Focus On The Positive For Increased Effectiveness

Posted by on Oct 31, 2013 in AdultLeader Practices, Leadership, The Brain | 19 comments

event_79091992Focusing on the positive is more than just positive thinking, and it is not about avoiding or ignoring the negatives or problems.
• It is about strengthening the foundation of the organization by focusing on the successes, wins, strengths, and talents of individuals and teams.
• It is about reducing the stress, anxiety, and general organizational unhappiness that limits our human ability to make good decisions, deal with everyday challenges, be creative and innovative, and learn and grow together.
• It is about making us all happier and improving employee engagement.
• It is a way for leaders to help overcome the natural tendency of the brain to focus on the negative.

“According to Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist, a member of U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center’s advisory board, and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence, our brains are naturally wired to focus on the negative, which can make us feel stressed and unhappy even though there are a lot of positive things in our lives.” He says we have “brains that are incentivized toward seeing the negative… so deliberately looking for the positive… just kind of levels the playing field.” (From How to Build a Happier Brain in The Atlantic by Julie Beck).

If this is true, then leaders have a responsibility to increase focus on the positive in order to reduce stress, anxiety, and general organizational unhappiness and increase employee engagement. There is a real opportunity if we look at the results of some recent studies on employee engagement:
• A recent Towers Watson survey indicated that nearly two–thirds of U.S. employees are not fully engaged in their work and are less productive as a result.
• Dale Carnegie and MSW did a study showing that 29% of the workforce is engaged, 45% are not engaged, and 26% are actively disengaged.
• According to Gallup, over 23 million U.S. workers are actively disengaged.

Focusing on the positive is certainly not the only answer to improving employee engagement. Even if all that happened was to shift your own habits toward a more positive outlook, think of how that might affect your decisions, interactions, communications, and influence.

Here are 3 things you can do to focus on the positive and strengthen your team or organization:
1. Provide real acknowledgment to individuals and teams. Do this often, both formally and informally. This is more than just a pat on the back for a job well done. It is a statement that specifically identifies the positive result. Follow this by naming the strengths, qualities, and behaviors that were exhibited, and the resulting impact on the situation, team or organization.

2. Debrief initiatives, projects, and team and organizational results. Do this more formally. Identify what worked and went well, whether or not it was completely successful.
• What did we accomplish?
• Who was involved?
• How well did we work together across the team or organization?
• Highlight the strengths, positive qualities, and positive behaviors that were exhibited by the individuals and team(s) involved.
• Debrief the processes and communication that worked. You may want to define best practices.
• Follow this by debriefing what didn’t work so well and what needs to improve. Be specific.
• Define next steps. What will we begin changing or improving right now? What will we aspire to in the future? Who will we aspire to become in the future?

3. Provide context and positive evidence in the face of challenge. Challenge will always be present in organizational life. It can be the next big thing that we haven’t tackled before, or a problem we didn’t anticipate and wish we didn’t have to deal with. You can provide evidence of past successes and exhibited abilities. You can highlight the strengths, talents, and qualities that exist on the team. You can provide a larger context that can reframe the challenge into an opportunity for the organization to become more than it was prior to that challenge. You can inspire.

By providing a positive focus, you, as a leader, can strengthen the foundation and inner strength of the individuals, team(s) and/or organization you are responsible for. By counteracting the natural tendency of our brains to focus on the negative, we improve our ability to successfully navigate challenges and problems. If what Dr. Rick Hanson shared is true, we also get to feel less stress and more happiness. Not bad.

What one thing will you choose to practice that will contribute to a more positive focus for you and your team or organization?

Take a moment and send your comments and questions. If you were reminded of something, learned something, or questioned something, taking a moment to write it down will ground your observation and may inspire some future action.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE, BLOG, OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete statement at the end of the article:
© 2013 Stephen Carr Associates, Inc.
Stephen Carr is a successful, Boston-based Executive Leadership Coach. He can be found at AND


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