There is a difference between positive thinking that moves you forward and positive thinking that is nothing more than wishful thinking. Monica Diaz wrote a timeless article a while back titled “Positive Thinking Might be Your Demise” in which she articulates this distinction.
I believe in the power of thinking positively and by nature, I am an optimist. Yet being positive doesn’t magically overcome the problems we face in life or the workplace. It takes honesty, sometimes brutal honesty to turn a challenging situation around and create the kind of workplace and kind of results to which we aspire.
Consider that if you want positivity to rule the day, you need to consider the systemic implications of positive thinking in organizations.
In 1952 Norman Vincent Peale‘s now famous book, The Power of Positive Thinking was published. The power that positive thinking can have in our lives is today an instilled cultural belief: positive thinking is a good thing and being positive is a good and the right way to be. So true, yes?
Then again, maybe not. Could being positive turn out to be a bad thing sometimes?
While most of us, at least those who are passionate about making a meaningful impact wherever we go, would rather be surrounded by people who have a positive, “can do” attitude, I have seen far too many examples of this desire feed a culture of people who are afraid to say anything that could be construed as “negative”.
The problem comes in not because people have both positive and negative things to say, but rather when there is a belief that positive is “good” and “negative” is bad. This can become perilous for any leader or organization when people either withhold the bad news or sugar coat it with a positive spin that clouds the real issue.
In fact, sometimes what may occur as “negative” is actually a very good thing for business. Yet many leaders fear it. They fear what will happen if they allow a negative conversation to go too far – that somehow negativity will take over and they will lose control. It seems far safer and even smarter to deal with the complaints one on one, behind closed doors.
But it is perhaps the ultimate illusion that we can control what people really think and believe or what they will talk about.
And the more we try to prevent honest, authentic communication from happening openly in the name of “positive is good and negative is bad”, the more interesting what cannot be talked about becomes to people behind the scenes or as they say “around the water cooler”. When invited into the open, difficult topics and negative assessments can lead to constructive conversation. In the background, however, negative sentiments and observations rarely lead to anything more than gossip that distracts us at best and fuels resignation and cynicism at worst.
And that is when focusing only on the “positive” can really cost you. It’s easy to listen to the good news, the positive messages. It is a lot harder to listen to the bad news, the negative messages, especially when they are directly about you or something you did. Yet it is in how openly we can listen to the things that are hard to hear that will tell people whether we want to hear what is good for us, or whether we are interested in hearing what is real and true for them. It can take courage, but a willingness to invite and hear the whole truth might just be the source of your biggest breakthroughs and most rewarding progress.
If you want a place to start, try asking this question of those you lead: is there something you have been afraid to tell me, but think I really need to hear for the sake of our success?
You might be surprised by what you hear. You may also be positively surprised by how much hearing the whole truth moves things forward.
There are countless articles about new year’s resolutions and how they either work or they don’t. Each year I choose 3 words to guide my everyday choices throughout the year. This year my words are Play, Produce, and Prosper. This practice has served me well through the last few years as it helps to keep me focused every day on the experience of life I want to be creating.
Yet, of all the tips and techniques I have applied to set myself up and support others in setting themselves up for an exceptional year there is one that has yielded consistently great results – choose 1 big thing to focus on at a time.
Now, of course, you will work on many things this year. You will likely have more than one goal as well. The best way for me to explain what I mean by “one big thing” is to ask you a few questions:
What one thing, when you accomplish it this year, would have you say it has been an exceptional year?
What one thing could you focus on that has the potential to contribute to ALL of your goals?
What one thing could you accomplish that would give you the most joy?
Here are a few personal examples…
Last year my “one thing” in my personal life was to reclaim my health naturally. I ended the year 20 pounds lighter, reduced my cholesterol by 69 points, and my blood pressure is now the same as it was 30 years ago. Progress in that one thing gave me energy, motivation, and satisfaction that carried over into every area of my life.
My “one thing” in my business this year is to successfully launch my leadership and strategy programs internationally this year. I’ve developed and piloted my programs over the last few years, and now it is time to formally launch so I can reach more people. This endeavor is central to every one of my business goals this year. It requires that I develop skills and get support in areas that are not yet my strengths so I know already that I will grow a great deal this year.
Now, will I continue to serve my consulting and coaching clients well and take on new clients? Of course! Yet it will also expand what I can offer my clients and the impact I can make beyond the time I spend with them. Will I continue to speak at conferences and other events? Absolutely! But now I have a way to continue to work with the amazing people I meet along the way.
