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

In Defense of Doers

Leadership experts make it sound easy: “Follow these simple steps and you will have amazing results!”

The typical format is somewhat formulaic. With poise and pithy quotes, we deliver our sticky stories. We boil down thousands of hours of research and experience into a set of snazzy slides and talking points. When they go well, our sessions help people make sense of the chaos around them. At our best, we provide practical tools and approaches that may make people more effective or happier at work.

I say this with some basis in experience: I could probably be perceived as one of these “leadership experts.” I run a research center with a mountain of relevant content. I teach an MBA class at a top business school. I blog regularly throughmainstream media outlets. I give dozens of external talks and workshops a year. I have written a book through a prestigious publishing house. The resume adds up to the picture of a “leadership expert.”

Yet I have also been leading teams and organizations for the last eighteen years. This allows me to say unequivocally: leading and managing people is much, much harder than talking about it.

The reality of organizational life is messy. It doesn’t fit neatly into the two-by-two frameworks, or three step processes that make for compelling 700 word blog articles. The people we work with on a day to day basis have their own baggage from previous jobs. Maybe their previous boss was a tyrant, always looking for what was being done “wrong.” The people we work with have their own lives outside of work. Maybe he or she is exhausted from working a second job, or going to evening classes, or has young children who are not yet sleeping through the night. The people we work with have diverse strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Maybe a struggling team member could be a superstar in a slightly adjusted role or working environment. The complexity is mind-boggling.

And you know what? The same goes for me. I have my own baggage from previous jobs. I have had a controlling boss. I have experienced a sense of betrayed trust in the workplace. I too have my own life outside of work. I am spending much of my time excitedly preparing for a wedding next year, with all the new challenges and opportunities and growth that weddings and married life bring. I have my own strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. Connecting dots in strategy and networks comes naturally to me; defining and implementing consistent processes does not. I am far from perfect.

So what advice might I share with someone brave enough to show up every day, trying to build a positive organization in the messy, complex real world of work?

Be humble.

When you are wrong, or fall short of what you expect of yourself, admit it. Admit it quickly and unreservedly, to yourself and others. Apologize. Being humble will both manage expectations, and build trust. And try again.

Be gentle with yourself.

Accept, right now, that things will rarely go exactly as planned. Some things you try will not work the way you hoped. You will find some people harder to work with than others. Just do your best, and be kind to yourself about the emotional bumps and bruises along the way. These psychological knocks are simply the cost you pay for caring about your team. Being gentle with yourself will help you sustain yourself and gather up the energy needed to make your organizational change efforts successful. And try again.

Keep learning and improving.

Never fall into the trap of believing that the formulas proposed from most “leadership experts” will work perfectly in your organizations. They will require skilled adaptation. You will need to become comfortable using the tools that they recommend. Ask for feedback often. Look for subtle feedback in what you are told and not told by those around you. Continually learning and improving will make you better and inspire those around you to want to partner with you. And try again.

What is the best advice you have for someone trying to build a positive organization?

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 appeared at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/in-defense-of-doers_b_12441314.html

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4 Ways to Build High-Quality Workplace Connections

How could you become more creative, healthier, resilient, think faster, and feel better about yourself? How could your team become more creative, trusting, and better learners? How could your organisation move faster and more effectively within its teams and across its silos? How can even the budget-constrained achieve these kind of (research-based) outcomes?

The answers are all around us. It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s how you connect with others.

High-quality connections are often short-term interactions, the micro-bits of a relationship over time. They occur when both people feel a sense of positive regard from the other, a sense of mutuality, and feel vitality or energy in the connection,” says Professor Jane Dutton from the Center for Positive Organisations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “They strengthen both people who experience them– leaving them stronger, both physiologically and psychologically.”

Dutton identifies four pathways for building these high-quality connections:

1. Be here now

I was recently walking through the park when a young mother with a stroller approached in the opposite direction. “What, no phone?” she asked, laughing. A bit confused, I smiled at her and kept going. It slowly dawned on me that every single person in the park was glued to their mobile phone and was missing out on experiencing the golden sunshine, the glistening water, the luscious green trees.

