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Positive Organizational Scholarship

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Scholarship establishes a new field of study in the organizational sciences. Just as positive psychology focuses on exploring optimal individual psychological states rather than pathological ones, Positive Organizational Scholarship focuses attention on optimal organizational states --- the dynamics in organizations that lead to the development of human strength, foster resiliency in employees, make healing, restoration, and reconciliation possible, and cultivate extraordinary individual and organizational performance.
While the concept of positive organizational scholarship encompasses the examination of typical and even dysfunctional patterns of behavior, it emphasizes positive deviance from expected patterns. Positive Organizational Scholarship examines the enablers, motivations, and effects associated with remarkably positive phenomena --- how they are facilitated, why they work, how they can be identified, and how researchers and managers can capitalize on them. The contributors do not adopt one particular theory or framework but draw from the full spectrum of organizational theories to understand, explain, and predict the occurrence, causes, and consequences of positivity.
Positive Organizational Scholarship rigorously seeks to understand what represents the best of the human condition based on scholarly research and theory. This book invites organizational scholars to build upon and extend the positive organizational phenomena being examined. It provides the definitional, theoretical, and empirical foundations for what will become a cumulative body of enduring work.

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1 Foundations of Positive Organizational Scholarship



 Introduction

Positive organizational scholarship (POS) does not reject the value and significance of the phenomena in the first worldview. Rather, it emphasizes the phenomena represented in the second worldview. A focus on competition and profitability in the first worldview, for example, is crucial for understanding organizational survival and success. The second worldview merely calls attention to phenomena that represent positive deviance— phenomena that have received limited scholarly attention in organizational studies. Most organizational theories and empirical research have heretofore adopted assumptions and variables that are more typical of the first worldview than the second.



POS is concerned primarily with the study of especially positive outcomes, processes, and attributes of organizations and their members. POS does not represent a single theory, but it focuses on dynamics that are typically described by words such as excellence, thriving, flourishing, abundance, resilience, or virtuousness. POS represents an expanded perspective that includes instrumental concerns but puts an increased emphasis on ideas of “goodness” and positive human potential. It encompasses attention to the enablers (e.g., processes, capabilities, structures, methods), the motivations (e.g., unselfishness, altruism, contribution without regard to self), and the outcomes or effects


2 Positive Organizational Studies: Lessons from Positive Psychology


Chapter 2

Positive Organizational

Studies: Lessons from

Positive Psychology

Christopher M. Peterson and

Martin E. P. Seligman

The field of positive psychology was christened in 1998 as one of the initiatives of Martin Seligman in his role as president of the American Psychological Association (APA) (Seligman, 1998b, 1999). The trigger for positive psychology was the premise that psychology since World War II has focused much of its efforts on human problems and how to remedy them. In the immediate aftermath of the war, clinical psychology took form as a profession; the APA became involved in accrediting clinical psychology programs and in lobbying state governments to enact licensing laws; the

Veterans Administration created training opportunities in the form of clinical psychology internships; and the National Institute of Mental Health made available to researchers many millions of dollars in grant support for investigations not of mental health but of mental illness (Reisman, 1991).

Psychology joined forces with psychiatry to create the scientific field of what could go wrong with people.


3 Virtues and Organizations


Chapter 3

Virtues and Organizations

Nansook Park and

Christopher M. Peterson

One of the topics of concern to positive psychology is positive traits—characteristics like curiosity, hope, kindness, and prudence—that contribute to individual fulfillment. Over the past several years, we have attempted to classify the most important of these traits and devise assessment strategies for each. The task we have taken for ourselves is to wed the field of virtue ethics as it has emerged over the centuries within philosophy to trait theory as it exists within contemporary psychology.

Thinkers as early as Aristotle posed the question, “What is the good of a person?” and answered it by enumerating moral virtues readily interpretable as traits: general styles of behavior evident in thought, feeling, and action that develop over time and are displayed or are not in accordance with the situation broadly construed. One of the most important situations is the context provided by organizations—schools, workplaces, communities, and entire cultures—and specifically their prevailing roles, rules, norms, and reward structures. In some cases, the organizational context affords moral excellence on the part of members, and in other cases, sadly not.


4 Organizational Virtuousness and Performance


Chapter 4

Organizational Virtuousness and Performance

Kim S. Cameron

A key component of positive organizational scholarship is the concept of virtuousness, as displayed in and through organizations. Rooted in the Latin word virtus, meaning “strength” or “excellence,” Plato and Aristotle described virtuousness as the desires and actions that produce personal and social good. More recently, virtuousness has been described as the best of the human condition, the most ennobling behaviors and outcomes, the excellence and essence of humankind, and the highest aspirations of human beings (Comte-Sponville, 2001; Weiner, 1993; Chapman & Galston, 1992;

Dent, 1984; MacIntyre, 1984). When encountered, virtuousness is highly prized and admired, and virtuous individuals are almost universally revered, emulated, and even sainted.

