My grandmother read “The Power of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale. But I can remember her telling me it took more than just positive thinking to create a good life. It also took a lot of hard work, she said. Her words of wisdom have certainly proven to be true.
I’ve noticed, however, that positive thinking and work don’t always go hand-in-hand. In fact, work can involve boredom, conflicts with co-workers and faultfinding rather than problem-solving. Leaders are frequently frustrated with employees’ poor performance. And even more often employees find dealing with their boss to be dysfunctional, if not outright distasteful.
In “Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance,” Dr. Kim Cameron offers four strategies for creating a positive work environment. His research at the University of Michigan has shown that the top performing organizations are characterized by four qualities: positive climates, positive relationships, positive communication and positive meaning. When all four elements are present, employees are able to “achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy, and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise.”
In addition, hundreds of studies show healthy workplaces also benefit employee’s physical health, emotional well-being, brain functioning, interpersonal relationships outside of work and their ability to learn. Increased positivity in a person’s life has even been shown to increase their longevity an average of six to seven years more than their negative co-workers.
Cameron has found that positive work environments foster compassion, forgiveness and gratitude. Compassion involves individuals noticing when workmates are distressed, expressing care and concern toward them, and organizing co-workers to make an appropriate group response.
Forgiveness consists of acknowledging employees who feel they have been hurt, and helping them to let go of the pain associated with dwelling on past problems. To accomplish that shift requires the workgroup clarify expectations for how similar situations will be handled more satisfactorily in the future.
Gratitude is a powerful force, as anyone who has received recognition for a job well done will tell you. Frequent, public expressions of appreciation are the lifeblood of positive work climates.
You’ve been around people who are negative: critical, complaining, blaming, hostile or grouchy. Their dark cloud casts a shadow on their co-workers, and regularly causes it to rain on everyone’s parade. Leaders, like the rest of us, react compulsively to the provocations of their negative employees. Time and energy could be conserved if managers dealt with problem employees matter of factly: this behavior is unacceptable, here’s what’s expected, you can do it, here’s your consequence, end of discussion.
Curtailing long-winded rationalizations frees leaders to engage with positive energizers. Placing “can-do” people on important teams puts them in networks where they can infect the workplace with positivity. Aligning with highly engaged people is the best method for motivating the middling. Their positive relationships with co-workers generate enthusiasm and effort. Leaders who share and shape their team’s energy accomplish big goals.
How many times have you been in a meeting with someone who shoots down every idea and kills any type of constructive conversation? When someone infuses negativity into a discussion, they not only discourage co-workers, they adversely affect the team’s ability to think clearly and make sound decisions.
Leaders must be clear within themselves what they stand for and what they won’t stand for. The best leaders believe that an abundance of good ideas enables a team to achieve its goals. They make it clear that everyone’s opinion will be respected and view vigorous debate necessary for constructing a multifaceted solution. Downside risks are identified and contingency plans are created.
Conducting a reflected best-self feedback exercise can improve communication. Have the team describe the collaborative behaviors of each colleague when they’re at the top of their game. Commit to becoming more consistent.
Leaders inspire workers by focusing them on the positive impact their direct efforts have on customers and co-workers. It helps to highlight the benefits that the organization offers to clients and the community.
Companies who have long-term goals for making the world a better place can engage more employees by helping them to see the connection between the job they do every day and the long-term legacy they’re helping to create.
Recognizing employees who make a positive contribution to the community illustrates how people create meaning and purpose in their lives. These ceremonies provide opportunities to invite other workers to participate in community service activities.