Growing Into Positive Leadership

On a coaching call with participants from an earlier executive class, I asked them to share their stories of what they did differently because of what they learned. Most of them had stories of changes they made at work, but interestingly almost all started by telling of changes they made at home.
One woman told of cajoling her husband to keep and discuss a gratitude journal. He really had no time or interest. He was finishing a Ph.D. He was fully stressed. She said his conversations were almost always about what was going wrong. As he keep the gratitude journal, their conversations changed and their relationship changed. She was so moved that she felt inspired to apply what she learned at work.
At work, they were going through a difficult transformation. She became more transparent and expressive. She recognized their struggles and shared hers. She told her people that is was difficult but that they all had to “gut through.” She then witnessed a change as surprising as the one with her husband. The people took her words to heart. They began to attack some of the most uncomfortable tasks with a positive orientation. They also became ambassadors of the change.   She said, “I am so impressed. In a thirty minute period I had so much impact. Positive leadership makes a difference.”
Another woman spoke of applying positive leadership with her five year-old and with her mother. As she began to let go of the negative and recognize what her child was doing well, an observable change occurred. The child began to “glow” and her “behavior improved.”
He mother was in assisted living and no longer remembered visits. She complained that she was being deserted. Her mother was invited to keep a “guest book.” Each time a family member visited, it was recorded in the book. When she was feeling deserted the staff would refer her to the book. It turned out to be a successful, therapeutic tool.
As with the first women, these successes built confidence and led to new efforts at work. She introduced a weekly ritual called the Lava Lamp. The unattractive lamp becomes an award. As she presents it, she calls out and appreciates specific behaviors of one of her direct reports. She said, “It is really corny but people are moved by it.”
She began to bring people together to increase collaboration. One tool was a monthly brown bag lunch. The most important outcome was what she learned. She discovered that her people were lonely and hungry for collaborative experiences. This led her to change her own behavior. She began to “hear people out.” She began to share more information. The people reacted positively.
When we teach positive leadership, the first reaction is “It cannot work in our culture.” Participants listen to the many practices we offer, show interest, but a great hesitancy to act. Because positive practices tend to be outside the present culture, to introduce them is to lead and risk embarrassment. It is not surprising that many people start at home, learn, and then experiment at work. We have to grow into positive leadership.

  • Do any of the above practices attract your attention?
  • Why do many people start positive leadership at home?
  • What is necessary to overcome the fear of embarrassment?
  • How can you use this passage to create a more positive organization?


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