Aspire to inspire before you expire.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of research on the effects of being positive, and the research is clear. It really pays to be positive. The benefits include better health, a longer life span, greater happiness, faster career advancement, improved athletic performance, enhanced teamwork, and greater financial success. Being positive is not just A nice way to live. It’s THE way to live.
Unfortunately, for all too long, positive thinking and positive living have been considered “nice” things to do but not all that “critical” or “corporate.” They’ve been considered too “touchy-feely” for the average organization and not all that profitable.
As a result, according to Joyce Gioia, a strategic business futurist, “Corporate America has sacrificed the health and well-being of its employee populations on the altar of profitability. Some even go so far as to say they are ‘lucky to have jobs at all’.” And Bob Nelson, the reward-and-recognition guru, says over 80% percent of today’s workers feel over-worked and under-appreciated.
But things are starting to change. The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan now offers an entire track of study on what they call “POS” or “Positive Organizational Scholarship” … because they’ve proven that positive thinking, positive living, and positive leadership really work. As Professor Kim Cameron puts it, “The results not only allow you and your people to flourish but also innovate and ultimately benefit the bottom line.”
The Ross School of Business is saying that an organization’s productivity and profitability are directly tied to the positivity of its leadership. So how can you become a positive leader … that brings out the best in others … on and off the job?
1. Start with a decision. Decide to be positive.
Positive leadership starts inside your head … with the decision to be happy.
Now that might sound pretty soft. In fact, it may seem to be a far cry from the toughness associated with traditional models of leadership. But positive leaders know that their happiness has a huge impact on everybody else in the organization.
Positive leaders know what researcher Terri Kabachnick discovered — that a huge portion or 68% of an employee’s productivity is directly related to the leader’s behavior and emotions. So positive leaders know that they had better be setting an example they want others to follow.
Professor Cameron even says, “You are perceived as more charismatic and effective when leading positively.” When you’re happy, it rubs off on others. Of course, some of you may be thinking, “I’m just not the happy, bubbly type. So what am I supposed to do?” Glad you asked.
Author Jon Gordon makes it clear that your happiness has more to do with the decisions you make than the personality you have. Gordon writes: “Happiness is an inside job. Our happiness comes not from the work we do but from how we feel about the work we do. I’ve met bus drivers, janitors and fast-food employees who are more passionate about their jobs and happier than some professional athletes making millions of dollars.”
Gordon continues: “The way we think about work, feel about work and approach our work influences our happiness at work. We can be happier by focusing on what we GET TO do instead of what we HAVE TO do. We can realize that the ability to work is a gift, not an obligation … Each day we can come to work with the mindset that today we will be better than we were yesterday and tomorrow we will be better than we are today.”
He’s so right. But there’s more. Gordon goes on to say, “We can also enhance our happiness by tuning out negativity. Gandhi said, ‘I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet,’ and neither should we. Instead of listening to the negative voices let us focus on our positive choices … If we focus on the positive and tune out the negative our happiness will soar.”
Gordon concludes his essay by saying, “We can energize our jobs by working for a bigger purpose. The research shows we are most energized when we are using our strengths and talents for a bigger purpose beyond ourselves. Every job will get old and mundane (if we let it). But purpose keeps it fresh. Purpose fuels us. When we work for a bigger purpose we find an endless supply of happiness at work.”
In short, happiness is an inside job. It’s not dependent on anything other than your own decisions, and positive leaders decide to be happy. You would be wise to make the same decision.
2. Focus on taking people to a new and better place.
It’s the goal of positive leadership.
Before I delivered the keynote address at OneBeacon Insurance in Boston, I was preceded by the company’s Vice President Gary Black. He shared a story that epitomized the very essence of positive leadership.
Black talked about his third-grade daughter, Taylor, who came home from school one day rather upset. She had not been chosen as the “line leader,” a position that she really wanted. Dad tried to console her by reminding her that she had been chosen dozens of times before, to be the “line leader for lunch, for the bus, etc.
But Taylor said, “Dad, you don’t understand. This was for a field trip. I had the chance TO LEAD MY CLASSMATES TO A PLACE WHERE THEY’VE NEVER BEEN BEFORE.”
I thought, “Wow. That’s the best definition of positive leadership that I’ve ever come across.” After all, you don’t find positive leadership in a title; you find it in your passion to lead people to a new and better place.
3. Make sure your motivation comes from greatness rather than greed.
Positive leaders always do; they want to DO something great. So they’re more concerned with giving than taking. And they’re more concerned with making a difference than making their mark.
Personally, I like the way one of my clients, Jason Damkoehler, puts it. He says: “The world is looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Companies are looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Families are looking for men and women of greatness to lead them. Someone somewhere is counting on YOU to become a person of greatness!” The problem is, too many people think that greatness is all about a title or a position. And they know they’ll never have the big title or the fancy office, so they don’t even try to pursue a life and a career of greatness.
If that sounds like you, Damkoehler has a word for you. He says: “You may never be president, but you can be presidential. You may never be a CEO, but you can be one who yields great influence. You may never be the most popular and you may never have the most recognizable face, but you can be a person who changes the face of the world around you.”
He’s right. If you want to be a positive leader, if you want to DO something great, let GIVING be your motivation.
By contrast, you become a negative leader when you’re out to GET something for yourself, no matter how much it costs or who it hurts. You become a negative leader when you’re driven by greed, TAKING whatever you want when you want it.
And the sad truth is … the world is filled with negative leaders. That’s why you see corporate leaders telling their employees to buy more of the company stock … when they themselves are dumping it. That’s why you see political leaders talking about family values at the same time they’re engaged in illicit affairs. And that’s why you see religious leaders preaching morality as they prey on children as objects of their sexual desire.
If you’re going to be a positive leader, make sure your motivation is coming from the right place.
4. Apply energizers to the workforce and the workplace.
After all, the status quo of “getting by” is no longer “good enough” in a world economy that is highly competitive. In today’s marketplace, we need positive leaders who engage and motivate their teammates to be their very best.
Among other things, positive leaders apply the following energizers to the workforce and the workplace.
*They take time to connect. They grab a few colleagues or gather their team and spend 30 minutes together. They talk about what’s going right, what’s needed, and how everyone is feeling. In the process of recognizing their achievements and recognizing the pressures they’re under, they connect as human beings. And good healthy sharing always puts some extra wind in their sails.
*They add an element fun to the organization’s culture. I remember one leader who told his drivers he would give them ALL a cash bonus if they could ALL drive without any accidents until Labor Day. They did it … and the program was extended on a month by month basis because it really pulled the drivers together. You might ask yourself what you are doing to make work fun for your people.
*They express gratitude on a regular basis. Positive leaders look for things that are going well and make a point of expressing their gratitude for those things. They give positive feedback, send out positive notes, and keep a record of the team’s accomplishments. By doing so, positive leaders eliminate the number 1 job complaint … which is “you can do a hundred things right and not hear a darn thing about it.”
*They exhibit contagious enthusiasm. As the famous preacher John Wesley used to say, “I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.” That’s good psychology as well as good leadership because human beings are naturally drawn to positive energy. It’s called heliotropism … or the phenomenon of turning toward the “light.” Plants do it and so do people. When you’re enthusiasm shines through, you unleash smarter thinking in others, you foster their vitality, and you cultivate their extraordinary performance.