Virtuousness in organizations relates to the behavior of individuals in organizational settings, and a growing literature on this topic is emerging in the field of positive psychology (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000; Snyder & Lopez, 2002). The manifestation and consequences of hope, gratitude, wisdom, forgiveness, compassion, resilience, and other similar virtues are beginning to receive substantial attention in the scientific literature


5 Positive Organizing and Organizational Tragedy


Organizational Tragedy

 67


Initial Assumptions

The arguments developed in this chapter are based on the assumptions that mistakes and errors are inevitable in organized life, that actions become mistaken but don’t start out mistaken, and that positivity in organizations occurs relative to mistakes that could have been made rather than relative to healthy functioning. Exceptional action in the context of fragile organizing consists of efforts that keep the action going in the face of breakdown as well as efforts that allow the journey to continue when maps are lost.

In the eyes of some, assumptions like this exemplify a rhetoric of deficit.

But I want to suggest a different interpretation. I want to propose that what may look like a rhetoric of deficit is actually something quite different if you pay closer attention to just how complex and fragile and entropic and unknowable the organizing of people and technology can be. When people organize, they enact vulnerability as well as social support (Weick, 1990) and they trigger social loafing as well as collective energy (Snook, 2000).


6 Acts of Gratitude in Organizations


Chapter 6

Acts of Gratitude in


Robert A. Emmons

In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Why include a chapter on gratitude in a volume dedicated to positive organizational functioning? Because gratitude is a universal human virtue, and this volume is about virtues. Park and Peterson (Chapter 3) include gratitude among the “transcendent virtues”—those inner qualities that strengthen bonds and connections with entities beyond the self. Religions and philosophies around the world have long acclaimed the inner state of gratitude and its outward manifestation in thanksgiving as an indispensable manifestation of virtue, and an integral component of health, wholeness, and well-being (Carman & Streng, 1989; Emmons & Hill, 2001). Gratitude expresses a fundamental value of human existence that was known and acknowledged from the Roman philosopher Seneca up to contemporary thinkers, from the oldest religions and cultures to modern expressions of thanksgiving customs and rituals around the world. Cicero, in Oratio Pro


7 Organizing for Resilience


Organizing for Resilience

 95

proach both complements and enriches existing theories that have focused either on what organizations do to manage and cope with potential threats, or the characteristics that seem to distinguish organizations that survive from those that fail (e.g., Miller, 1993).

In this chapter we briefly examine the roots, the mechanisms, and the future of the study of resilience as an emerging integrative concept for understanding how organizations, their units, and their members successfully adapt in the face of adversity. The bottom-line message is that while resilience is often assumed to be remarkable or special, this conception is wrong or at least misleading. Rather than being rare and extraordinary, recurring themes spanning multiple literatures and levels of analysis suggest that resilience emerges from relatively ordinary adaptive processes that promote competence, restore efficacy, and encourage growth, as well as the structures and practices that bring about these processes. These may be ordinary processes, but they result from a set of distinct dynamics that do not readily occur in all individuals, groups, or organizations. Dynamics that create or retain resources (cognitive, emotional, relational, or structural) in a form sufficiently flexible, storable, convertible, and malleable, give rise to resilience and allow organizations, their units, and their members to avert maladaptive tendencies and positively cope with the unexpected. We begin by defining resilience and argue that it offers both a new way of seeing and a more accurate rendering of the world that are lacking in current theory. Next we synthesize and thematically integrate diverse streams of literature on resilience at the individual, group, and organization levels. We then offer an example of how these themes can be fruitfully applied to complicate the threat-rigidity perspective (Staw, Sandelands, & Dutton,


8 Investing in Strengths


Chapter 8

Investing in Strengths

Donald O. Clifton and James K. Harter

For more than thirty years, the Gallup Organization has investigated the nature of human talents and strengths. By interviewing approximately 2 million people in a wide range of roles and industries, Gallup has discovered that our talents—defined as our naturally recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be productively applied—are our greatest opportunities for success. Further, by refining our dominant talents with skill and knowledge, we can create strength—the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity.

During the 1950s, the Nebraska School Study Council supported a statewide research project to identify the relative value of different methods for teaching rapid reading (the methods were: tachistoscope, film, and determined effort). About 6,000 tenth-graders participated. The results showed no statistically significant differences between the methods; the differences were between teachers (Glock, 1955). While analyzing the data, researchers were puzzled by the observation that the students who read the fastest at the study’s outset made the greatest gains during the study—from approximately 300 to 2,900 words per minute. The students who read slower at the outset also made gains, but small in comparison.


