Positive Leadership Part 1: Positive Emotions


Reading through Seligman’s Flourish (published in 2011), I felt that there can be a better future, o future of more wellbeing for the business world. Let me tell you what inspired me the most.

As you may easily find it in Flourish, the Wellbeing theory which inspired me to build the Positive Leadership Program for corporations, has five elements; positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. I will try to explain how all these elements have an effect on the wellbeing in organizations, one by one in each article. This is Part 1: Positive Emotions.

Part 1, Positive emotions, talks about the pleasant life in general. So if we apply it to any system that we might think of, either the individual, the family, the team, the classroom, the company or the government; to be able to talk about wellbeing in a system, we need to see a pleasant life going on and around it. A pleasant life is a life filled with positive emotions.

What are positive emotions and why do we insist on positive emotions? Barbara Fredrickson has conducted a lot of research on how positive emotions work in our bodies. She describes her findings with her Broaden & Build Theory, which is very easy to comprehend. In a very short cut way, she says, if we are exposed to positive messages that fill us with positive emotions, more parts in our brains light up and start working. This is the broaden part of the theory. And she suggests and shows that when we feel positive emotions we can come up with more solutions, and in general our problem solving skills increase. So besides the very nature of positive emotions that make us feel happier, more cheerful and thus makes us feel good about or life, also help us work better, think and solve better.

So how do we keep the positive emotions up and alive in an individual, a team or an organization in general?

I am sure many managers hold weekly meetings with their teams to go over last week’s agenda and to set the new week’s agenda. What they usually do is, they go over what went wrong last week. What the problems, the setbacks and the challenges were, set the beginning of the meetings; causing stress, frustration and pessimism about the coming week in general. Yes, evaluating these has a purpose; we will work harder and smarter this week not to experience the same stuff over and over again. But we miss a point. Last week, we also did good things. We finished some reports, we handled some very tough discussions and we got over many of the challenges we faced. What positive leadership approach suggests is that, we need to think about the positives of the last week as well as we evaluate the negatives.

So why not start the meeting with ¨what went well last week, what we were proud of and what we were grateful for¨ for a change and see how it resonates with the team members?

Let me tell you how it resonates with the teams that work with managers who go through the Positive Leadership program and try this approach:

Tthe first reaction is usually a stunned one since they are not used to such questions. Then they start mentioning those that went well after a little bit of reinforcement from the team head. Iif the team heads keep doing this for a few more meetings, we see that the participation in the meetings increases and the team members start coming up with more solutions and options for things to do better in the coming week. Just changing the order or emphasis of things, creates a lot of difference in how the team approaches problems. Problems indeed are not neglected but got handled in a more constructive way.

I worked with managers who used this approach for quarterly review meetings, off-sites and performance appraisal reviews. The results were always affirmative. People tried harder to come up with even better results, once being praised and reminded of what they have been already good at.

Why do we not have more fun at work, play more and seize the pleasures more often? Remember the fun theory which says, fun changes the behavior for the better. The managers who tried out the fun theory at work, came up with games to play with their teams, coming up with unexpected motivational activities for their teams that would give them a smile. ;

Aarranging an off-site in a movie theater to watch an entertaining movie, creating a team song or a video clip out of the blue, making up a game together with the team to reinforce good practices of work like helping a colleague to finish up a task, handing in a report on time; they all just to have fun, which indeed created more energy within the team to cooperate and cope with the adversities throughout the week. Co-creating fun times with the team members was the most effective way of creating positive emotions within the teams. In addition, but they also tried out random acts of kindness within the teams which also worked out very well. Team members came up with many creative ways of helping each other just to put a smile on the other person’s face.

The managers we worked with also started using a solutions focused language with their teams. An example might be;

Problem Focused Question: What problems do you foresee for the week ahead?
Solutions Focused Alternative: What do you want to accomplish this week?

This was a paradigm shift both for the managers and the team members, since they all fully trusted their problem focused questions. They and were a bit skeptical about the way thewhether the alternative would possibly work. In a very short time, they noticed that indeed, the way you ask questions eeffects the way you think. The solutions focused questions triggered thinking about solutions and they confessed in a month’s time that these questions were magical!

Positive emotions, once get in the system, they do not want to leave. So the team heads merely start a movement of actively trying out to feel and think better and the team members start getting the rest of the responsibility. The first move from the team head triggers a co-creation environment in the teams. Hence, team heads’ responsibility to motivate their staffs is naturally shared by the team members. Performance increases, morale boosts and people start looking after each other. What else do we need for a better work environment that Henry Stewart, the CEO of Happy Computers, dreamed of as you can see below?

¨Imagine a workplace where people are energized and motivated by being in control of the work they do. Imagine they are trusted and given freedom, within clear guidelines, to decide how to achieve their results. Imagine they are able to get the life balance they want. Imagine they are valued according to the work they do, rather than the number of hours they spend at their desk . Wouldn’t you want to work there?¨ asks Henry Steward in his Happy Manifesto book, published in 2012.


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