What makes an effective manager?
Gallup’s recent report, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, provides an in-depth look at what characterizes great managers and examines the crucial links between talent, engagement, and vital business outcomes such as profitability and productivity.
The report showed that, without question, companies with high levels of customer engagement and employee engagement show significantly better financial results.
Unfortunately, many companies omit the employee side of the engagement coin from their strategic and operational planning.
Positive Versus Negative Leadership Styles
The best managers:
- Help their employees to feel comfortable talking about any subject whether work-related or personal.
- Create a safe environment to experiment with new ideas, share information, and challenge the status quo.
- Have genuine relationships with each employee and care about them regardless of performance; there are no “in groups” or “out groups,” just “us.”
In contrast, emotionally insecure (immature) leaders:
- Work against a culture of innovation, self-expression, productivity, and employee engagement.
- Lack a changeless inner sense of self, which makes deep listening risky because they themselves might be changed.
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Hack at the Leaves or Go to the Root?
In business, some see limited promotion opportunities, limited resources, limited market potential, limited timeframes, and even limited rewards (recognition).
Where does this limited viewpoint come from?
For many of us, our scripting or mindsets were learned early in life though conditioning. We developed a scarcity mentality through sports, business, culture, and/or family life. The scarcity mentality is the zero-sum paradigm of life: There’s only so much of anything “out there” and the more you get, the less I get. This includes approval, love, and attention, as well as material things.
We learned that our worth is based on comparisons with others and the one who “performed” the best got the praise, attention, etc. Our worth, from the scarcity view, is not intrinsic — it’s based on what others think, especially during our very vulnerable and dependent formative years.
I believe some businesses perpetuate the problem by evaluating people based on performance without appreciation for the individual apart from performance. Helping employees discover their potential at work can be difficult for managers scripted in scarcity thinking because workers' success might be perceived as a threat to the future needs/wants of the manager. In reality, seeing the potential in workers is the first step to performance improvement.
Abundance Mentality: There is More
An abundance mentality, on the other hand, is possible when individuals feel confident in their ability to win “private victories” through personal responsibility, vision, and discipline.
Here are a few qualities that people who have cultivated an abundance mentality share:
- They understand that their worth, happiness, and effectiveness is self-generated through choices.
- They are not dependent on others for confidence, worth, or personal power.
- Because they are independent and in control of self, they have the power and freedom to work interdependently with others.
- Their personal satisfaction and fulfillment creates in them a desire to see others succeed, which is the win-win or abundance philosophy. It’s like self-made fuel: I help you get what you want and you help me get what I want.
Positive leadership requires the abundance mentality in order to create lives of fulfillment, optimism, hope, and personal excellence. Leadership is heliotropic; people have an inherent inclination toward the positive and away from the negative. We see this tendency in sunflowers which gradually turn their large flowers to face the sun.
Critics sometimes give a disapproving label (e.g. “touchy-feely”) to the word “positive” as if it were a naïve approach to business and life in general. After all, business is tough and competitive, to see it as otherwise is just plain foolish, right?
Not quite. Positive leadership does not ignore challenges, negative behaviors, or failures; it’s based on seeing the full reality, which also includes potentialities and attaining greatness. Positive leaders enable positively deviant performance (as opposed to normal or negative deviant performance), embody a focus on virtuousness (an inclination toward goodness for its intrinsic value), and create an affirmative orientation (focus on strengths, human potential) in organizations.
Positive Leadership in Action
How might a positive-leadership orientation apply to relationships at work? Explore the following three scenarios, and decide which one you believe is most productive:
- An insecure and critical boss (scarcity mentality) might foster harmful relationships (negative deviation).
- A responsible, mature boss would cultivate helpful relationships (normal deviation).
- A boss espousing a positive leadership bias would cultivate relationships that promote honoring of intrinsic worth regardless of performance (positive deviation).
The late Stephen R. Covey, one of the foremost leadership consultants of our day, believed that leaders communicate to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves. (I’ll write more in future posts about the use of positive communication, relationships, meaning, and workplace climate in creating positive deviations.)
Regardless of our belief in the concept of positive leadership, consequences will follow. Our values will motivate us to use or discard it, but we can’t control the consequences of our choices! If we want the significant financial and attitudinal improvements I cited from Gallup, we’ll need to comply with the principles that make it all possible.
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