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Lift

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Describes four mindsets that, together, enable us to have a consistently positive influence
• Accessible but rooted in the latest research in psychology and social science
• Features engaging personal stories that bring key principles to life in business situations, at home, and in the community

Just as the Wright Brothers combined science and practice to finally achieve the dream of flight, Ryan and Robert Quinn combine research and experience to demonstrate how we can elevate ourselves and the situations and people around us to greater heights of integrity, openness, and achievement—the psychological equivalent of aerodynamic lift.

Solidly based in the social science literature—with special focus on recent advances in the study of positive psychology and strengths-based leadership, as well as Robert Quinn’s groundbreaking work on organizational effectiveness—Lift identifies four mindsets that will enable us become a consistently positive influence in every aspect of our lives: being purpose-centered, internally-directed, other-focused and externally-open. Separate chapters explore each of these components in depth, analyzing the psychological and social factors that keep people from applying them and what we can do to overcome those obstacles.

Although there are exercises and tools throughout to help you understand and apply the authors’ lift framework—as well as compelling stories of personal and professional applications of lift—this is not a book about tactics. Rather, the Quinns challenge you to ask: What can I do to be a positive influence?

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1 Lift: A Positive Influence and a Psychological State

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2 The Science, History, and Metaphor of Lift

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BOB: In my second year of college I became increasingly depressed. When I realized what was happening, I decided to find some direction in my life. I started by trying to determine my major. Despite months of agonizing, I made little progress.

One day I was walking across campus when a question struck me: “What is the most meaningful thing you have ever done?” I knew the answer instantly. During my life, I’d had a number of opportunities to help other people make significant and positive changes in their personal lives. These experiences were the most meaningful things I had done. A moment passed. Then something inside me said, “Major in change.”

That was a great answer. The only problem was that there was no major in change. I wrestled with this problem and eventually approached my education differently. I became proactive. I read books that were not assigned, went to public lectures, and took classes from many fields that I thought would help me understand change. My formal major eventually became sociology, but I graduated with a body of knowledge about how to help people change. Then I went to graduate school and focused on this same question as it related to groups and organizations. I studied change, taught change, and helped people and organizations make change. As I did these things, I became interested in questions of human effectiveness. Why are some organizations, groups, and people more effective than others? Why are some people more effective in wielding positive influence than others?

 

3 Seeking Comfort and Dwelling on Problems

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BOB: I was once talking to a friend, Mindy, who was upset at the leader of a local community organization. This leader said that Mindy’s son would be expelled from the organization because he had violated some of the organization’s most important rules. Mindy raged on about what an unjust person this leader was. She listed things that she might do to take action against him. As I listened, it was clear that if she actually did the things she said she was going to do, she would make the situation worse. It was also clear that if I told her this, she would likely turn her anger toward me. I wondered if there was something I could say that would lift her out of this angry and vengeful state.

Mindy’s reaction to her son’s situation was a normal one. Good people sometimes react unproductively to negative situations. The fact that they do this relates to the first dimension of lift. Mindy was approaching the situation in a comfort-centered way, and comfort-centered approaches often lead to unproductive actions.

 

4 Becoming Purpose-Centered

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BOB: A few years ago some of my colleagues and I were appointed to serve on a committee that was assigned to design the new Executive Masters of Business Administration (EMBA) program for our business school. The marketplace for EMBA programs was already competitive, and we needed to design this program with a high degree of excellence. In other words, this assignment presented an opportunity to lift both ourselves and the school by being very clear about the result we wanted to create.

I was not able to attend the first meeting of the committee. When I arrived at the second meeting, my colleagues briefed me on what had happened in the first meeting. They showed me their design and asked, “What do you think?”

I said, “Would you mind closing your eyes?”

This was not a standard procedure. After some resistance, my colleagues closed their eyes.

I asked them to envision the first graduating class. I said, “After the first graduate collects a diploma and walks off the stage, this graduate comes to you, hugs you, and says, ‘Thank you, this was the most powerful educational experience of my life!’”

 

5 Falling Short of Our Values and Not Realizing It

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RYAN: When I was nineteen years old, I left home for two years to serve a mission for my church. A mission is both the period that a missionary spends in service and the name of the organization in which missionaries serve, located in a particular place. On my mission I taught, did community service, proselytized, and helped people make life changes such as overcoming addictive habits or developing better patterns of family life. I was excited to serve.

The mission I served in had many leadership positions. It consisted of about two hundred young women and men, but it was led by a couple in their sixties who served as mission presidents. The mission president had two assistants. The assistants supervised twelve zone leaders, the zone leaders supervised about thirty district leaders, and the district leaders supervised the rest of the missionaries. The assistants, zone leaders, and district leaders were all young missionaries. When there were changes in these leadership positions, missionaries often speculated about who the next person to fill a leadership position might be.

 

6 Becoming Internally Directed

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Stephen, a friend of ours, told us about an experience he had when he was a teenager. Stephen loved basketball. He was good at it, too. He won awards, dominated the leagues he participated in, and had some college coaches paying attention to him. When he joined the high school Varsity team, however, his coach almost never let him play. Stephen gave his best effort in every practice, followed the rules, outplayed his teammates, and worked constantly to improve, but no matter what he did his coach would not give him any more playing time.