9 Transcendent Behavior


Chapter 9

Transcendent Behavior

Thomas S. Bateman and Christine Porath

Behavioral science and lay theories converge on some powerful explanations for people’s actions: money motivates, rewards and punishments guide behavior, people act in their self-interest by pursuing pleasure and avoiding pain. All of these statements are more true than false. But sometimes people ignore rewards and punishments, transcend what others perceive as limits, perform at extraordinary levels, and create transformational change.

Such performances are relevant and important in all professions, at all organizational levels. Thus Francis Collins and J. Craig Venter led efforts to decipher the biochemical letters of human DNA. Alfred Sloan transformed the way business does business. Dean Jernigan defied conventional wisdom by building a new stadium for his Triple A Memphis Redbirds in the heart of downtown Memphis, helping to revive the community (Calkins, 2000).

And Phil Turner, who fixed toilets and air conditioners as facilities manager at Raychem, refused to view the work as menial. Turner made it a mission to make people feel good and lift their spirits through cleanliness, beauty, and excellence (Kouzes & Posner, 1995).


10 Courageous Principled Action


Courageous Principled Action

 139

In this chapter we suggest that the history of organizational scholarship, in treating organizations largely as control systems, has overlooked the fact that individuals in organizations can, and often do, defy the constraints of organizational form. In fact, we go further to suggest that while certain actions are made easy and expected by organizational form, actions that contrast with the taken-for-granted frame are also necessary and valuable in organizations. The essence of the chapter is this: organizations, as frames for action, tend to overemphasize certain acts and constrain others, yet people in organizations undertake constrained actions in accord with their emotional and intuitive sense of what is “right” (Bell, 2002; Worline,

Wrzesniewski, & Rafaeli, 2002). Like sides of a coin, we argue that just as people’s sense of what is normal and expected is framed by an organization’s form (Clemens, 1993; Giddens, 1979; Orlikowski, 2000), so is principled action that violates the status quo.


11 Positive Emotions and Upward Spirals in Organizations



 Upward Spirals and Positive Change

Positive organizational scholarship represents a new approach to understanding human dynamics within organizations. Its aim and energy come from envisioning how organizations and the individuals within them function at their very best. It asks: How can organizations best foster the development of human strengths and virtues, like resilience, integrity, and compassion? How, in turn, can the enactment of these and other strengths and virtues change the nature of organizations for the better? My own approach to positive organizational scholarship begins with a focus on positive emotions, individuals’ transient inner states of joy, interest, pride, contentment, and the like.

What good are positive emotions within organizations? At first blush, it might seem that positive emotions simply mark the well-being or satisfaction of individual employees. Certainly employees who are experiencing positive emotions are not, at that moment, plagued by negative emotions— like anxiety, anger, or despair. Consistent with this intuition, the overall balance of people’s positive and negative emotions has been shown to reflect to their subjective well-being (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991). In this sense, positive emotions signal optimal individual functioning. But this is far from their whole story. I have argued elsewhere (Fredrickson, 1998,


12 Positive and Negative Emotions in Organizations


Positive and Negative Emotions

 177

comes for people, as well as for the groups or organizations to which the people belong.


Such leading perspectives on emotions as Russell’s circumplex model

(1980) or Watson and Tellegen’s two-factor representation (1985) seem to imply that emotions have fixed positive or negative valences, based, say, on pleasantness/unpleasantness and high/low arousal. This conclusion has a ring of truth to it when we reflect upon such common emotions as happiness, love, sadness, and hate. Happiness and love are generally positive, sadness and hate negative. But what is typically the case obscures six issues that make the traditional interpretation of emotions, in general, and positive and negative emotions, in particular, problematic.

The Experience of Emotions

People experience at least certain emotions as both positive and negative.

That is, an emotion can be in a sense both positive and negative. When we envy someone’s success, we positively evaluate the success, yet we may simultaneously harbor a negative evaluation of the person who succeeded and feel insecure and sorrowful about our own lot. Likewise, jealousy can be personally unpleasant and hence negative, yet, as Kristjansson (2002) recently showed, jealously is often necessary to maintain one’s pride and self-respect in close relationships. The point is that a particular emotion can reflect opposite evaluations.


