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Monday, October 12, 2009

Positive Leadership Pays Off

Consider this scenario: An executive walks into the office and has a brief exchange with the receptionist, pointing out problems with the previous day’s work. The executive then holds a staff meeting where the employees are criticised for poor performance or attitudes. Later that day, the executive has an unpleasant discussion with a customer who is complaining about the company’s service. By the end of the day, the executive’s negative: positive exchange ratio is significantly unbalanced.

What does this have to do with leadership, employee performance and ultimately, business results? Two words - positive psychology. The practice of psychology is part of the larger movement championed by psychologist Martin Seligman, the author of Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment and Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.

Research conducted by Seligman and others point to the effect of positive emotions on people, organisations and customers. Among other things, they emphasise the impact of positive attitudes and thinking, optimism and resilience as powerful forces that determine both happiness and success.

In the past decade, scientists have explored the impact positive to negative interaction ratios at work and in people’s personal lives. They found this ratio can be used to predict – with remarkable accuracy – everything from workplace performance to divorce.

This work begun with psychologist Dr. John Gottman’s exploration of positive to negative ratio’s in marriages. Using a 5:1 ratio, Gottman and his colleagues predicted whether 700 newlywed couples would stay together or divorce. He scored their positive and negative interactions in a 15-minute conversation between husband and wife. The follow-up 10 years later revealed he had predicted divorce with 94% accuracy.

So what is the optimal positive to negative ratio in organisations? A recent study by psychologist Barbara Fredrickson and mathematician Marcial Losada found that work teams with a ratio greater than 3:1 were significantly more productive than those with lower ratios. The research uncovered an upper limit of 13:1 at which productivity declined. They concluded that completely blind optimism and unrestrained positivism can actually be counterproductive.

However, Tom Rath, co-author of New York Times bestseller How Full Is Your Bucket: Positive Strategies for Life and Work,says managers and executives need not worry about breaking the upper limit. The levels of positive emotions in most firms are woefully inadequate.

When leaders display positive emotions, others take note, and more importantly, action. Positive leaders don’t sit back and wait for things to improve. Instead, they are always trying to catch excellence in action. They call attention to what is right, rather than looking for things that are not working or need to be fixed. The raises the organisation’s positive ratio and its productivity.

Positive leaders raise the flow of positive emotions, not just because it’s the nice thing to do or to be liked. They are less concerned with what they can get out of their employees than they are with looking for opportunities to invest in their employees. They understand the degree of positive leadership can significantly affect their company’s bottom line.

Leading Through Change

Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter is widely regarded as the world's foremost authority on leadership and change. His is the premier voice on how the best organisations actually "do" change successfully.

Here is Kotter's 8-Step Process of Successful Change:


1. Create a Sense of Urgency.

Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.

2. Pull Together the Guiding Team.

Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change—one with leadership skills, bias for action, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills.


3. Develop the Change Vision and Strategy.

Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality.


4. Communicate for Understanding and Buy-in.

Make sure as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy.

5. Empower Others to Act.

Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.

6. Produce Short-Term Wins.

Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible

7. Don’t Let Up.

Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with instituting change after change until the vision becomes a reality.


8. Create a New Culture.

Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed, until they become a part of the very culture of the group.

Seven Ways Inspiring Leaders Communicate

Whilst Carmine Gallo was conducting research for the book Fire Them Up!: 7 Simple Secrets to: Inspire Colleagues, Customers, and Clients; Sell Yourself, Your Vision, and Your Values; Communicate with Charisma and Confidence the following seven techniques were shown to result in inspirational communication:
  • Demonstrate enthusiasm—constantly. “Inspiring leaders have an abundance of passion for what they do. You cannot inspire unless you’re inspired yourself. Period. Passion is something I can’t teach. You either have passion for your message or you don’t. Once you discover your passion, make sure it’s apparent to everyone within your professional circle.”
  • Articulate a compelling course of action. “Inspiring leaders craft and deliver a specific, consistent, and memorable vision. A goal such as "we intend to double our sales by this time next year," is not inspiring. Neither is a long, convoluted mission statement destined to be tucked away and forgotten in a desk somewhere. A vision is a short (usually 10 words or less), vivid description of what the world will look like if your product or service succeeds.”
  • Sell the benefit. “Always remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them. In my first class at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, I was taught to answer the question, "Why should my readers care?" That’s the same thing you need to ask yourself constantly throughout a presentation, meeting, pitch, or any situation where persuasion takes place. Your listeners are asking themselves, what’s in this for me? Answer it. Don’t make them guess.”
  • Tell more stories. “Inspiring leaders tell memorable stories. Few business leaders appreciate the power of stories to connect with their audiences… No amount of data can replace that story… Stories connect with people on an emotional level. Tell more of them.”
  • Invite participation. “Inspiring leaders bring employees, customers, and colleagues into the process of building the company or service. This is especially important when trying to motivate young people. The command and control way of managing is over. Instead, today’s managers solicit input, listen for feedback, and actively incorporate what they hear. Employees want more than a paycheck. They want to know that their work is adding up to something meaningful.”
  • Reinforce an optimistic outlook. “Inspiring leaders speak of a better future… Extraordinary leaders throughout history have been more optimistic than the average person. Winston Churchill exuded hope and confidence in the darkest days of World War II. Colin Powell said that optimism was the secret behind Ronald Reagan’s charisma. Powell also said that optimism is a force multiplier, meaning it has a ripple effect throughout an organization. Speak in positive, optimistic language. Be a beacon of hope.”
  • Encourage potential. “Inspiring leaders praise people and invest in them emotionally. Richard Branson has said that when you praise people they flourish; criticize them and they shrivel up. Praise is the easiest way to connect with people. When people receive genuine praise, their doubt diminishes and their spirits soar. Encourage people and they’ll walk through walls for you.”
No leader accomplishes a vision alone. Inspiration is critical to rally people to make the journey and to commit the time and energy required to bring a vision to pass. These seven techniques present some great ways to inspire and motivate people to greatness.

