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There is no shortage of leadership advice available for everyone from CEOs of major corporations to the managers of small stores; however, many of the resources available lack the perspective of Positive Psychology.
“Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy, and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.”
– Peter F. Drucker
Here are 4 ways for leaders to use the theories and practices promoted by Positive Psychology for the betterment of their employees.
1. Encourage Autonomy
There are a plethora of strategies on team building and working toward the common good, but when it all comes down to it, each employee needs to be his or her best, always able to reach closer to their own personal goals and potential.
In a well-working place of employment, employees are able to truly be themselves. They are encouraged to identify and develop their own specific goals, skills and interests. In turn, as they improve and grow, so will their work and the product they create.
Autonomy is that inherent, often unteachable ability to monitor and assess one’s own growth and potential. Leaders should see each of their employees as unique, irreplaceable individuals. Any person can fill a position, but each person will do his or her job in an exclusively personal way, and affect everyone around them in a particular way. It is that individuality that should be investigated and invested in. That is where the magic lies.
Furthermore, each individual represents an entire community – family and friends outside of the workplace who value them, participate in their lives, benefit from their time, and pour their own lives into them. Whether or not a leader realizes the impact of this outer community, those lives, strengths, skills and goals affect the worker’s team as well. Recognizing this and encouraging employees to invest in all areas of their lives is among the healthiest things a leader can do.
Finally, regarding autonomy, it is vital for leaders to acknowledge their own personal community, investing not only in work-related relationships, but enjoying and balancing those with healthy relationships away from the office. Leaders should harness their own unique personality and invest in developing as a person, not just as a boss.
2. Fostering Connectivity
“If I were going to bet on what would really cultivate well-being in the workplace, I would bet on positive relationships.”
Many leadership strategists have wonderful suggestions for networking and creating opportunities for establishing a working community, as well as creating opportunities to help employees network outside of the company. Most of these include communal meals, group outings, and after-hours or personal time spent in socializing amongst the work-family.
Surely, it is positive and helpful to provide opportunity and support for people to interact. Many times, a leader is expected to be a bridge between people who may not know how to connect with each other independently. It is the leader’s job to promote opportunities for people to discover commonalities and mutual interests, and this is no short order.
Something that few leaders seem to consider, or value, though, is that not all employees are comfortable sharing personal information, goals, dreams, and aspirations with people who are practically strangers.
Asking some people to be vulnerable requires a significant investment from a leader, and relationships, as a rule, take time. One cannot ask someone they’ve only just met to unquestionably trust them.
On the other hand, some people are so enthusiastic to form relationships that they go on overdrive and seem to hardly find time to fit the work aspect of work into their busy social schedule. These extroverts thrive on social interaction and use it like fuel; whereas, those who are more hesitant seem to lose steam with each new ice breaker or meal with the team.
Finding a balance can be difficult, especially if the leader fits into one of these more extreme personality categories.
Asking employees to genuinely trust each other is requiring a level of vulnerability that cannot be expected without some investment from all parties involved. And that it is not only acceptable, it’s necessary. Allowing connectivity time and space to grow organically may seem like a risk in regards to team building, but there are some employees who will not genuinely connect in an environment in which they do not feel “safe” and autonomous.
In fact, even those “free-sharing” folks may have never reached beyond surface relationships and trust, and may equally benefit from the valuable experience of long-term relationship building to understand how important that element can be to create a truly harmonious team.
Also, a word about that one employee who will not socialize, will not go out for happy hour with the team, and seems to hold their secrets close: give them the time and space they crave, though it may seem to be taking an extreme amount of time. Never quit inviting them to things without pressure to attend.
Introverts are often an overlooked asset, and those employees may have a whole array of hidden skills and strengths that they’ve never been comfortable enough to share. Approach them gently and with respect, and in time, that investment will very likely be rewarded, possibly in positive ways no one ever imagined.
Leaders set the tone for what things should be comfortable territory for employees. Showing respect to each individual’s connecting process promotes deep respect for each other and dignifies all personality types. Valuing these differences gives “permission” to create a diverse norm amongst workers.
3. Dealing With Negativity
Life happens, and failure and negative emotions will occur. It’s important to educate yourself and others about why strong negative emotions and failure are not only valuable, but vital to success.
Strong negative emotions are unpleasant to experience personally and uncomfortable for most people to deal with in another person; however, they are significant in creating change. It is important to model dealing with strong emotions as valuable opportunities rather than as something to avoid.
In addition, if someone is willing to trust their coworkers with their negative emotions, that can be an advantage, as it shows either a profound level of trust within the group or challenge for the group to communicate openly on that deeper emotional level.
Harnessing the potential of change and reframing the negativity to enhance the positive aspects of the situation gives a group an unequivocable edge. That being said, negative emotions should be valued and honored, not something to avoid or ignore. Expressing these emotions and dealing with them as part of the human experience will convey value to employees as whole individuals, rather than just appreciating them when everything is going well and positive.
With this, there should be a disclaimer included: abusive anger and long-term, deep sadness is not typical, and may need to be dealt with in a different manner in order to support that individual and the team. Sharing those extreme emotions requires more professional support and should not be the full responsibility of the workplace family.
Failure is another difficult area, and providing a “cushion” for people who are learning new or difficult skills so that they can practice until they are able to succeed is very important. Providing support for growth, and expecting and planning for failure is extremely valuable.
Employees, after all, are not merely machine cogs, expected to manufacture a perfect product at every turn. Create an atmosphere that breeds creativity and is flexible enough to discover new and valid ways of production, and along with failure, the subsequent successes will become richer.
4. Letting Go
Leaders have a lot of responsibility, and there are so many variables to success that there is a tendency to want to control people and situations. Successful leaders resist the temptation, and embrace the potential that is the payoff for welcoming the unknown.
Teaching employees what to do in certain situations, giving them the avenues to find the tools they need, and encouraging all efforts will be beneficial to the group as a whole, making the team stronger.
Leaders accept the risk of letting go of certainty in exchange for genuine community, powerful and deep relationships, allowing the community to influence the outcome of the team, team members engaging in autonomous success in addition to team success, and watching employees blossom and grow in all aspects of human life.
“You don’t build a business. You build people and then people build the business.”