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08.18.08

Positive Leadership

Positive Leadership The Harvard Business Review recognized Positive Organizational Scholarship as one the Breakthrough Ideas of 2004. Kim Cameron, cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan, has presented some of the ideas coming out of that research in Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance.

The ideas are not necessarily new but the emphasis is. The focus is on the role of leaders in enabling positive deviant performance or outcomes that dramatically exceed common or expected performance. Cameron says that most organizations focus on maintaining performance that is predictable and steady. He is talking instead, about creating an organization that is not just coping but is flourishing (positive deviancy).

Creating an organization where people can positively exceed expectations is highly coveted any time, but is more important in difficult times. Flourishing organizations and breakout performance requires positive deviancy—going beyond the norm in a positive direction.

The idea is that individuals and organizations produce life-giving and flourishing outcomes when organizational strategies are based on the positive. (think Heliotropic Effect) He writes:
In sum, positive leadership refers to an emphasis on what elevates individuals and organizations (in addition to what challenges them), what goes right in organizations (in addition to what goes wrong), what is life-giving (in addition to what is problematic or life-depleting), what is experienced as good (in addition to what is objectionable), what is extraordinary (in addition to what is merely effective), and what is inspiring (in addition to what is difficult or arduous).
He presents four of the most important, interrelated and mutually reinforcing strategies that leaders can implement in an organization. (These ideas work in families as well.) They are shown below:

Positive Strategies

Positive Climate: “Leaders significantly affect organizational climate as they personally induce, develop, and display positive emotions.” Research cited in the book concludes that inducing positive emotions “broaden people’s momentary thought-action repertoires and builds their enduring personal resources.” Conversely, “Negative emotions narrow people’s thought-action repertoires and diminish their coping abilities.”

Positive Relationships: People in positive social relationships, “significantly outperformed acquaintance groups on both decision-making and motor tasks.” Interestingly, “Relationships that help people contribute to the benefit of others, rather than merely receive support from them, are the most valuable.”

Positive Communication: “The single most important factor in predicting organizational performance—which was more than twice as powerful as any other factor—was the ratio of positive statements to negative statements.” And we’re not talking about 100 to 1 here. Research revealed that the ratio was about 5 to 1 in high-performing organizations. There is a time and place for constructive negative communication.

Positive Meaning: “Reinforcing the benefits produced for others, associating work outcomes with the core values of employees, identifying the long-term impact created by the work, and emphasizing contribution goals more than achievement goals all foster a sense of meaningfulness and, as a result, higher levels of performance.”

Positive Leadership
Each chapter ends with a quick assessment of the activities that foster that particular strategy. It will help you identify those areas where you are succeeding and identify areas where you could implement additional behaviors. Also described is a helpful technique for implementing the four strategies called the Personal Management Interview program. The final chapter provides a self-assessment instrument and a guide for implementing the four strategies.

Positive Leadership is a short book, but it's long on vital information that a leader in any context would benefit from. While based in empirical research, the ideas presented here will resonate with you. Practiced, they will greatly benefit your corner of the world.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:30 PM
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