How to Avoid Being a Fake Positive Leader

There are sessions taught in some companies these days on “Executive Presence.” Such courses help high-potential employees to walk, talk, and look like a leader is meant to look. Whatever that is.

Ugh.

All too often, programs like these emphasize techniques people can employ to create a certain impression, rather than their underlying leadership principles and values. Consequently, the practices advocated are not strongly rooted in integrity. Nobody enjoys feeling like they are on the receiving end of a technique that someone is trying in order to get what they want. We call that manipulation. When people try to be someone they are not, we experience it as superficial, inauthentic and insincere.

Instead, let us pay more attention to our belief systems about leadership and organizations. Here are three mental shifts that allow the practices of being a positive leader to be enacted with integrity, and real impact.

1. From fixed to growth mindset

Do you believe that your abilities in a particular area are set in stone, or do you believe that — given proper attention — that they can improve? Do you hold the same belief about those around you? How you answer those questions may have implications for happiness and performance related outcomes, according to research by Carol Dweck. In short, cultivating a growth mindset – one that emphasizes the learning journey over the immediate results – helps drive a range of helpful outcomes.

We can help ourselves to adopt a growth mindset by being deliberate about our learning experiences in our day-to-day roles. Sue Ashford and Scott DeRue, faculty associates at the Center for Positive Organizations, call this “mindful engagement.” Rather than being dependent on standalone training sessions, the mindful engagement process can be applied to many of our ongoing tasks and responsibilities. For instance, perhaps you want to get better at leading a team meeting, or conducting a performance appraisal for the first time, the process can be broken down into three main steps:

a) Set learning goals. Before beginning any particular experience, identify your learning goals. What is it that you are seeking to develop here? What experiments are you running?

b) Get input. While undertaking the experience, the researchers recommend collecting feedback from others. What is going well? What is not? Why?

c) Debrief. Afterward, conduct an After Action Review. What should we keep for next time? What should we adjust for next time?

2. From problem solving to possibility finding

Sometimes, there are problems that do need to be fixed. So fix them! Positive leadership does not mean ignoring things that need to be improved. But many people go overboard with an obsessive focus on problem solving.

We see the obsession all around us. Organizational antibodies just love to find initiatives that do not look like the rest of the system. They kill everything that looks different by a thousand cuts. “We tried that once and it failed,” says one colleague. “We could never try that here, it wouldn’t work,” says another. Or, sometimes, you will just get ignored. These are all insidious ways of damping down the enthusiasm of those trying to create positive change.

As leaders, we can choose to place the majority of our attention and leadership energy on what is working well. Part of the key to creating sustainable change is to carefully ration the amount of change imposed from the outside. Instead, it is almost always better to find what is already working inside an organization and amplify it. “What is going well here?” positive leaders ask on a daily basis. “How could we make it even better?”

3. From hierarchical thinking to influence without authority

When you think of getting things done in your organization, do you picture an organizational chart? Or do you imagine a network of relationships? In reality, of course, most organizations are both hierarchical and based on networks of relationships.

However, the concept to which you assign primacy here says something about how you think of the workplace.

Positive leaders recognize that seldom are organizational decisions made by a single dominant player. Rather, there are influence systems around decision makers, where people are constantly jockeying for position. Within these systems, the degree to which you positively energize those around you can in turn impact the influence you have in the organization and the performance. By energizing others with character strengths such as compassion, presence, enthusiasm, purpose, generosity, humor, and care, you can both improve performance, and become more influential in the system. In turn, you may also make the culture more resilient.

Adopt a growth mindset. Encourage it in others. Find and amplify the good. Be a positive energizer. Help others to be positive energizers too. That’s the kind of executive whose presence I want to be in.

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 Consortium of Positive Organizations, a catalytic co-learning community of leaders actively building high-performing organizations where people thrive.

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/how-to-avoid-being-a-fake-positive-leader_us_58eba536e4b0145a227cb6da

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

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

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

Follow Great Work Cultures on Twitter: www.twitter.com/GWCLeadLink

Interview with David Burkus

In this interview, we talk about how to make even large, established companies a force for good through social intrapreneurship.

Originally at http://davidburkus.com/2015/04/0608-chris-white/

 

Could your calling be all around you?

Today, students and professionals are hungering for purpose. Rarely a day goes by without experiencing some manifestation of the great search for meaning in work that is currently underway. Sometimes it appears in the frustration of a loved one about her boredom at work; she wants to contribute more — and more meaningfully. Other times it shows up in the emptiness that our best friend feels when he has found himself going through the motions at work, rather than being fully present and engaged; he wants to do things that stretch him and applies his strengths, values and passions in the pursuit of something worthwhile. Often, it can be seen in the relentless job hopping that seems to be so prevalent nowadays in just about every organization; sometimes we just think that the occupational grass here is bland, and it will be greener and tastier elsewhere.

 

Michigan Ross management professor Andy Hoffman thinks that the solution — the biggest calling of our generation — is all around us. “The sustainability challenges we face today are of a completely different order than those of the past”, says Hoffman in his new book. “Business must be the source of the solutions to those issues. The market is the most powerful institution on Earth and business is the most powerful entity within it. If they are not solving these problems, they won’t be solved.” And it appears that many students are heeding the call. Hoffman notes that “students that wanted to make a difference in the world twenty years ago went to graduate schools of government or non-profit management. Today, more and more of them are going into schools of business.”

