Challenge to Managers: Lead with Positivity

Look at the cup of coffee as half full.

By Feb 1, 2016

I recently had the opportunity to give the closing keynote at the IBM Smarter Workforce Summit, an annual gathering of HR professionals and consultants. In my attempt to avoid the standard fare for this type of talk—long lectures and rousing motivational rants—I decided to issue a challenge. After providing some research-based evidence to make the case for creating a positive work environment, I challenged attendees to spend every day over the next three weeks following these steps:

Set a positive tone. This sounds like a no-brainer. It’s not. Our lives can be so hectic that it is easy to launch into our day, and our meetings, focused on all that has gone wrong. The problem with this approach is that we are doing ourselves and our team members a disservice by potentially setting them up for failure. In her new book, Broadcasting Happiness (BenBella Books, 2015), Michelle Gielan shares research she conducted that found that being exposed to just three minutes of negative news in the morning will increase your chances of having a negative experience by 27 percent over the next six to eight hours. So, start each morning meeting with a simple positive story. If you set an optimistic tone, you will bolster the chance that you will receive positive results.

Catch your people doing it right. We spend far too much time worrying about the negative. Think about the time you spend personally recognizing good work as opposed to dealing with performance and behavioral issues. Sure, challenges must be dealt with, but that doesn’t give you license to ignore the positive. Ask yourself: Do you spend enough time acknowledging the good things? Everyone likes recognition, but the way they like receiving it may vary. So, get to know your people and, before you walk out that door each day, catch someone doing something right!

Close with a smile. The last thing you want to do is take your negative work baggage and dump it on your spouse and kids. It just isn’t fair—and it probably isn’t helping you either. Indeed, research indicates that venting may actually make feelings of anger worse. So before you step out of your car, hop off that train or walk off that bus, be sure your head is in the right space. Take a few moments to clear your mind of the negative, reflect on one thing that went well and pat yourself on the back for it.

Check the results. The criticism I often get is that too many of these initiatives are nothing more than feel-good exercises. My response is simple: Measure it. Knowing your numbers is critical to success at any level. The fact is, you don’t know what you don’t measure. Before you get started, select some simple, yet relevant, metrics that you and your people have significant control over—and watch what happens.

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, Ph.D., is an organizational psychologist and media personality.


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