This is the one thing I will make progress on every day in my business no matter what. You see, a focus on “one thing” isn’t about not doing anything else. It is, however, about choosing what will get your focused and ongoing attention every day until it is achieved.
And what I have learned from choosing “one thing” each year is that by promising yourself that you will accomplish that one thing and following through every day, you will also make steady progress in every area of your life and work that really matters.
How frequently do you think your employees laugh at work? In contrast, how often do you estimate that they feel bored or uninspired? Skilled leaders, those we call the “Stand-Up Strategists”, understand the utility of humor to address four important organizational outcomes, or the 4Cs: Community, Composure, Change, and Creativity. And to address these four outcomes they typically use four broad styles of humor.
The 4S – Styles of Humor
The four styles we identified are based on our understanding of humor-driven dynamics in organizations, and build upon the broader world of humor research:
Sensory humor involves a leader projecting an energetic, positive, playful vibe, and having a generally humorous outlook.
Social humor typically involves jokes or stories shared as a tool to reduce interpersonal tension, increase sociability and promote openness.
Self-deprecating humor is the ability of a leader to laugh at him/herself to reduce power-distance, and thereby facilitate more positive and intimate relationships.
Strong humor most often entails sarcasm or cynicism. It is the comic style most associated with generating negative emotions, and therefore the one with the most limited application in organizations.
The 4Cs – Organizational Outcomes
There are four organizational outcomes where humor can be leveraged as a particularly effective managerial tool:
In situations in which collaboration is an important driver of organizational success, lacking a sense of community can be a formidable barrier to delivering results. It is well understood by psychologists and social scientists that people who laugh together generally have stronger feelings of empathy and bonding.
The sense of fun and social humor can be used as especially effective humoristic styles to build group cohesiveness, with a leader as the role model of projecting a relaxed and humorous attitude, sharing occasional jokes, anecdotes and stories that inject a playful aspect to day to day interactions.
In situations where a leader needs to increase sociability across organizational hierarchies, self-deprecating humor can also be used. In years gone by, strong ‘community’ humor might have involved humiliation, ridicule, sexist or even racist overtones but these kinds of jokes, anecdotes and stories have no place in today’s world.
Beyond being potentially damaging to one’s own reputation, inappropriate humor can also contribute to a reduced morale, absenteeism, the elevation of dysfunctional internal competition, and company-level reputational damage.
Studies on humor, stress and coping strategies have shown that individuals with a high sense of humor tend to experience less stress than individuals with a low sense of humor, even in situations where both face similar challenges. In group situations, humor can be utilized to reduce the pressure of stress associated with deadlines, targets or crises.
Social humor is best leveraged in these situations, not to make deadlines or challenges disappear, but to improve morale, to help individuals avoid feelings of isolation, and to increase the solidarity of purpose needed to overcome adversity. Due to its tendency to trigger negative emotions, strong humor should be used sparingly, and in most instances only ever directed at external targets where there is an urgent need to overcome complacency or strong internal inertia.
It is important for all leaders to communicate with employees about ongoing organizational change, especially with regards to vision and strategic priorities. Humor in day-to-day interactions and broader organizational communication can create an atmosphere which improves listening and understanding, boosts message retention, and enables positive emotions.
These outcomes are even more vital during times of continuous change – two of the most common reasons that employees resist change are lack of sufficient information and a fear of the unknown. In the words of writer and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
The fourth organizational condition addressed by humor is perhaps the most important: creativity. Humor, laughter, and fun releases physical and cognitive tension, which can lead to perceptual flexibility—a required component of creativity, ideation, and problem-solving. Discoveries in this area also explain why many leaders are not just leveraging humor, but are also investing in creating playful and fun work environments.
Jumping to conclusions…
Time and time again in our interactions with leaders in some of the world’s most successful and innovative companies we have been struck by a recurring experience – not only are these leaders intelligent, talented and forward-thinking, many of them are also very funny. And it is not just that these senior executives are able to deliver a flawless punchline at a cocktail reception or town hall event – they are able to leverage humor as a strategic tool.
May the farce be with you!
About the authors
This post is by Jamie Anderson and Gabor George Burt.
Jamie Anderson is Professor of Strategic Management at Antwerp Management School, and Visiting Professor at INSEAD. He has been named a “management guru” in the Financial Times, and included on Business Strategy Review’s list of the world’s “top 25 management thinkers”. www.jamieandersononline.com Twitter: @JamieAndersonBE
Gabor George Burt is a leading business transformationist and creator of the Slingshot Platform, enabling organizations to overstep perceived limitations, re-imagine market boundaries, and achieve sustained relevance. www.gaborgeorgeburt.com
It’s that time of year when we celebrate and show appreciation for the people in our lives. It’s also a time for giving. You may love appreciating people and giving gifts. For me personally, this is my favorite time of year for that reason.