Especially in this day and age, paying complete attention is the ultimate compliment. We feel heard, respected, and valued when someone gives us their full attention. “Increase attention to and presence with each other,” advises Dutton. Be present, even if only for a moment. Put down your phone. Open your door. Listen.

 2. Build trust

Trust can sometimes be elusive in the workplace. Most of the time, I have been fortunate to have incredibly energising relationships with my colleagues and collaborators. Yet over my career, there have been a few work relationships that have just felt fragile and tentative, for no reason obvious to me. Those times when I have not been successful in building authentic and positive working relationships nag at me for longer than I care to admit.

It is easy for us to forget that what we see of the other person is just a tiny fraction of the whole. All of us bring “baggage” to our work, and our relationships, that is accumulated from our past experiences. These residual perceptions and beliefs can be hard to leave behind, in order to build high-quality connections. Yet, if our motivation to build high-quality connections are sincere, all we can do is try. It is a daily process. “Help others know you have their best interests at heart”, encourages Dutton. By being open, being reliable, and being competent, you can make a great start in earning trust, and feeling more comfortable in trusting others.

 3. Offer support skillfully

What is helpful to one person may be acutely unhelpful to another. “Know and provide what other people need to be successful,” suggests Dutton. “Make others succeed. Catch them when they fall. Know what ways of helping others really work for them.”

This may sound like it is easier said than done! Implementing #1 (listening and being present) will help. Professor and bestselling author Adam Grantrecommends a practice of “five minute favours”, in which we set aside a short block of time to do helpful deeds. An additional resource to help with this is theTask Enabling Exercise (TEE). The TEE helps identify and strengthen the relationships that are most important to you in being successful at work, and the relationships in which you are equally important to others.

 4. Play more. Play often

Sometimes we can take ourselves too seriously that we may be fearful either to initiate or engage in playful behavior. We believe that people around the table may be too busy to join in, or that we may be negatively judged for suggesting such a silly idea as being playful in the workplace.

Getting past this fear of resistance of judgment in order to play more, benefits the overall team culture. Indeed, for humans and many other species, the instinct to play with others is hardwired into us from birth.

Dutton encourages us to try different, contextually appropriate, forms of playing in order to build connections in psychologically safe ways. For example, at theNeutral Zone, a youth-driven space for leadership development, teen leaders often begin meetings by asking a fun, thought-provoking question to everyone before the meeting gets underway. This enables participants to use more creative parts of their brains first before jumping into the work.  At Menlo Innovations, on the other hand, much of their coding work is done in pairs. As such, when two people are reporting out to the broader team on projects, they hold the two horns on a Viking helmet. This physical artifact strengthens the bond between the two people, and keeps an element of silliness in the room.

So often, we look for what to do, or with which company to do it in order to thrive at work. It turns out, who we do it with may be an equally important question to ask. How do you build high-quality connections as you go about your day?

 

Originally at http://blog.gotomeeting.co.uk/2016/09/21/build-high-quality-workplace-connections.html

Three ways to work better together

Are you looking for research-based ways to increase quality, efficiency, financial, safety, customer engagement, and worker well-being? Perhaps even enhance learning and innovation? What could be the fuel that facilitates these diverse and important outcomes?

When we think about ways to improve, we often look at what things we can do additionally. However, fewer of us take a close look at how we do it.

Jody Hoffer Gitell
has been studying how we can work better together for her whole career. Jody calls it Relational Coordination: a mutually reinforcing process of communicating and relating for the purpose of task integration. “Basically”, says Hoffer Gitell, “it’s a relational dynamic that individuals, teams and organizations use to coordinate their work to achieve desired performance outcomes.”

Many people would consider things like “relationship dynamics” to be an art rather than a science. But Hoffer Gitell is absolutely putting rigor into our understanding of these processes. At Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Professor Hoffer Gitell is Executive Director of the Relational Coordination Research Collaborative and author of Transforming Relationships for High Performance.

For leaders seeking to kickstart a higher level of relational coordination, Hoffer Gitell recommends three things:

1) Align. Seek to identify and develop shared goals where possible even when some goals are in conflict.