Eventually Stephen and his parents found out that all of the players struggled with the coach—even the kids who had the most playing time. Apparently, this coach demoralized his teams every year. He had some of the most talented players in the state, yet his teams would lose early in the state tournament and his players would say things like “I cannot wait for the season to end so I can start enjoying basketball again.” The coach hardly ever spoke to the players, and when he did, he was usually angry, bordering on abusive.

 

7 Seeing Others as Objects

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BOB: One day during my childhood, my stepfather sent me to the corner store to buy milk. I moved slowly along the sidewalk, basking in the sun and using the curb as an imaginary tightrope. Just before I reached the store, I heard a blast in the sky. I saw a thick, white trail of smoke, and followed it to find the lowest-flying jet I had ever seen. I watched for several seconds as the plane moved toward the horizon. The wings fell off and the airplane disintegrated into nothingness. I stood, frozen, then turned toward home. I raced up the porch steps, burst through the front door, and blurted out my story. My stepfather scoffed at me and asked, “Where’s the milk?” Most of my early memories of my stepfather are like the memory of my failure to get the milk from the corner store. He criticized me often and, over time, I hardened.

Years later, when I was a father and Ryan was a baby, I was playing with Ryan on the floor. Suddenly I felt a wave of jealousy. I was surprised, and stopped to reflect. I realized that I was jealous of Ryan because he had what I did not have—a father who loved him for who he was, who cared about his feelings, needs, and desires. Ryan was not an object to me, but a human being that I treasured for his own sake. I wished that I had experienced the same thing.

 

8 Becoming Other-Focused

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Hugh is a friend of ours who worked as a manager in a research facility at a Fortune 500 company. The company faced a serious recession and threats to its profitability, so the executive team downsized the company from 244,000 employees to 51,000 in only a few years. Hugh and the other remaining employees were shocked, fearful, and uncertain about their future. Most of them became self-focused—a common reaction when people feel threatened. These employees would have benefited from empathizing with each other, but instead some of the employees began saying bad things about each other, sabotaging each other’s work, and taking credit for others’ successes. Presumably, they did this to make themselves look better than their co-workers. Then, if there was another downsizing, their co-workers would be more likely to lose their jobs than they would.

Once some people began to undermine their co-workers, others did the same things. Some did it to retaliate. Others did it as a preemptive effort to protect themselves. People justified their actions, self-betrayal flourished, trust eroded, performance dropped, and work was not enjoyable. Hugh agonized over the situation. He did not want to undermine his fellow employees, but he also knew that if he did not protect himself, people could undermine him and he might lose his job. Even Damon, a young man he had once helped get promoted, had undermined him. He began to think that being kind would only make him vulnerable.

 

9 Fearing Feedback

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RYAN: After studying Japanese for two years in college, I had an opportunity to spend a year studying corporate strategy and international business at Hitotsubashi University in Japan. I was thrilled and scared about the opportunity. Even though I studied Japanese for two years, my skills were limited. My ability to read and write Japanese improved regularly as I studied and practiced, but I did not speak or understand Japanese very well.

Upon arriving in Japan, I was embarrassed at how poor my ability to speak and understand Japanese was. I would try to speak to people, but I usually had to ask them to repeat themselves many times. I felt like I was stupid and I was a burden to the people I was speaking to. For example, if I was in a train station and I did not know which train to take, I would ask for directions. People would give me the directions, but I would not understand. Sometimes I would ask them to repeat themselves, but after they had repeated themselves two or three times I would just pretend that I understood and say thank you because I was too embarrassed to ask again. I tried asking other people, but that was embarrassing as well. Sometimes I would spend fifteen or twenty minutes standing by a map with my dictionary trying to figure out what train to get on, rather than have to bother more people and humiliate myself further by asking anyone for directions.

 

10 Becoming Externally Open

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RYAN: My wife, Amy, teaches piano. On January 1, 2007, she set a new year’s resolution for our oldest children, Mason and Katie, to learn how to play the piano. Amy knew that this would not be easy: they would probably resist her efforts. As she wondered how to handle this resistance, she decided that the children needed a role model. If they could see that learning to play the piano was a good thing, that it was hard work for other people too, and that their parents were investing as much into the effort as they were, then they would probably not resist as much. Therefore, Amy decided, their father should learn how to play the piano too. Having come to this conclusion, she announced it triumphantly to Mason and Katie’s father, who knew very well the dangers of saying no.

Amy sat down at the piano to give me my first lesson on January 1. I was a childhood dropout from piano lessons. I knew a few of the basics, but I really had no skill. I listened to her instructions and did the best I could. She assigned me a song named “Cuckoo,” and told me to practice it for a week.

 

11 The Integration of Positive Opposites

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RYAN: In the spring of 2006, I spent a day and a half in Athens, Greece, training a group of managers from a global company on innovation. The first morning went well. During that afternoon, however, I asked the managers to split up into groups to work on an idea-generating task. As I explained the task to them, I could tell by their facial expressions that many of them did not want to do it. I thought that they would see the value of the task after they had gone through it, though, so I pressed on.

A few of the managers asked questions. They were polite, but it was clear that they did not think the exercise was relevant to them. One of the managers became particularly vocal. I expressed sympathy but told him that he would probably discover that he had learned from the task if he did it. He stood up, expressed his disagreement, and walked out of the room. The rest of the group performed the task, but the atmosphere in the room was tense. As I walked among the groups I received many forced smiles and few signs of interest.

 

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