Yet while our focus is typically on others, I’d like you to consider there is a gift you can give yourself that costs nothing and will not take away from your ability to give to others. In fact, I will suggest that when you give yourself the gift I am about to suggest, you will actually feel even more empowered to give freely and fully yourself.
The gift you can give yourself this holiday season involves a simple choice – a choice to believe in you and to appreciate your value.
One of my coaches shared with me long ago that if you want to be inspiring, be inspired. That same idea applies to appreciation – if you want to appreciate others fully and make them feel truly valued, it makes a big difference if you actually appreciate and value yourself.
I just finished a fantastic workshop and am in this moment experiencing the confidence and satisfaction that can only come from knowing you accomplished something that matters. Yet I also know that this experience can all too easily dissipate. We live busy lives. We work very hard. That is all the more reason to take a moment and appreciate you.
You can do this by writing a thank you note you, appreciating and valuing you the way you would appreciate and value others. Now before you write this off as another good idea that you’ll get to someday soon, or perhaps even a silly idea that might even make you uncomfortable, I suggest you take a moment and relate to yourself as a valued and trusted friend. If that friend did something wonderful or provided something amazing for you or others wouldn’t you take the time to let them know?
So if you are willing to take this on here are two questions you can answer in your “thank you” note to you:
What have you accomplished this year that has you feel the most satisfied?
It could be a project you completed, a breakthrough you had, or a difference you made and it could be many things so don’t limit yourself to just one.
What have you uniquely provided to others that have added the most value?
It could be to those you work with, it could be work you did as part of a team or anything you could appreciate about yourself
I’ll share one of my accomplishments to let you know that I actually do the things I suggest for myself, too! I just completed creating a product in a physical form that I have wanted to do for 10 years and have been diligently working on for the last two years. There were so many unexpected and difficult things that have happened that could have derailed my efforts this year. There was so much I had to learn and many ways I had to challenge myself and grow that I had not anticipated. But I stuck with it and kept my promise to myself to get this done. There are just a few finishing touches left and I can’t wait to share it with you!
Wherever you are in the world, I wish you a blessed holiday season and a brilliant 2018.
I invite you to share one of your accomplishments or something you have uniquely provided to others this year so we can include celebrating and appreciating you as part of the Holiday Season festivities!
“Thinking “I deserve to be successful,” or “I work smart, not hard” are two examples of mindsets that can hinder your growth.”
Among my entrepreneurial friends we joke about being a “ 5 year (or more!) overnight success”. I have yet to meet a successful person who has not worked exceedingly hard to be where they are. Success often seems easier than it actually was to achieve in hindsight, at least when you are looking from the outside in.
Yet some people do make it seem easier than others, and there are definitely those who find a faster track to get where they want to go.
The real key to what may seem like magical or “lucky” success is more often than not working smart.
So if you want to learn to work smarter, here are 3 three habits of highly successful people for you to emulate:
Stay ruthlessly focused.
Far too many ambitious and capable people suffer from the affliction of “shiny object syndrome”. Successful people by their nature are often insatiably curious which is the source of innovative ideas and abundant energy. Yet that curiosity can also send you down rabbit holes disguised as great opportunities.
The most successful people channel their curiosity into their very narrow focus.
They also know they can’t do everything so they make choices in their business and life that support them in achieving their very clear and narrowly focused goals.
They say no without apology, and are ruthlessly selective about who and what they say yes to.
They learn from other people’s mistakes, not just their own.
Experience is a valuable teacher, so the most successful people learn from other people’s experience as much as they own. Hindsight is indeed 20-20 so they actively find ways to leverage the hindsight of others who have gone before them. Whether it’s a mentor, a teacher or methodical research they endeavor to prevent unnecessary missteps and even some failures by learning from the experience of others. They also model the successful behaviors, beliefs, approaches and actions of others who have achieved what they aspire to achieve next. They refuse to waste time “reinventing the wheel” whenever possible.
Of course, they make mistakes of their own despite their best efforts to prevent them. When they do, however, the most successful people own and learn from their own mistakes and failures.
They choose to work hard on the things that matter most.
The most successful people thrive on earning their success and find hard work satisfying. Yet, the most successful people also hate working hard doing things that waste time and making unnecessary mistakes. They recognize there are often no shortcuts so they endeavor to invest themselves in doing what matters most and doing it to the best of their ability.