13 New Knowledge Creation in Organizations


Chapter 13

New Knowledge Creation in


Fiona Lee, Arran Caza, Amy

Edmondson, and Stefan Thomke

Positive psychology represents an important extension to traditional psychological research (Diener, 2000; Peterson, 2000; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi,

2000). Positive psychology focuses on the virtues, strengths, and goodness of human beings rather than on psychopathologies, biases, errors, and other human deficiencies. Similarly, organizational scholars recently have emphasized the study of commitment, loyalty, teamwork, and organizational citizenship over previously popular topics such as absenteeism and turnover. A new and growing field of inquiry, positive organizational scholarship, is pushing this research further by focusing on such inspirational human attributes as compassion (Dutton, Frost, & Worline, 2002), forgiveness (Cameron & Caza, 2002), and courage (Worline, Wrzesniewski, & Rafaeli, 2002) in organizations.

In this chapter, we propose that organizational processes supporting new knowledge creation provide an instructive example of positive organizing.


14 Positive Deviance and Extraordinary Organizing


Chapter 14

Positive Deviance and

Extraordinary Organizing

Gretchen M. Spreitzer and

Scott Sonenshein

Positive organizational scholarship (POS) focuses on that which is extraordinarily positive in organizations—the very best of the human condition and the most ennobling organizational behaviors and outcomes (Cameron, Dutton, & Quinn, 2003). The foundation of POS includes positive deviance, which scholars view as an important mechanism to move beyond the ordinary to that which is truly extraordinary (Cameron, 2003). Yet while positive organizational scholars frequently refer to positive deviance (Quinn,

1996; Quinn & Quinn, 2002), the construct requires further theoretical and empirical development. The main purpose of this chapter is to provide more theoretical rigor to our understanding of positive deviance.

At first glance, “positive deviance” appears to be an oxymoron (Sagarin,

1985). “Deviance” is the label we reserve for society’s criminals and outcasts. Quinn and Quinn (2002) note that when sociology majors become introduced to the field, the first class they take, “social order,” emphasizes the existence of norms and the concomitant pressure to conform to those norms. The course that follows, “social deviance,” addresses deviation from those social norms—objectionable, forbidden, and even perverse behaviors.


15 Toward a Theory of Positive Organizational Change


Chapter 15

Toward a Theory of Positive

Organizational Change

David L. Cooperrider and

Leslie E. Sekerka

With increased focus on positive organizational scholarship, new ways of understanding the processes and dynamics of positive outcomes in organizations are rapidly emerging. The practice of organizational development and change is on the forefront of this shift in direction, moving from traditional change methods to approaches that feature Appreciative Inquiry. In the past, organizational interventions typically focused on error detection, gap analysis, and fixing problems. Today there are more applications that examine what contributes to the best of organizational life as a starting point for change.

In this chapter, we discuss how Appreciative Inquiry, an organizational development and change process, contributes to positive organizational scholarship. We begin with a review of the technique’s history and relate it to traditional practices. We then outline a theory that explains the understructure of Appreciative Inquiry, offering propositions to suggest how this process fosters positive organizational change.


16 Authentic Leadership Development


Chapter 16

Authentic Leadership


Fred Luthans and Bruce Avolio

In times of swirling negativity, as has occurred in recent years with the dotbombs, September 11 terrorism, gyrating stock values, and the meltdown of corporate ethics, society in general and organizations in particular turn to leaders for optimism and direction. Through the ages, especially in times of crisis and extreme turmoil, historical figures such as Alexander the Great,

Washington, Gandhi, Churchill, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt, Mandela, and Rudy Guiliani have risen to the occasion to provide the positive leadership to move forward to address the problems confronting their communities and societies. This need for positive leadership is not restricted to the societal/political level. With ever-advancing technology, growing roundthe-clock global competitive pressures, and a very uncertain economic and ethical climate, leaders at all levels and types of organizations are facing the challenge of declining hope and confidence in themselves and their associates. Yet the understanding, developmental process, and implementation of needed positive leadership still remains largely underresearched by both the leadership and recently emerging positive psychology fields. Indeed, this is the only chapter in this book on positive organizational scholarship


17 The Power of High-Quality Connections



 Meanings and Connections

In this chapter, we develop this definition and unpack the theoretical bases for the power of high-quality connections (HQCs) in work organizations in three steps. In the first step, we define HQCs. In the second step, we describe four theoretical lenses for seeing how HQCs affect people at work. Finally, we develop a research agenda for organizational studies that puts understanding the power of HQCs as a keystone for positive organizational scholarship.


When people are at work, connections with others compose the fabric of daily life. A connection is the dynamic, living tissue (Berscheid & Lopes,

1997) that exists between two people when there is some contact between them involving mutual awareness and social interaction. The existence of some interaction means that individuals have affected one another in some way, giving connections a temporal as well as an emotional dimension.

Connections can occur as a result of a momentary encounter, and can also develop and change over a longer time period (Gabarro, 1987). Other scholars have called this relationship feature the bond (e.g., Baumeister &


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