I will be the first to admit that I am far from perfect. Indeed, I feel more than a twinge of hypocrisy as I write this article. I drive a gas guzzling car! I enjoy a nice steak all too often!

But Hoffman’s point is that none of us are. But that shouldn’t stop us. There are myriad ways that individuals or organizations can make a difference starting today. Some yield small and immediate results. Others will be the work of many people over decades or longer. We do not all need to be Elon Musk and lead the reinvention of the auto sector, but we can aspire to create products and services differently. At the recent Ross Positive Business Conference,Cascade Engineering CEO Mark Miller told us how his company took an environmental challenge to their business and turned it into an extraordinary commercial opportunity. (See the story here, starting at 49.08). He was driven to do this by a deep sense of purpose about both building his business and serving society.

 

Having a calling changes our subjective day-to-day experience of work. Some may not feel the compulsion to make environmental stewardship their calling. They may feel drawn more toward helping their communities or their families, perhaps. One of my colleagues says that her calling is simply “to make each room better than how she found it”. Everyone who experiences the events that she produces knows that this is something that she takes seriously. Her calling energizes her actions on a daily basis.

 

For many people, the challenge is where to begin. Here are two concrete steps to get the ball rolling:

 

1. “Start small”, suggests Hoffman. “Begin to explore what your passions are and where you want to devote your life’s energies”. In order to do this, you may choose to find a mentor or keep an energy journal. For two weeks, simply note down the times when you feel excited and energized by situations you come across. Over time, as you reflect on your notes, you will find common themes across the people you interact with, the issues you consider, and the tasks you do when you find yourself being energized.

2. Connect to something bigger than just your immediate needs and wants. This will give you a purpose beyond yourself and a community with which to connect; both will fuel your energy and excitement for the long run. Many workplaces have Green Teams (grassroots networks to help with environmental initiatives), or diversity councils, or other such groups that fit your energy that welcome new contributors. Outside of work, many attend Green Drinks events or volunteer in environmental work.

Do you feel you have a calling? What is it? How did you find it? Share in the comments!

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. Andy Hoffman (@HoffmanAndy) is a professor at the Ross School and his new book Finding Purpose: Environmental Stewardship as Personal Calling is available here.

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/could-your-calling-be-all_b_10839066.html

How to help your new hire get off to a great start

Originally at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/how-to-help-your-new-hire_b_9410882.html

The sun was shining as Katie set off for her first day at work on her dream job. Heading to the office with a brisk walk, a little smile, and the flutter of butterflies in the stomach, everything seemed bright about the day to come.

As managers, we know that there are many things to be coordinated to help Katie start off on the right foot. Generally, I find that these fall into four main categories: logistics (computer, phone, payroll, etc.), information (understanding the strategy and systems of the organization, for example), relationships (the people with whom Katie will be working most closely), and projects (the areas for which Katie will be responsible, prioritized in order of importance and urgency).

One special ingredient that most managers tend to overlook when helping new hires make a running start is Identity. We know what Katie’s resume looks like, how she came across in an interview, and what her references say about her. Yet we do not really know her deeply. Who is this person? What is she like when at her best? How can we help her bring her best self to work as often as possible?

According to recent research, understanding and reinforcing Katie’s positive sense of self will make a big difference to how she performs and how happy she is at work. In the series of experiments by Dan Cable, Julia Lee, Francesca Gino, and Bradley Staats, two findings are particularly relevant. First, when individuals are given feedback on how they are at their best before individuals start their team task, they outperformed the teams that did not do this. Second, when this positive identity-boost was given as part of corporate onboarding procedure, newcomers who went through this exercise felt that their relationship with the company is less transactional, felt less emotionally exhausted, and less likely to quit, as compared to those who did not do this exercise. These findings suggest that learning about one’s reflected best-self can help teams to work better together and improve employment relationships.

What actions could you do right now to put this research into practice?

    • Provide opportunities to give and receive best-self feedback

In the study, the researchers implemented a tool called the Reflected Best Self Exercise, which was developed by the scholars at the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations. This powerful exercise allows employees to learn about their positive impact and contribution to others through the eyes of their social network (family, friends, colleagues, etc.). Over the last ten years, the exercise has been implemented at business schools including HBS and the Michigan Ross, and in leading companies such as KPMG.

    • End meetings with appreciations 

Saving a few moments at the end of meetings to give room to express gratitude for the contributions of others can be a way to routinize a culture of best-self feedback on an ongoing basis. Zingerman’s co-founder Ari Weinzweig writes:

“Every meeting always ends with a few minutes of 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. 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.”

    • Rethink performance evaluations

“Most corporate performance evaluations (e.g., 360 performance evaluation) tend to focus on identifying weaknesses rather than celebrating strengths, because people tend to focus on limitations and blind spots,” says Julia Lee. “Plus, studies have found that existing performance evaluation tools failed to foster learning and personal development but rather became punitive to employees, increasing a perception of threat and vulnerability.” Lee suggests following in the footsteps of companies such as Adobe and Deloitte by tweaking or even overhauling performance management systems to be based on empowerment, rather than fear and anxiety.

How people see themselves at work makes a big difference to how they perform. How do you help people bring their best selves to work?

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 (@MichiganRoss). The Center is the convener of the Consortium of Positive Organizations, a catalytic co-learning community of leaders actively building high-performing organizations where people thrive.