While working smart may seem to come more naturally to the most successful people among us, the real source of consistently smart decisions comes from the
So if you want to work smarter to ensure your hard work pays off, here are a few practices you can adopt immediately from the habits of the most successful among us:
Get clear about what you want
Maintain a ruthless focus on what you want by using it as a basis for your everyday choices
Channel your curiosity with focus and discipline so you can learn from others and become the best at what you choose to do
Start doing all three of these things now and you will add smarts to your hard work and earn your way to the success you want.
Have you ever wondered why some “thank you’s” seem more sincere and heartfelt than others?
There are people who just seem to have the knack for making others feel truly appreciated. However, I’d like you to consider that this isn’t a personality thing – it is something anyone can learn to do.
Some of the most common “thank you’s” start like this…
…Thank you for all you do.
…Thank you for all of your hard work throughout the year.
These the are the kinds of things we say to the people who work for us and with us. And when the sentiment behind the words is sincere, it truly matters that we say these things. It means something that we take the time to both publicly and privately appreciate the people who work for and with us even when it is expected at this time of year.
But what does it take to make your words of appreciation actually leave others feeling truly appreciated?
Of course, there are some leaders who are more eloquent than others, who know how and when to say just the right thing, or who easily speak from their heart in a way that touches people.
But regardless of your skill or comfort with words or delivery, there is something all of us can do to make our appreciation of others really hit home.
Consider this: General kinds of appreciation are good. Specific acknowledgments are even better.
The key to making others feel appreciated is to be specific.
Why? Because it tells people you are really paying attention…to them.
Here are some ideas for ensuring you make people feel appreciated when you thank them:
This is what you did that really mattered to me, to our company, to our customers…and give examples.
Look at what we accomplished this year. We could not have done it without you…and here is what you did or provided or how you approached things that made THE difference.
Share a memorable story that demonstrates who they are and what they do or did that you appreciate.
People want to know that they matter. So take this opportunity to make your “thank you’s” really count!
Can you think of a “thank you” that stayed with you long after the message was delivered? What made the difference for you?
Does success mean checking things off of your “to do” list or project plan, or does success mean achieving an outcome or result that is strategic and matters to you or others?
…when you go to college, do you ultimately aspire to get a degree or to get a good paying job?
…when you implement a new system, is success defined by turning the system “on” or by what your company can now do or do better because you put that system in place?
…when you implement a new marketing plan, is success declared the day you launch that new campaign or do you wait to declare success when you reach your sales target?
Of course, it is important to celebrate the completion of the things we set out to do. Getting a degree, implementing a new system, and developing a new marketing plan are all things that take hard work and should be celebrated.
But they aren’t necessarily results in and of themselves. And they may not even lead to the results you expect or want.
…You can get a degree and end up with debt rather than with a great paying job.
…You can implement a new system and it can create confusion and frustration making you less efficient.
…You can invest in creating a new marketing plan and fail to increase sales enough to make that plan worth the investment.
These are examples of the cost of failing to think strategically in everything you do.
The truth is that most action plans are not strategic, and that may be costing you and your team or organization more time, money and satisfaction than you realize.
In working with thousands of leaders around the world I continue to be amazed at the degree to which the concept of strategy is so widely misunderstood. In part, this is because some believe strategy is only the job of the people at the very top in an organization. Yet even at the executive levels in organizations I often heat about strategic planning meetings that produce action plans that are not based on a solid foundation of strategic thinking.
What makes an action plan strategic?
The Webster definition of “strategy” is “a plan of action”, and the definition of “strategic” is “crucial”. So it follows that a Strategic Plan is a “crucial plan of action”.
Sounds simple, right?
People certainly get the planning and the action part. However, there is one ingredient that distinguishes a strategic plan from any other plan of action.
It’s this one ingredient that makes it a “crucial” plan and it isn’t evident in the definition.
The one thing that makes an action plan strategic is the promise of an outcome.
I use the word “promise” because a strategic action plan is more than just a direction – it defines specifically what success looks like in terms of outcomes that can be measured or observed.
Success in executing a strategic plan is declared, not based on the completion of the actions themselves, but by the value ultimately created by the actions taken.
Why do leaders need to be more strategic?
Leaders are counted on to deliver results that matter. To reliably deliver results that matter you must think and act strategically in everything you do. Effective leaders…
…predict the future by promising to deliver a future as they define it, and then rigorously ensure they make it so.
…begin with the end in mind, and ensure the tactics over time deliver on that outcome.
…adjust course along the way as “as intentions collide with and accommodate a changing reality” (Henry Minztberg).
Even while adjusting course, effective leaders never lose sight of the end game – the reason why they and their team or organization do what they do, as well as the specific definition of how they will know they have succeeded.
