Leadership Strategies

Welcome back from what I hope was a joyous Holiday Season, filled with family, friends, fun, food and festivities. Most of all, I hope your New Year is filled with the authentic happiness felt when we “live in the moment;” a true appreciation for how much we have, and the warm sense of satisfaction felt when we give back to others. I wish you continued positive relationships, a positive view of the future, and a lasting remembrance of your unique ability to make a positive difference in the lives of many.

In this article, we will begin our focus on the strategies of Positive Leadership. The strategies of positive leadership emerged from research and analyses of organizations that have achieved exceptional levels of performance. The organizations conscientiously implemented practices associated with Positive Leadership, and evidence of dramatic improvement resulted. Carefully examining these organizations has helped uncover some atypical leadership strategies. These strategies enable levels of performance that dramatically exceeded expectations and reached extraordinary levels of excellence. (Cameron, 2008)

Positive Leadership strategies supplement the “standard” recommendations about leadership such as enhancing teamwork, articulating a vision, encouraging employee participation, treating people with respect, changing culture, becoming more customer-centric, and establishing stretch goals that regularly appear in the more than 70,000 books written about leadership.

Whereas such standard recommendations are important, and generally validated as contributing to organizational effectiveness, examining Positive Leadership organizations has revealed additional leadership strategies that are less often recognized. Positive leadership applies positive principles arising from the newly emerging fields of positive organizational scholarship (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003; Cameron & Spreitzer, 2012), positive psychology (Seligman, 1999), and positive change (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987). 

The Father of Positive Psychology

The acknowledged leader in the academic field of research in positive psychology is Martin Seligman, Ph.D., professor at The University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Seligman is a world-renowned contributor to the education of Executive Coaches. He and his colleagues are also responsible for the development of authentic happiness, personal resilience, and learned optimism. The coalescence of these theories into a practical application of attitudes and behaviors by leaders has been coined, “Positive Leadership.”

Dr. Seligman, known as the father of positive psychology, has told his Executive Coaching students and readers of his books, the story of his change in research focus. “We were well versed in the mental illnesses, and I was known for identifying our ability to learn to become depressed and helpless (learned helplessness). However, as a field, what did we really know about learning to become optimistic and proactive? To flourish?”

“I remember a day when I was pulling weeds in my rose garden. I noticed my daughter, Nikki, tossing the neatly piled, just-pulled weeds all around the yard. I scolded her. She stopped and looked me straight in the eye and said, "Daddy, remember when I used to whine all the time? Well, when I turned 5, I decided to stop whining. If I could stop whining, then you can stop being such a grump." Her words stopped me in my tracks. She was right. I knew the reasons for my grumpiness, but how to turn it around? I knew then Nikki was on to something. It was time for psychology to seriously study the other half of the human story: what goes right with us. Positive psychology involves learning to think differently about both good and bad events, and appreciating that there is more than one path to an emotionally satisfying life.”

Positive Leadership

The concept of positive leadership has at least three defining characteristics:

(1) A focus on positively exceptional performance that dramatically exceeds the norm and “intentional behaviors that depart from the norm in honorable ways” (Spreitzer & Sonenshein, 2003).

(2) An affirmative bias, or an orientation toward, for example, strengths rather than weaknesses, optimism rather than pessimism, supportive rather than critical communication; Its orientation is toward enabling thriving and flourishing at least as much as addressing difficulties and obstacles (Buckingham & Clifton, 2001).  

(3) A facilitation of the best of the human condition and traits considered inherently good or virtuous (Cameron & Caza, 2004; Spreitzer & Sonenshein, 2003).

The Positive Leadership approach is gaining growing acceptance for its logical principles, applicability to all levels and types of employees within an organization and most importantly a researched body of work that provides financial and personal statistically significant analysis of extraordinarily successful individual and organizational business outcome improvement.

Positive Leadership — Why?

I believe Positive Leadership strategy will accept and address uncertainty, fill any communication voids with voices of optimism, encourage people to achieve, focus on their strengths and make them even greater. It will encourage acceptable risk taking, eliminate fear of failure and create a team that believes that you and they will be able to deal effectively with any challenges “uncertainty” has in store for you.

Why the belief? I have worked with many leaders throughout my career; the great leaders proved to and convinced employees to share their positive beliefs in very uncertain times. These leaders convinced previously skeptical employees, at best, to take a chance and commit to the leader’s optimism, plans and actions. The employee’s pledge to the leader’s plan was achieved because of the leader’s honor, integrity, truthful communication and willingness to ‘go first” by publically implementing their personal action plan. It became evident the leader truly believed and proved to the employees that if united, they could succeed. A trusting relationship evolved between all team members, and a strong bond developed. When success occurred, primarily from the now proven positive, trusting and caring relationship, the bond became the new culture.

Practical Application of Positive Leadership

The research is clear. As Jon Gordon states, Positive leaders, positive work environments, and positive engaged employees produce positive results. Successful, positive companies with positive employees and positive cultures are created like anything else — through a set of principles, processes, systems and habits that are ingrained in the corporate culture and each individual employee. Positive companies are not born. Positive leaders develop them. In addition, when you build a positive business, culture drives behavior and behavior drives habits.

