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Practicing Positive Leadership

What do you think would happen if you started a discussion on creating more virtuousness in your organization at your next leadership meeting? With all the problems to be solved, would others see it as a waste of time? Or would they think while it might be nice that you’ve jumped on the positive bandwagon, in a competitive business world companies simply can’t afford virtues?

Dr. Kim Cameron from the University of Michigan finds many leaders are skeptical when asked to focus on positive leadership and virtuousness in their organizations. However, when he cites the growing body of research that suggests a focus on virtues such as gratitude, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, honesty and hope result in noticeable improvements in productivity, employee engagement, innovation, customer satisfaction and loyalty means most are keen to learn more. 

Listen to his TedxTalk to find how we are hard wired in our DNA for virtuousness, and how by unleashing this at an organizational level you can improve the effectiveness of your business.

What Will You Learn?

  • [0:14]    Normally deviance is thought of as negative. However we can think of deviance on a continuum, at the left-hand side we have negative and the right-hand side there is positive deviance. All organizations aspire to be in the centre of the continuum, and if you venture to either side you can meet resistance. And most of our attention focuses on the or left hand side of the – the deficit gap. So our meetings and agendas are often dominated with problem solving to achieve the central equilibrium.
  • [2:03]    The positively deviant state in organizations can be thought of as a virtuous condition. Though not a popular word, the original of the word simply means the best of the human condition – the highest aspirations we have for ourselves, and you at your peak. If you shift your attention to the positive right hand side of the continuum – referred to as the abundance gap – you can unleash something called the heliotropic effect.
  • [3:24]    The heliotropic effect means that all living systems are inclined to move towards the life-giving light and away from the dark. Think of what happens when you put a plant in the window, gradually it will lean towards the light. Similarly complex human systems are attracted to positive energy and away from negative energy.
  • [4:27]    This has enormous implications for our organizations, such as the kind of workplace incentive systems we have and the quality of relationships we form with our employees. Research is finding evidence for the universal existence of the heliotropic effect in organizations.
  • [5:12]    For example one study found when people were offered incentives to improve their bowling average in thirty days. Their practice was filmed, and the participants were shown the playback of only the times when they successfully made strides and spares improved their bowling more than the ones who were only shown the films of when they did not make strikes or spares.
  • [7:19]    Studies have also found when you have an abundance of virtue in your life, such as gratitude you’re simply healthier, and will live on an average of thirteen years longer. We have several rhythms in our bodies – a heart rhythm brain rhythm, and muscle twitch rhythm. And when these are all perfectly aligned it’s called coherence. The ideal level of coherence happens when you’re in a virtuous or positive condition. And MRI scans have shown that our brains are more activated in positive conditions – so we are also smarter.
  • [13:13]  Research over the last fifteen years with organizations from every industry indicate when virtuous practices are implemented, and an abundance culture is fostered that leads to higher levels of performance.
  • [14:05]  When financial services on Wall Street, one of the least virtuous places you can imagine,  implemented several virtuous positive practices they outperformed others, became more innovative and improved customer satisfaction levels.
  • [14:55] After fifteen years of research, Kim has so far found no disconfirming evidence for the benefits of implementing virtuousness in organizations. If you demonstrate virtuous positive leadership you make more money, productivity goes up, employee retention improves, quality goes up, fewer errors, more innovation, new product development, new ideas, more creativity, and greater customer satisfaction customer and loyalty.

What Can You Try?

 In a chapter Kim recently contributed to “How To Be A Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact” three approaches he recommends are:

  • Expressing Gratitude – thanking someone for their hard work, commitment or contribution has been found to have dramatic effects on employees and organizations. Or you can encourage your employees to keep a gratitude journal to track three things they’re grateful for each night, writing a thank you card or emailing someone each day to show their appreciation for making their day easier.
  • Enable Forgiveness – through redefining failures as learning opportunities, separating acts from people, providing environments of support or fairness, forgiveness allows people to heal, replenish and restore positive emotions and connections with others. Organizations with a forgiving culture have been found to experience more trusting alliances, social capital, workplace humaneness, customer care, and a sense of calling among employees.
  • Facilitate Positive Deviance –by developing an “Everest goal,” based on the idea that climbing Mt. Everest represents the peak or supreme achievement that people can imagine. Everest goals are not just fanciful dreams, instead they encourage remarkable performance, focus on opportunities and possibilities, and energize people.

 Want More?

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