Now take a look at your latest action plan and ask yourself: are you truly being strategic?
As a professional, have you ever felt like a fraud – like somehow you were less than who and what you portray to the world?
Now the word “fraud” might seem a bit dramatic, but you might be surprised to know just how often I have heard this exact word used by my clients through the years. I’ve even heard stories of Nobel Prize winners who have shared about feeling this way.
The bottom line is we can be very hard on ourselves.
It is tempting to set expectations so high that we inevitably end up feeling some level of failure or disappointment in ourselves, even when the people around us are telling us we are fine and even doing great. It is natural to worry about whether we are living up to others expectations, let alone our own.
My good friend Tina Lange, an exceptional PR Professional, recently gave a talk about the keys to success in life and business.
She shared that she had noticed that when she asked herself, “what are my weaknesses?”, she found the list to be very long and easy to generate. But when she asked, “what are my strengths?” it was harder to answer and the list was much shorter.
During her talk she asked a question that has stuck with me:
Employees, whether they know it or not, tend to play “follow the leader. They may admire your ingenuity or just want a little more spending money. Whatever it is, they mimic your behavior because they think it will make them successful. The problem is that leaders often exhibit unhealthy behaviors that cause them to work late nights without taking crucial breaks that recharge their batteries and improve their performance.
According to the Kelly Global Workforce Index, seventy-four percent of employees feel less loyal to their employer after the first year. What’s more, according to the University of Phoenix, nearly 60 percent of all American workers wish they were in a different career.
There are also studies that show that workaholism isn’t just unhealthy, it’s detrimental to the productivity of both yourself and others. In my upcoming book The Power of Having Fun, I discuss ways to improve this by finding a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly “Oasis.”
Imagine you’re in the Mojave desert. You are hundreds of miles from civilization. You’re rationing food and water and you need to make it to civilization before you starve. Your lips are beginning to chap and you’re sunburned beyond belief.
Then, inexplicably, in this barren wasteland, you are greeted by a pool of the bluest drinking water you’ve ever seen. There’s papaya juice, fresh seafood, and a chase lounge comfortable enough to rest any weary traveler.
This oasis is exactly what you need to continue the journey and to get where you’re trying to go. As a manager, your Work Oasis is exactly what you need to get through your day. Only it’s not a mirage. It’s very real.
You Come First
Establishing an Oasis is incredibly simple. The first step is to schedule this time with yourself every day. Literally, put it on your calendar. Your Oasis can be whatever you’d like it to be. Maybe you enjoy taking a bike ride through the parking lot or a quick trip down a YouTube wormhole.
One of my regular clients scheduled an appointment each day to visit Bessie the Cow. She’d leave her office, walk up the hill to a local pasture, pet the cow on the nose and then head back to work. Whether your moment of relaxation is of the bovine, canine, or alone time variety, any type of Oasis can work―as long as it’s meaningful to you!
Your employees should notice a change in your behavior and a change in the culture and mimic you accordingly.
The Institutional Oasis
If the free market of workplace behaviors doesn’t move the needle for your team, it’s your responsibility as a leader to institute and encourage taking breaks.
However, instead of setting the parameters for what constitutes a break, ask them what kind of break would be meaningful to them. Ask them what they like to do for fun. You shouldn’t encourage them to read when what they really want to do is play video games. You shouldn’t send them TED talks when what they really want to do is take long walks.
Taking Things Up a Notch
Eventually, you may find an opportunity in your budget for a more expensive Work Oasis, such as a company picnic. In my coaching experience, I’ve found leaders get the best results when they make these breaks less about the activity and more about self-directed fun. For example, company off-sites to the local bowling alley don’t appeal to everyone. Between the bowling shoes and the loud noises, you stand to turn some people off. The same can be said for a golf day, a video game day, or a insert some clever activity here day. In the land of fun, flexibility is key.
Consider instituting a day like LinkedIn’s monthly InDay. Each InDay, employees engage in personal projects meant to reflect their own personal goals and to create a positive impact.
Winning Your Employees
By becoming an advocate of employee fun, you are more likely to turn the tide of the negative workplace stats I listed earlier. As a leader, your goals are often focused on performance result―as they should be. Always remember that getting stuff done and having more fun go hand-in-hand. By taking more time for yourself, setting a fun-positive example, and granting that privilege to others, you become a more productive leader.
Dave Crenshaw is a Productive Leadership Mentor, and author of The Power of Having Fun. He has appeared in TIME magazine, USA Today, FastCompany, and the BBC News, and his courses on LinkedIn Learning have received millions of views.