I have been trying to follow the widely-offered advice to batch email and social media time into two-to-three 30-minute chunks a day. I have been failing. However, I made significant progress recently when I removed all email and social media apps from my phone. I have found myself able to take what I call “micro-sabbaticals” while in the elevator, or walking along the street, instead of taking out my device in every spare moment. It has also been enlightening through this process to realize how strong my connectivity addiction is at present. When I first removed email and social media from my phone, I noticed my hand would still twitch toward my pocket when walking along the street, conditioned to check for new messages or updates. When I would get home at night, I would open my laptop on the kitchen counter, insanely rationalizing to myself that this little workaround was somehow okay, because I sticking to my resolution to remove email and social media from my phone. The behaviors of an addict, for sure. Over time, my overall addiction is waning. I notice my mind – and schedule – feeling less busy. And yet I am still operating at an almost-zero inbox, with a response rate to most messages of 24 hours or less. Progress indeed.

2. The JOOL app has helped me stay focused on the right things. 

Living life in alignment to a purpose that is meaningful to you has many benefits.Similarly, paying due attention to sleep, presence, activity, creativity, and eating (S.P.A.C.E., per Professor Vic Strecher), pays dividends in energy and wellbeing. The JOOL app encourages daily reflection and tracking of these factors, and then offers insightful analytics about the elements that lead to you being at your best. Recording this daily is a good daily reminder for me to pay attention to the things that lead to sustainable performance in all parts of my life.

3. Using a Fitbit (for me the Charge 2, specifically) has had unexpected benefits. 

It is nice to track how many steps I have taken per day, and to be reminded to get up and move. It is also helpful to get some information about the length and depth of my sleep cycles. I expected these benefits. The unexpected boost has been that my Fitbit buzzes on my wrist when I get a text or phone call. This builds on the progress made by removing email and social media from my smart phone. Now, I have no reason at all to check my smart phone “just in case I have received a text or missed a call”. The compulsive checking of my phone is fading into the distance.

4. Evernote to notebook for tracking agenda topics

I have found Evernote to be my preferred digital notebook. It is simple, searchable, and synchronizes across all my devices easily. Wherever I am, I can pull up an article I clipped, or a note I made. One way I use Evernote is to keep track of topics I would like to discuss in recurring one-on-one meetings with my team. Increasingly, I am getting into the habit of transposing the items to my written notebook immediately before the meeting. This serves a double purpose. Firstly, it enables me to review the agenda before getting into the room, which helps me make a running start on getting the outcomes we are working toward. Secondly, it allows me to extend the principle of “no cellphones on the table” to “no laptops between us.” Of the changes I have listed here, this is the one that is the most “in progress” for me. Like everyone, I too am a work in progress!

I am still very much in the experimental phase in seeking a healthy relationship with technology. I would love to hear how you have changed your own technology individually or organizationally to enhance your presence, wellbeing, and effectiveness!

 

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/creating-a-healthy-relati_b_12864974.html

How to Make Your Company a Force For Good

A fun interview with Marty Wolff. How can business make a positive difference in the world?

Originally at http://martywolffbusinesssolutions.com/chris-white-can-make-company-force-good/