How Do Teams Win?

Have you ever noticed that many of the leadership clichés we live by are not living up to their reputation? Leaders flippantly throw around sound bites of so-called “wisdom,” picked up at conferences or from leadership books and use them without truly questioning whether or not they are true or even useful. Bit by bit, these clichés have reached the status of “conventional wisdom” – widespread beliefs that are not only untested but untrue – also causing havoc in the workplace.

For example, take the cliché, 'There is no “I” in Team'. How often do you hear leaders reminding their teams, “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM.”? Maybe this is the exact problem with teams. While no one is ostentatiously taking all of the credit, they are still allowed to think that they have worked harder than others, are far more valuable than others, or were not to blame for the lack of results. While they may no longer be discussing these beliefs publicly, they are spending a great deal of organisational resources colluding with co-workers behind the scenes, meanwhile not improving their own approaches or performances. Far worse is the fact that no one is taking accountability for their part in creating the current results.

There may not be an “I” in the word “TEAM” but there certainly is an “I” in WIN! And in “PRODUCTIVITY,” “IMPROVEMENT,” “DRIVE FOR RESULTS” and “COMPETITVE.” In teams that are able to succeed in challenging circumstances, there are plenty of “I’s” being used – with the account of how we got to where we are today with the current results.

How Do Teams Win?

Leaders need to set clear expectations and goals. They then need to focus the energy of the team on either achieving the desired results or learning what to adapt next so that the desired results can be achieved. Learning and results will only come when each team member is able to honestly assess their results without considering the circumstances. Next, they need to ask themselves whether or not they hit the mark and then account for their own actions, assumptions, behaviours and choices that contributed to the shortcomings of the team. Only with this clear line of sight directly acknowledging what “I” did to contribute, can one know what exactly they need to change so that they can choose to respond differently in the future.

Advice on how to reach the finish line:

1) Leaders must be very clear about the results that are required from teams. Team projects were approved and budgeted resources based upon a business case that outlines which results are necessary to even justify the investment. Do not allow the team to re-write the business case mid-project.

2) Subsequently, leaders need to be incredibly honest about a team’s results. If the team nailed it – great! Celebrate and reward. But if the team did not reach the mark, stop giving them credit for effort or allowing them to applaud lackluster results and justify shortcomings by “considering the circumstances.” There will always be circumstances and teams need to learn to succeed in spite of circumstances – that is the value they add, mitigating the risks of the circumstances while implementing and executing.

3) Lead the team through a thorough accounting of their contributions to the results. If the team had great results, ask each member of the team to account for the decisions, choices, approaches and behaviours that led to the success so that they can intentionally duplicate it in the future. If lackluster results were delivered, ask each member to identify ways in which they contributed to the end result. Their responses need to begin with, “I chose,” “I denied,” “I assumed,” “I did,” “I didn’t,” “I needed to have” and “I acted” (This is where the “I” in TEAM comes in and the magic starts to happen!). Once each individual can identify how they specifically contributed, they can then commit to what they will do differently in the future – facilitating great learning, individual development, and better future results. And most importantly, the team becomes immune to circumstances when it comes to results.

Every great leader needs to firmly insist on quite a few “I’s” in team in order to restore results back into the workplace!

