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Practicing Positive Leadership

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Plenty of research has been done on why companies go terribly wrong, but what makes companies go spectacularly right? That’s the question that Kim Cameron asked over a decade ago. Since then, Cameron and his colleagues have uncovered the principles and practices that set extraordinarily effective organizations apart from the merely successful.

In his previous book Positive Leadership, Cameron identified four strategies that enable these organizations, and the individuals within them, to flourish: creating a positive climate, positive relationships, positive communication, and positive meaning. Here he lays out specific tactics for implementing them. These are not feel-good nostrums—study after study (some cited in this book) have proven positive leadership delivers breakthrough bottom-line results. Thanks to Cameron’s concise how-to guide, now any organization can be “positively deviant,” achieving outcomes that far surpass the norm.

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1 Why Practice Positive Leadership?

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The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business recently announced a new strategic plan to guide business education through the next decade and beyond. A key strategic pillar is an emphasis on the positive—positive business, positive leadership, and making a positive difference in the world.

Humana, one of the largest health insurance providers in the United States, recently changed its identity from being an insurance company to being a well-being company. The primary objective is to create benefits for employees and customers by implementing practices based on positive leadership and positive organizational scholarship.

Toshi Harada, Director of International Business Development at Hayes Lemmertz—the world’s largest producer of automobile wheels—equates positive leadership with Japanese manufacturing principles. “A signature feature of Japanese manufacturing philosophy is the elimination of waste. Negative leaders represent waste and inefficiency,” he suggests, “whereas positive leadership produces sustainable improvement.”1

 

2 How to Create a Culture of Abundance

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Organizational culture is one of the most important predictors of high levels of performance over time.1 Organizations that flourish have developed a culture of abundance, which builds the collective capabilities of all members. It is characterized by the presence of numerous positive energizers throughout the system, including embedded virtuous practices, adaptive learning, meaningfulness and profound purpose, engaged members, and positive leadership. There is plenty of empirical evidence that organizations displaying a culture of abundance have significantly higher levels of performance than others.2 Since creating a culture of abundance almost always implies culture change, this chapter discusses five basic steps that positive leaders can use to facilitate such a change: creating readiness for change, overcoming resistance to change, articulating a vision of abundance, generating commitment to that vision, and making the new culture sustainable over time.

When we speak of an organization’s culture, we are referring to the taken-for-granted values, expectations, collective memories, and implicit meanings that define that organization’s core identity and behavior. Culture reflects the prevailing ideology that people carry inside their heads. It provides unwritten and usually unspoken guidelines for what is acceptable and what is not. Culture is largely invisible until it is challenged or contradicted. We do not wake up each morning, for example, making a conscious choice to speak our dominant language—in my case, English. We are not aware that we speak a certain language until we meet someone who does not, calling our attention to what we take for granted. And because culture is undetectable most of the time, it is difficult to manage or change.

 

3 How to Develop Positive Energy Networks

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At the heart of positive leadership lies the concept of positive energy. Whereas much popular literature is dominated by discussions about the toll of stress, burnout, depression, tension, anxiety, fatigue, disengagement, and fear, less attention is paid to positive energy, even though it is one of the most powerful and important predictors of organizational and individual success. It is almost impossible to be a positive leader without also being a source of positive energy.

This chapter summarizes evidence that positively energizing leaders create extraordinarily high performance in their organizations and in their people. It provides some tools and practices that have been successfully applied in a variety of settings, such as those associated with recreational work, contributions, and mapping energy networks.

Positive energy is characterized by a feeling of aliveness, arousal, vitality, and zest. It is the life-giving force that allows us to perform, to create, and to persist. It unlocks resources and capacity within us and actually increases our ability to flourish.1 Positive energy is probably the single most important attribute of positive leaders.

 

4 How to Deliver Negative Feedback Positively

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As I noted in Chapter 1, positive leadership does not mean constantly smiling, always having sweet interactions, and being perpetually cheerful. The realities of leadership mean that you will sometimes have to deliver messages that are uncomplimentary, negative in tone, or critical of others’ performance, and you will have to tackle difficult issues and address challenging problems. This chapter introduces positive leaders to a series of tools and practices that help build and strengthen relationships even though corrective or disapproving feedback must be delivered. The core of this chapter discusses supportive communication—practices for being critical without producing defensiveness, bruising others’ egos, or invalidating opposing points of view.

As Chapter 3 demonstrated, strong positive relationships do not just occur by chance but are built on positive practices. Moreover, a great deal of research supports the idea that positive interpersonal relationships are a key to creating extraordinarily positive performance in individuals and in organizations.1 Positive relationships create energy and vitality, which have profound personal impact, including improved health and longer life expectancy. For example, people in positive relationships have less cancer and fewer heart attacks, recover from surgery twice as fast, contract fewer minor illnesses, cope better with stress, have fewer accidents, and have a longer life expectancy than people not in positive relationships.2, 3

 

5 How to Establish and Achieve Everest Goals

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Climbing Mt. Everest is among the most challenging activities most people can imagine. It requires supreme planning, training, effort, teamwork, and personal mastery. Very few of us have the physical, mental, and emotional capability to even attempt this level of performance. In organizations, Everest goals share similar attributes—they represent the peak, the culmination, the supreme achievement that we can imagine. They represent accomplishment well beyond ordinary success. But Everest goals are not just fantasies or dreams. They possess special attributes that actually motivate spectacular performance.

Everest goals have been found to help people accomplish outcomes that they never expected to accomplish, and they have helped organizations reach levels of performance previously unimagined.1 This chapter will help you begin the process of identifying an Everest goal for yourself and/or for your organization and assist you in developing a strategy for reaching the goal.

The first step in understanding the role of Everest goals is to understand the importance of goals and goal setting in individual and organizational performance. The chapter helps you identify the extent to which you recognize and utilize effective goals in your own life, and then the unique attributes of Everest goals are explained. Application activities will help you begin the process of establishing an Everest goal for yourself and/or for your organization.

 

6 How to Apply Positive Leadership in Organizations

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7 A Brief Summary of Positive Leadership Practices

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Positive leadership refers to the implementation of multiple positive practices that help individuals and organizations achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy, and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise. The practices included in this book have proven to be effective in producing extraordinarily positive results.

Positive leadership is much too rare in organizations because people tend to pay more attention to negative factors than positive factors and because “bad is stronger than good.”1 Crises and difficulties dominate agendas, and organizations are usually in the business of solving problems. Managers’ daily tasks tend to focus primarily on addressing challenges and overcoming obstacles. The daily pressures organizations face frequently drive out positive practices.

This is why the practices and activities introduced in this book can be helpful. The activities provide very specific tools that you can implement almost immediately. The practices can enable positive performance and overcome the effects of the negative. Each of these practices is based on empirical evidence and sound theory, and all have been successfully applied in organizations pursuing extraordinarily positive performance.

 

Practicing Positive Leadership Self-Assessment

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