Positive psychology is all about embracing people's strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. It's based on the premise that all people want to live purposeful and fulfilling lives, desire to be their best selves and strive for happiness in every aspect of their work and personal lives. When leaders approach their management style from this perspective - when they believe in the power of their own people - it can have a transformative effect on how your organization performs.

Here are three ways positive psychology can transform how you lead and how your people perform.

Leading From A Growth Mindset

Perhaps one of the most transformational things about positive psychology from a leadership perspective is its emphasis on helping people develop their strengths rather than focusing on or punishing them for their weaknesses. Weaknesses, after all, are inherent to the human condition - we all have them. But our strengths can often outweigh them, if properly leveraged.

A recent Gallup white paper found that what employees seek most from their employers, after a sense of common and shared purpose, are ongoing coaching and informal conversations about performance rather than infrequent and formal reviews. They're also seeking opportunities to learn and grow. These are preferences that clearly align with the concept of "growth mindset" pioneered by Stanford professor Carol Zwicki.

Zwicki's study of growth mindset was originally oriented toward how the way students viewed their skills and abilities impacted their ability motivation to learn, but more recently it's been applied to the workplace. A "fixed mindset" person views a person's talents as being something they either do or don't have and can't improve, so they are less motivated to work hard to improve. A person with a growth mindset, on the other hand, believes that his own abilities or skills - and those of others - can be improved with effort.

Those who believe they can improve if they keep trying are more motivated to persist with difficult tasks because they believe they can ultimately succeed. They're more willing to try new things because if they fail, they can simply adjust course and try again.

Ultimately, that's the kind of thinking that can play a bigger role in helping your organization succeed than risk aversion and fear of making mistakes that prevents people from bringing their best ideas to the table. Those who believe others can improve are also more motivated to help them in those efforts through coaching and new opportunities.

This approach dovetails nicely with the "fail forward" approach that can drive the innovation and calculated risk taking that's associated with organizational growth. That's why leading with a growth mindset - helping people grow through problems rather than avoiding them - can transform organizations.

Align Personal and Organizational Purpose

Your organization's culture is the result of the purpose it aspires to, the values it's guided by, and the habits that bring its purpose and values to life in a tangible way, every day. These all depend people to make them happen. That's why it's important that leaders know how the organization's purpose aligns with that of its people. Leaders need to know what drives their people. What gets them engaged with the purpose of the organization? Why are they here?

In part, aligning personal and organizational purpose is about understanding how the two aspects of purpose fit together for each person. It's about hiring people that demonstrate care for the purpose your organization is pursuing. And it's also about how you manage and motivate them once they're on board. Unfortunately, on this measure, most organizations aren't doing very well: a recent Gallup poll found that only about 20% of US employees felt that they were managed in a motivating way.

It's also worth noting that in many purposeful organizations that are noted for their culture, the process of letting go of people is an important part of aligning the organizational purpose with that of the individual. Tesla, for instance, made news in recent weeks for letting go about 2% of its workforce that it deemed low performers. The company also said that it would recognize top performers with additional compensation, equity and promotions.

It might not seem like a positive psychology-based management strategy at first glance. However, if you believe that people are happier when they do meaningful work, then after an employee has been given an opportunity to improve, sometimes letting go is actually the most positive thing leaders can do. It allows the individual to move on to the role that is really right for them.

Focus on Relationships

For many employees, workplace relationships - and especially relationships with managers and leaders - are a significant motivating factor in how they feel about the work they do, and the organizations where they do that work. Unfortunately, many leaders underestimate the importance of these relationships.

One of the most demotivating factors for most employees, according to Gallup, is infrequent conversations with their leaders. This makes sense, because if the only time that an employee hears from leaders is during a performance evaluation - even if the results of that evaluation are positive - it leads to the feeling that their work isn't valuable. Employees are seeking more than a pat on the back, "keep up the good work." And if they're struggling, they need more than a "fix it or else."

Managing from a positive psychology perspective requires leaders to take a more hands-on approach to developing their people and helping them find meaning in the work they do. All people want to feel valued - not just for their work, but as individuals. The presence or absence of that feeling of being valued impacts how they feel about the organization, and their role in it.

Studies repeatedly show that an employee's feelings about their work - measured as engagement - has a direct impact on their performance. Organizations in the top quartile for employee engagement were 21% more productive, and 22% more profitable, while also enjoying less turnover, absenteeism and fewer problems with quality, according to another recent Gallup study.

These principles of positive psychology - growing your people, aligning your people with the organization's purpose, and focusing on relationships rather reviews - are transforming how leaders in the best cultures interact with their people. They're not just helping drive stronger business results, but happier and more productive workplaces.

Published on: Oct 30, 2017
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