Leadership That Inspires

Here are some interesting observations from former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, speaking in a recent video interview at his London office with author Dr. Henry Cloud. The video aired first in the 2009 Maximum Impact Simulcast:

'During my ten years in office, I learned to have the courage to lead. At first, I wanted to please all of the people all of the time. But when you’re governing that’s impossible. You have to do what you believe is right. You can’t follow the air of public opinion; at times you even have to challenge it.

Leadership is the same from teachers to coaches to entrepreneurs. Every leader must be prepared to make a decision and assume responsibility for it, even when people don’t like the decision, fight against it, and criticize your motivation for making it. Leaders stand up when others stand back.

For me, the most important trait in a fellow leader wasn’t charisma or brilliance, but reliability.

Leadership in tough times requires a particular manner of expression. First, be honest if you’re going to have to make major changes. Second, inspire people that you can get through it.

I can’t think of a single person in the top areas of life without these characteristics:

1) Self-belief
2) Hard work
3) Ability to rise from failure.

Leaders give up the luxury of self-pity. You can’t lead and moan at the same time. Leadership positions are voluntary. You chose to lead, therefore don’t complain about the burdens of being in charge.

Action Plan:
  • Make a “no-whining” pact with a fellow leader within your organisation. Whenever either of you complains about the demands of your job, you owe the other person a pound.
  • Have a “So what?” criticism ceremony. Jot down the main criticisms leveled at you or your decisions during the past month. Once you’ve put them on paper, ceremonially burn them over a candle. This exercise is intended to remind you that being a leader invites criticism. People will disagree with you, and you need to be able to handle their disapproval.'
For more, see - http://www.leadercast.com/dl/2009/09summary_tonyblair.pdf

The Role of 'Soft Power' in Effective Leadership

Joseph Nye is Harvard University distinguished service professor and Sultan of Oman professor of international relations. He is the author of many books and articles on international relations, including his most recent book, The Powers to Lead: Soft, Hard, and Smart.

In this Harvard John F Kennedy School of Government Q&A he talks about modern day approaches to leadership and how they relate to power:

'Q: Your latest research focuses on modern day approaches to leadership and how they relate to power. Please discuss some of your most compelling findings.

Nye: I am interested in “soft power,” the ability to get what you what through attraction rather than coercion and payment. I had originally applied that idea to international relations, but in my new book I try to apply the concept of soft power to individual leaders. What I’ve found is the way we talk about leadership is quite inaccurate. We have in our minds a sort of a leader as the person who gives orders, the king of the mountain, and the orders sort of cascade down to below. And that fits with hard power, payment, or coercion. But if you think about a networked world, that we have in the information age, then you realize that a leader isn’t the king of the mountain. The leader is in the center of the circle and he or she has to be able to attract people to them and that requires soft power, the power to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion. So as we think about leadership there’s a great danger that we say – as President Bush has said – the leader is the “decider.” More important is how do we pick the goals? How do we decide who decides? How do we decide the timing of deciding? What I’ve discovered is the leader has to have these soft power skills to attract people, not just give orders.

There are three skills that are most crucial in the exercise of soft power – the first is emotional intelligence, the ability to control your own emotions and use them to reach out to others; second, the idea of composing a vision of the future that attracts others; and third, communication skills including both rhetorical skills and also the ability to use non-verbal communication tools. Those three crucial soft power skills have to be combined with hard power skills in organizations, in politics, and so forth. When we restrain our definition of leadership to only top-down, king of the mountain, we miss the crucial role of soft power in effective leadership.

Q: When we discuss leadership we must also discuss the ability to persuade and to bring about the changes that you as a leader wish to affect. Can you expound on that topic?

Nye: An effective leader uses soft power to bring others to share his or her vision of where we should go. Now, that vision of where we should go may be partly developed by the leader in consultation with others. It may also be a vision which the leader has developed from his or her background, but the ability to persuade others that this is where they want to go is absolutely crucial.

One way to examine leadership is through a model in which most people lead from the middle. A leader in the middle has to think in terms of a compass. There’s a boss above them, sort of to the north, and they have no hard power with the boss; they have to persuade him or her. There are collaborators to the east and the west, who are the different agencies, organizations, or groups over whom they have no authority, and they have to attract them to get cooperation. Then they have followers or subordinates over whom they can use their hard power to get what they want. But, frankly, they must also be able to get those subordinates to buy into their vision, which is very difficult to do by coercion alone.

So persuasion as an aspect of soft power becomes particularly important. Most of us are really leaders from the middle. Very few of us have no boss above us and very few fail to require cooperation from people on either side of us.'

For Professor Nye's view on the importance and use of 'smart power' on the international political stage see - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F8udhM8QKxg