I've personally been a fairly positive chap since I was a kid. At least that's what I keep on hearing from my parents even today.
Therefore it has been easy for me to get really excited about positive psychology and recently its applications in leadership and management practice. I've seen many potential interfaces and areas working with Mendor, but also due to my studies at Aalto University. Especially Professor & Philosopher Esa Saarinen has been a great influence.
I wanted to write this blog post to tell you about positive psychology in general and to contemplate how it could benefit leadership and management practice.
LET'S START WITH POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY
Positive psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology mainly by thought leaders such as M.Seligman, M.Csikszentmihalyi & B. Fredrickson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Positive_psychology
). It aims to find and nurture genius and talent and to make normal life more fulfilling.
There are several studies showing that positive thinking and behavior increase happiness and propel even more positivity in several ways.
To mention a few great pieces to start off with:
- Seligman's TED talk - http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology.html
- Fredrickson's book - http://www.amazon.com/Positivity-Top-Notch-Research-Reveals-Change/dp/0307393747
- a must-read!
- Csikszentmihalyi's TED talk - http://www.ted.com/talks/mihaly_csikszentmihalyi_on_flow.html
How could these inspiring concepts & principles then be applied to leadership?
How could they become relevant in an every day setting at companies?
FIRST, WHAT IS LEADERSHIP?
One definition is that leadership is a social process of influencing people.
Leadership is also a process of organizing and working with people to achieve a common goal.
Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with a vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles (John Kotter).
Taking this a bit further, into more of a process type format:
1. Formulating a vision (the better the more people involved in this process early on, to a reasonable extent),
2. Defining a strategy on how to eventually reach the vision (the better the more people involved in this process early on)
3. Communicating the strategy
4. Working together with key stakeholders in iterating 2 & 3 to eventually reach 1.
So maybe leadership could be considered being positive if it aims to change things for the better (e.g. through great team work?), and to make (working) life more fulfilling? Maybe it could be considered positive if it creates positive energy/feelings and change, as well as empowers people to work on things they feel are important and motivating. Better life through better leadership?
I think values are an integral part of basically any leadership & company culture, and positivity in itself is definitely one of the best values there is. There are of course other very important values one might relate to but as this post is about positive leadership, I won't go into other values now. However if you are interested, Harry Kraemer has written some pretty good stuff about value based leadership.
A good introductory article can be found here: http://www.forbes.com/2011/04/26/values-based-leadership.html
So maybe the process of leadership could be more positively orientated if it was slightly adjusted or modified towards the following:
1. Formulating a positive and inspiring vision, something that can change the world to become a better place.
A truly motivating vision is something that drives people and companies to do and create great things on a global scale,
even for the benefit of the whole humanity. Something that is uplifting and elevating. Something that people can relate to.
Something that is beyond any individual.
(Important related questions: Why do you come to work every morning (especially relevant question in Finland during the winter months)?
What makes you tick?)
2. Defining a motivating, challenging and constructive strategy on how to reach the vision
Strategy becomes positive through being motivating, challenging and constructive (aiming to build something that matters),
and through living/residing in a positive company culture.
Strategic building blocks (goals & objectives) need to be something that are measurable and simple enough
so there is a clear picture ahead of everyone on how to reach the common vision. How can I contribute?
When the culture / team spirit is right and the objectives ahead are adequately challenging, the whole strategy becomes positively charged.
3. communicating the strategy to people around you in a positive and constructive way.
Positive communication is something that often happens through stories and tales. Many of us remember these from our childhood.
Many stories had some type of encouraging message and meaning to them. Something that you even today remember, that taught you something. Maybe there was a story of a brave man or a women who achieved something great, something to look up to.
This must mean that communication is positive when it creates more positive than negative energy/feelings, when it enables a possibility for a positive change.
It must be positive also when it makes you feel empowered and it inspires you to aim higher and push harder to reach your objectives glimmering in the horizon.
4. working together with people around you on iterating 2 & 3 to eventually reach 1.
Build a great team of people and remove all obstacles for them to start working together on something they believe in, in an organized and well structured (but fun) way. Personally I try to make the conditions such that people are free to execute and free to start realizing their vision and ideas on how things should be done and improved. I try to personally relate to different roles and understand what kind of support & freedom etc I would like to have if I was in that person's shoes.
If the daily interaction between the team members is more constructive and positive than negative, then the culture in the organization starts to thrive. This does not mean that there wouldn't be need to face difficulties & challenges very honestly and that tough decisions would not need to made - totally the opposite!
Winning difficulties together and becoming a stronger team through failures & learning is the basis for a great culture.
It is also a basis for a healthy self esteem and personal growth.
So to me positive leadership is about seeing the positive in people rather than the negative.
However, this does not mean that you wouldn't need to be meticulous, and sometimes try and fail several times in finding the right folks to build just the right team(s). Be a realist and trust your gut feelings (I should have, far more often than I have)
Positive leadership is about enabling the development of positively and constructively charged processes and habits (= culture).
It is also about removing mental barriers and fears of failure (or other fears). Or actually it is about building a culture where fear isn't dictating the decisions and strategy of the organization. There's always fear but who's on the driver's seat, that's the big question!
So often I hear people saying what they cannot achieve or what cannot be done… I think that this mindset is actually the biggest obstacle of them all, and that's self-created... Nowadays when I hear this kind of talk, I tend to mention Richard Branson who was a dyslectic and quit school when he was 16…. and became a multibillionaire!
It is important to focus on the future and the possibilities rather than dwelling in the past troubles & failures.
Like Peter Drucker said: "Good executives focus on opportunities rather than problems."
(Needless to say that learning from one's own, and even others' mistakes is essentially important)
To summarize, maybe positive leadership is actually about enabling positive change and positive individual growth? Maybe it's about elevating people and organizations just a bit higher. Maybe it is about helping people & organizations not to let their fears control their future, and to achieve something great on an individual and even on a global level.
What do you think?