When meeting with leaders interested in building positive organizations, one question recurs more often than the others: “where do we start?” As a manager myself, I can certainly relate to this. Good advice is seemingly limitless. Help to put it all together, however, is in short supply.
Followers of the Center for Positive Organizations, based at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, might find this challenge more acute than most. For the last fifteen years, over 300 scholars around the world have been working under a broad umbrella of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Topics include transformational leadership, compassion at work, meaning and purpose in organizational life, ethics, forgiveness, energy, negotiations, generosity, and more.
Being a positive leader does not mean being perfect. We are all human beings, and will often fall short of our own personal expectations. Being a positive leader, however, does mean aspiring to build relationships and teams that are both high performing and enable people to thrive. It does mean choosing to focus on what is working well, and on peoples’ strengths, more than addressing their weaknesses.
So where to start: some moments as a leader are more important than others. Here are four leverage points for being a positive leader.
1. It all begins with you
There is no point in aspiring to be a positive leader unless you are sincerely committed to the journey. Indeed, trying this system in the hope of quick fixes or Band-Aid solutions may be counterproductive. If you are insincere, your colleagues will be able to sense it a mile away.
How can you take steps to integrate the identity of positive leadership in your own life? Consider starting with Ryan and Bob Quinn’s practical advice on how to be a transformational leader in their book, Lift 2.0.
2. Hire for energy, not just capability
To have a positively energized team, you need everyone on board to be either positive energizers or at least neutral. The moment you bring a negative energizer onto your team, it can suck the life out of the team. Michigan Ross Professor Wayne Baker, who has done fascinating and important work on energy networks in organizations, calls these people Black Holes.
To find positive energizers and create an upward trajectory for team dynamics, I ask myself three questions during the hiring process:
1. Does this person have the potential to be the best on the team in his or her area of responsibility?
2. Will this person not only fit our culture, but also enhance it with his or her own character?
3. Is this person committed to the same mission and vision as we are, to the extent they will stick around to make it happen, rather than jump at the next shiny opportunity that comes their way?
By only hiring people who meet these criteria, we are giving ourselves a good chance of continually improving our capability and culture.
3. Build high quality relationships
Being a positive leader involves creating and sustaining productive and energizing relationships with those around you. The social fabric you build will not only help in the day to day course of creating a great workplace, but will create a reserve of commitment and resiliency for when times are tough.
To get started, consider reading Energize Your Workplace by Jane Dutton, and then continuing with the Task Enabling Exercise. These resources will help you identify the most important relationships you have in the workplace, and how to strengthen them to make them even more meaningful and productive.
4. Unlock potential in the group
Many people view meetings as the bane of organizational existence. However, meetings also provide a great way to build alignment and work toward a defined culture. Work at a more collective level is a key step in becoming a positive leader. How can you create processes and systems to enable people to support and unlock potential in each other, even when you are not around?
One tool to help build this capacity in your team is the Positive Leadership Game. This exercise helps teams understand what it means to lead using the positive lens, and get into the habit of asking for and offering help to each other.
These are four leverage points you can prioritize in order to be a positive leader. How else might you make a positive difference in your organization?
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 (@MichiganRoss). The Center is the convener of the Positive Organizations Consortium, a catalytic co-learning community of leaders actively building high-performing organizations where people thrive.