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Positive Leadership: see with open eyes

Positive Leadership: Why it’s crucial for Organizational Change

  • 24 October 2016
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

You’ve witnessed the collective intelligence that can be used in an effective OCAI-workshop or Change Circle in the University Library case I shared. Positive leadership is an enabler for this collective intelligence to emerge...

Why is Positive Leadership important in organizational change? One short anecdote illustrates this clearly (shared by Steve Gladis, the author of Positive Leadership: The Gamechanger at Work.) Steve used to have a boss named Phil. Phil was open, playful, easy and safe to talk to. Then Phil got promoted, and he was replaced by Bill. Bill was a judgmental and distrusting person, and he infected the team: coworkers started to distrust each other, even though they had worked so well together under the positive rule of Phil. Need I say more?

Enlighten your team

As a leader, you directly influence the behaviors of others. “A leader is a person who has an unusual degree of power to project on other people his shadow or his light,” said Palmer Parker. As a coworker, you have a direct effect on those around you, too. As a consultant, coach or other professional: likewise. So, if you need people to open up to change and possibilities, being a Positive Leader is your best way to lead. The research evidence is compelling: applying Positive Leadership makes a difference in productivity, satisfaction, and happiness at work. It also makes it easier to trust, and it becomes safer to open up and change.

Going beyond “the default baseline”

Based on positive psychology, positive leadership departs from an “abundance mindset.” It’s having an open eye for “positive possibilities.” The “normal mindset” aims for the default baseline: "We fix a problem to go back to normal."

Positive leadership aims for positive deviance. “We enjoy the challenge to perform beyond expectations, and we’ll live up to our greatest potential as an organization. We are the best version of ourselves that we can be." Positive leadership tries to stretch what seems possible – but without abusing people. It lifts teams to greater performance and pleasure - but they can choose to contribute more, and they are not forced to do so.

Part of the positive mindset is a permissive, encouraging, empowering basis - without being weak or boundless. Positive leaders are quick to gently correct people who abuse their trust, or whose good intentions lead to negative outcomes. They are gentle and firm. They keep the greater good and the organization in mind. They serve the whole. Positive leadership also means stopping individuals who go too far, wander astray or don’t contribute, in the best interest of everybody else.

Yes - unless

Simply put, it seems the default answer is “yes” followed by “unless”. Example: You can try new things unless you deviate from our shared purpose.

By comparison, conventional leadership prefers the control mindset, and the default answer is “no”, “unless you ask permission in advance, or you can prove that this will be useful”.

The latter is difficult as things develop over time and, especially, if they haven’t been tried before. Change in itself is what you aim for in the future - so you can never be absolutely in control and 100% sure that a particular activity will be useful.

That is why Positive Leadership is necessary for change processes. It helps to envision possibilities that aren’t there yet, to believe them before you can see or prove them, and to trust that the right things will emerge. It enables the team to pull it off with your positive guidance.

What is working well

Positive leadership builds on what is already working well - just like Appreciative Inquiry (developed by David Cooperrider). It values people for their unique contributions. The positive leader trusts people, and they might surprise you in a positive way. This leadership acknowledges good things and actions. It includes leadership basics such as connecting with and caring for people, being authentic and honest, communicating continuously and coaching people as well as stimulating them with compliments - but correcting them if needed. This focus simply empowers people because it increases their energy, their ideas and their ability to open up. Feeling safe, trusted, and positive, people collaborate and change together.

The last thing you want during organizational change is that people close themselves off. You need them to be open, to take in the information, to process it, to contribute their ideas, to muster their energy, and to engage in the action of change. The last thing you want is fear, accusations, not feeling safe and respected. The last thing you want is negative projections from the past: “Things never work around here, and managers are out to get you.”

Open eyes and minds

Your task is to help them open their eyes to the present situation, be mindful of what they observe, and to let go of any negative baggage. Your task is to help people see with fresh, appreciative eyes - and see positive possibilities in the future…

The last thing you want is to tell them what to do (they will close down) or force them (idem). Ask them to participate and let them truly do so. Focus on the energizing things that work well. Be the change you want to see on your team. See their potential and believe that you can pull it off with this team. They will surprise themselves in a positive way if you enable them with positive leadership.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry also consciously chooses the focus of what is working well. This approach uses four stages to change, and you can integrate this with your Change Circle or OCAI-workshop:

  • Discover: when and where are things okay and working well?
  • Dream: what if we extended what is working well to other parts of the organization?
  • Design: what will we do now?
  • Deliver: how will we do this?

This is not a sweet milk-and-honey approach. It doesn’t mean that you have to become a happy hippie and deny the half-empty glass. It means that you choose to use the power of positive possibilities - and you believe that you can fill the glass again. In the meantime, you’ll be resourceful in your ways to mitigate the discomfort and the side-effects of the half-empty glass, and you’ll work on ways to fill it up, maybe even adding another full glass while you’re at it.

Rooted in reality

That is the positive-leadership-mindset. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t see reality. Of course, you do. You see something extra in addition: its potential.

It doesn’t mean you don’t want to hear criticism, doubts or second thoughts. You do. But you can hear the potential to: the solution may be lurking within the dark of the comment, and the commitment to improve is hiding in criticism.

Positive leadership looks simple, but it's easier said than done. It requires embracing positive possibilities and dealing with your inner critic (and those outside). It requires you to look for potential - even in situations or in employees where you cannot seem to find anything positive…

Want to know more about this powerful new field? Check out my eBook: How to lead Positive Change with Culture and Positive Leadership

  • How can you envision positive possibilities to lead your team or client?
  • Have you experienced positive leaders who lifted their organization?

In my next post, I have something exciting to share.... After that, let’s see how you can apply Positive Leadership.

Copyright © Marcella Bremer 2016. All rights reserved.

Categories Change Leadership