Here at the Center for Positive Organizations, we have recently started implementing a Kick Off protocol for our projects. In this, the project manager leads all those who will be involved in making a project successful through a conversation to get alignment on several important dimensions. Firstly, purpose and goals. What is the purpose of our Center? What is the purpose of this particular project, as relates to this overarching purpose? What do we want to learn? What is our shared vision of greatness? Secondly, roles. Who will contribute what to the success of the project? Thirdly, process. How will we check in with each other to make sure that we stay on track? The answers are developed together in conversation, and written up as a shared charter for the team.

2) Listen. Seek to understand the expertise and perspective of other roles, and help them to understand yours.

At Menlo Innovations, a member of the Consortium of Positive Organizations, software programmers work in pairs on coding projects. Pairing combinations are rotated often, so people are compelled to learn from others on a daily basis. Pairs share out their learning points and challenges daily – as a pair – at a morning stand up meeting. They incorporate a bit of fun and symbolism into the process by using a Viking helmet to physically join the two team members! This way of working means that team members cannot help but learn from each other. Failing to learn from each other would mean being unable to deliver on a project, given the highly institutionalized relational coordination at Menlo.

 

3) Respect. Find a way to feel and show respect for other roles, and expect respect for your own.

At Zingerman’s, teams end meetings with appreciations. “Appreciations can be of anything or anyone; in the room or not in the room; work-related or not; past, present or future. No one is required to say anything, but most people usually do. This one small systemic change has made a huge impact over the years,” writes co-founder Ari Weinzweig. “Think of it like ending a meal with a good cup of coffee; because every meeting ends with them, people almost always return to the organizational world with positive feelings. Its regularity disciplines us to devote time and mental energy to positive recognition.”

Align, listen, respect. Build relational coordination and build a positive organization. What else are you doing to help your team work better together?

 

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.

How to motivate people? Don’t do it yourself.

How do you motivate employees to greater levels of engagement and productivity? Maybe you shouldn’t try to do it yourself.

For many people, the popular TV show The Office strikes just a little too close to the reality of their day-to-day experience. It is funny because it is true. Consider this example: manager Michael Scott often gives “motivational” pep talks to his team. Just about every time, the effort backfires. Michael’s efforts to pump up his colleagues are greeted with rolled eyes and cynicism. Whether sincere or not, his words and deeds are viewed as inauthentic and superficial. By contrast: seldom if ever do we actually see or hear from fictional company Dunder Mifflin’s customers in the show.

There are specific, research-based steps toward an alternative possibility: a world of engaged workers who are happier, healthier, and more productive. Employees are more likely to be motivated and engaged when they feel their work is meaningful (which researchers Brent Rosso, Katherine Dekas, and Amy Wrzesniewski define as “significant, challenging, and complete”). It seems logical: people who feel that their work is “making a difference” are more likely to engage in it. Usually, when we think of “meaningful work,” we think of teachers, nurses, physicians, social workers: people whose jobs directly impact the lives of others. However, many employees in other kinds of roles are doing work that indirectly impacts the lives of others but are unable to see the effects of their work. These employees may hear about how their work affects others, but are otherwise unaware of their impact and therefore remain unmotivated and unengaged.

Take telefund callers, for instance. Many of us receive calls regularly from our alma maters, asking for donations. These calls are often placed by young students, paying their way through school by making fundraising calls to alumni. The work is repetitive, and the callers have to stay motivated and persistent even in the face of frequent (and not always very polite) rejection. Not necessarily a job that comes to mind when we think “meaningful work.” However, in How To Be A Positive Leader, Adam Grant shares a study of how outsourcing inspiration contributed to a more engaged workplace.

In 2007, University of Michigan Telefund experimented with inviting a scholarship recipient to help motivate its employees. Telefund callers are often students without much work experience, and face frequent rejection as they try to raise money for the university. In the experiment (since widely replicated), a scholarship recipient shared her story with some of the callers before their phone shift—how her scholarship helped ease a financial burden. In the month after hearing her story, those callers obtained on average 215 more pledges and $1670 more in donations per week than a control group that didn’t receive a motivational talk from a scholarship student. The kicker? Both groups of callers used the exact same script.

Outsourcing inspiration can and will look different in each organization. Here are three helpful strategies from Grant’s study that organizations can use to get started:

1. Make the face-to-face connection. Hearing first-hand from the beneficiaries of their work is the most direct (and most effective) way to connect employees to the impact of their work. In the case of Michigan Telefund, a 5-minute story from a scholarship student measurably boosted employee engagement.