Once the leader is committed to the process of building a positive business, it is essential to then build a positive leadership team that shares this commitment, focus and purpose. I’ve worked in organizations where at the first break, employees came up to me and said, “this is great stuff, why is my boss or their VP not here?”

Successful company leaders have a long-term vision and focus not only on the outcome, but also on the process. Of course, you have to measure outcomes and results. You know that it is not the numbers that drive the people but the people that drive the numbers.

Building a positive business always begins with selecting the right people. In the classic book Good to Great, Jim Collins says to build a successful organization and team, you must get the right people on the bus and put them in the right seats.

“Who are the right people?” After all, in order to get the right people on the bus you must identify who the right people are, right? The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company asked this very question and become a leader in their industry by identifying the key characteristics, strengths and traits of each job/position at the hotel, and then created a benchmark that potential employees are measured against. They identify who the right people are for each job and know the strengths of the candidate for future focus.  

Fill the Void

Peter Drucker says that 60 percent of management problems are the result of faulty communication. This is because where there is a void or gap in communication, negative energy will always fill it. By designing systems that enhance communication, you eliminate the gaps and allow positive energy to flow through the business. Companies such as PPR address these gaps by hosting company wide, Monday morning 8:31 meetings that last for 10 minutes. Southwest airlines communicates in a myriad of ways. Regular meetings allow businesses to share their positive vision and values, celebrate successes, recognize individuals and infuse positive team spirit.

Weed Out Negativity

It is the biggest problem in business today and the biggest obstacle to creating a positive business. Yes, it is the elephant in the room. To build a positive winning culture, you must deal with the price paid by “permitting” negativity to remain unresolved. We need to deal with this issue. Your excellent employees are waiting and watching how you help them (or not) reduce the additional work they must complete to make up for the negative, non-productive employees.

You need your HR experts to review hiring and selection practices, recognition programs, compensation/benefits competitiveness, communication effectiveness, performance management and problem resolution procedures. It is critical that you identify the people, processes, and/or market equity issues that are contributing to negativity. You need to address these “gaps” and incorporate positive strategies and HR best practices that are proven to hire, develop and energize positive, optimistic, and engaged people and teams.

It’s a simple fact. When you care about your employees and the people you work with, they are more likely to work harder, with more loyalty and greater positive energy. In turn, they are more likely to share their positive feelings with your customers, enhancing service and the bottom line.

We Are Beginning the Journey

We have summarized the basic tenets of Positive Leadership and have identified the research findings documenting the spectacular successes that have resulted from implementation of positive strategies and beliefs. We have explored the “creation” of positive psychology, when the child became the parent. We have begun the journey to a better place for all, through a new focus on strength, optimism, support, gratitude, meaningfulness, understanding, trust and integrity.

Space and time constraints limit how far we can travel today. We will continue next time with a concentration on the personal development approaches to Positive Leadership. Later, we will spend time on the practical guidelines for implementing Positive Leadership strategies that you may wish to incorporate into your already large skill set.

Curious About Your Strengths?

If you are interested in confidential online self-assessment/development tool that will help you identify your strengths, go to www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu. You can take the survey for free. The survey is called VIA Survey of Character Strengths. This is an excellent academic site that requires registration. It also offers additional “surveys/tests” that are available for your personal use. 

It is a valuable starting point for those who believe a more positive and optimistic perspective on the future and the people with whom we will share it, is a better way to travel and succeed. The Values in Action signature strengths survey measures 24 positive character traits, among them curiosity, creativity, bravery, persistence, integrity, fairness, leadership, and self-regulation. Participants rank statements on a scale from “very much like me” to “very much unlike me” to determine the areas in which they shine. Here is a sampling:

• I find the world a very interesting place.

• I always identify the reasons for my actions.

• I never quit a task before it is done.

• Being able to come up with new and different ideas is one of my strong points.

• I have taken frequent stands in the face of strong opposition.

• I am always willing to take risks to establish a relationship.

• I always admit when I am wrong.

• In a group, I try to make sure everyone feels included.

• I always look on the bright side.

• I want to fully participate in life, not just view it from the sidelines.

I would be happy to communicate with anyone who would like to take a personal or organizational quicker path to obtaining Positive Leadership skills. And feel free to share your Positive Leadership stories and experiences also. Just send me an email at Bill@HRFutureGroup.com or leave me a message at 610.584.2467.

William Kreider is the founder and CEO of HR Future Group, a firm that offers a full service suite of human capital management services for small businesses. From HR Outsourcing, Cloud-based Payroll, HRIS, Time & Attendance, and Benefit Administration, to Compensation, Leadership Coaching, Talent Acquisition and other HCM consulting services, HR Future can assist your business. Mr. Kreider has significant executive experience in all areas within the HR profession in a variety of industries.  For more information, please email him at bill@hrfuturegroup.com or call 610.584.2467.