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

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

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/

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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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.