2. Encourage employees to swap stories. It might be the case at an organization that some employees are very connected to their impact, while others are not. When employees are given the opportunity to share their contributions with each other, they can make connections about impact that they may not have been able to make otherwise.

3. Become a linking pin. What good is an inspiring story if not connected to the mission of the organization? Connecting employees’ contributions with the mission or vision of the organization can be even more engaging for employees than simply hearing the story of an end-user.

With these ideas as a starting point, you can start outsourcing inspiration quickly. Today at lunch, encourage employees to share stories of contributions they’ve made toward your mission. Reach out to one of your team’s beneficiaries to see if they would be willing to share the impact your organization had on them. Make your mission known and connect it to the day-to-day work of your employees. Perhaps an added bonus will be a boost to your own motivation, as well as that of your team!

 

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

Four Ways to Create a Giver Culture

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/four-ways-to-create-a-giv_b_9888580.html

Imagine coming to work each morning feeling cared for and supported as a professional—and as a human being. When you need information, help with problem, or some good advice, your coworkers are there, freely offering their assistance. If necessary, they tap their networks inside and outside the company to find the resource you need. And, you freely do the same for them.

What I just described is the product of having what Michigan Ross Center for Positive Organizations‘ Professor Wayne Baker calls “A Giver Culture.” For some of us, this is our workplace reality. For the rest of us, there are research-based ways to get there.

What is a Giver Culture?

A Giver Culture is one where people freely ask for, and offer, help to others. They give to others routinely, without expectations of receiving anything in return for their acts of generosity. And, they ask for what they need. “When people ask for what they need and generously help others,” Baker explains, “they become more engaged at work and more productive. They experience positive emotions and thrive. Giver workplaces are more productive and profitable, experience lower turnover (and costs), and have more loyal customers.”

How to do it?

Getting people to help usually isn’t the problem, Baker says. Rather, getting people to ask for what they need is the challenge. Making requests is the fuel that drives the cycle of giving and receiving. To create a Giver Culture, you have to improve peoples’ skills at asking for help and assistance. To enable this, Baker recommends making specific, detailed requests; being sure to explain why a request is meaningful and important; and letting others know by when you need the help. And, never underestimate others’ willingness and ability to help! You never know what people know or who they know until you ask.

When it comes to giving, two factors are at work: gratitude and reputation. Baker and Bulkley found that people are more generous when they are grateful for the help they have received (commonly known as Paying It Forward), and people are more generous because of reputational concerns (they believe that being a giver will make them look good and get help in the future). While Baker and Bulkley found both gratitude and reputation to have an impact; perhaps surprisingly, the gratitude effect was much stronger than the reputation effect. In other words, feelings of appreciation are much more likely to lead to generous acts than an awareness that others may think more highly of you for your generosity.

What can you do to get starting building a Giver Culture today?

1. Empathize

As an individual, you can actively listen to others and figure out what they need. Then, you can help meet that need yourself (you have the resource) or you can tap your network and make a referral. If you do this as a giver—without expectations of return—you will start the chain of generosity.

2. Act

There are many ways you can take action to help others. Adam Grant, bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals, advocates setting up a block of time to do some five-minute favors: short acts of generosity. As a bonus: As well as helping others, five-minute favors have a measurable impact on your happiness level! And Grant’s research showed that bundling the helping acts together creates an even bigger impact on your sense of wellbeing than spreading them out. Go ahead—block off thirty minutes now to give yourself a big boost!

3. Ask for what you need

Making requests is a critical part of the process. To make request, you need to figure out what you need and then communicate that need to others. It helps to do it with the right spirit: Make requests without being attached to a particular outcome. Help often comes in unexpected forms from unexpected places!

4. Activate others

Individual actions will help, but to create a Giver Culture, you have to intervene at the group level. Two ways to do this are the Reciprocity Ring from Humax, and the Give and Get App from Give and Take, Inc. These resources give groups structured platforms to enable people to ask for and offer meaningful help to one another. These tools are intrinsically energizing, and create measurable value for the people involved, and for their organizations.

How do you create a Giver Culture in your organization? What challenges do you run into? Share your experiences below!

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.