The inaugural conference on Positive Psychology and Leadership was held March 19, 2010 at George Mason University (GMU) in Fairfax Virginia.
“We have Stone Age Emotions, Medieval Institutions, and Godlike Technology.”
–E. O. Wilson
The Center for Consciousness and Transformation (CCT) sponsored this outstanding event. Many thanks to the welcoming event team that included members of MasonLEADS! and the GMU Student Health Services.
Leadership with a Small ‘l’
The conference goals included building a global community to support effective, meaningful change on individual, community, and society levels. Meaningful change needs leadership, and each of us can make a positive difference, no matter what our position. That’s called leadership with a small “l”.
Relationship Booster Shot
Dr. Fredrickson talked about how showing gratitude, thoughtfulness, and kindness to others can bring back the “new car smell” of relationships. She suggested five ways to create a mindset of positivity:
- Be Open
- Be Appreciative
- Be Curious
- Be Kind
- Be Real – no false pretenses of positivity
Positive Leadership Strategies
Fostering compassionate responses and gratitude can build a positive climate. CEOs who sent thank you cards to employees increased performance and reduced staff turnover. As illustrated in a story of two airlines, the airline organizations that focused on compassion toward employees after 9/11 were the ones that prevailed. Gratitude changes heart rhythms in a positive way.
Engagement, satisfaction, and family time are better for people who have positive energy at work. “The prescription for leaders is to unleash the heliotropic effect. An energizer of others tends to be a higher performer, Typhoid Mary in reverse.”
What Leaders Need to Know
Dr. James Harter and Dr. Shane Lopez, both from Gallup, gave an inspired, personal, and education-focused panel presentation on what leaders need to know about strengths, hope, engagement, and well-being.
Psychological Flexibility and Appreciative Intelligence
In a panel moderated by Dr. Lois Teitrick, Dr. Todd Kashdan and Dr. Tojo Thatchenkery talked about qualities that characterize extraordinary leaders. According to Kashdan, they are psychologically flexible and open to new experiences. According to Thatchenkery, they also have the ability to see positive potential and act on it, a quality he called Appreciative Intelligence (AI). In response to an audience question about the other AI, Dr. Thatchenkery described Appreciative Inquiry as a process that makes extensive use of the Appreciative Intelligence quality.Dr. Thatchenkery gave several examples of leaders who use appreciative intelligence to think of new ways to approach the world. For example, Muhammad Yunus started by appreciating the commercial abilities latent in people in great need and went on to start Grameen Bank to give them microcredit to start businesses, thereby improving their lives and their communities. According to Yunus, “Development from below also serves to advance democracy.”
Dr. Kashdan defined Psychological Flexibility as “an amazing human capacity to change to situational demands.” He talked about balancing competing desires and needs, and moving toward our valued aims. He discussed the importance of play and how play disappears when we move from childhood to adulthood. He mentioned the companies 3M, Apple, and Google as exemplars of creativity building at work. He also said, “If you are not failing at things, you are not doing creative tasks.” He challenged us to “Go where it is uncomfortable, and see if you can find innovation and energy,” and “Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.”
What Do We Need in Our Leaders?Bill Robertson, chair of the Center for Consciousness and Transformation advisory board and Fran Nurthen from the Mason Institute for Leadership Excellence used the World Cafe model to generate a conversation around desired qualities in leaders. Participants at round tables of 8-10 people reflected on the question, “What are strengths and characteristics leaders need to address society’s challenges, today and tomorrow?” The diverse attendees brainstormed at their tables and the table note taker listed all ideas.
After about 10-15 minutes, the note takers remained at the table and participants were asked to shift to a new table. At the second table meeting, the goal was to review the big list left behind by the earlier table group and identify an ordered list of the 3 most important characteristics of leaders we need.After all results were tallied, Bill and Fran reported that 260 participants had identified 44 different characteristics of leadership, including being a positive energizer, compassionate, future-minded, ethical, purpose-centered, and inspirational. Bill and Fran also reported that 17 different qualities of leadership were rated #1 by different tables. The top 3 most important characteristics of a leader were:
- Positive Communicator
The next Mason Institute for Leadership Excellence program, October 18 to 21, 2010 in Fairfax, Virginia, will focus on building leadership around talents and strengths, leading with influence and integrity, and change.
The event experience was a leadership tipping point; it broadened and built our leadership repertoire and inspired us to realize new insights about the importance of positive practices and excellent leadership in the world.
Algoe, S., Gable, S. & Maisel, N. C. (2010). It’s the little things: Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 17, 217 – 233.
Cameron, K. (2008, 2012). Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance. Edition 2. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler. (Originally posted as edition 1; updated later)
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. Three Rivers Press. Now out in paperback.
Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.
Thatchenkery, T. (2006). Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn San Francisco: Berrett Kohler.
Wagner, R. & Harter, J. (2006). 12: The Elements of Great Managing. Gallup Press.
Tipping point image from Leadership and Positive Psychology Conference Web site
Barbara Fredrickson photo by Jeff Chappell
Kim Cameron from University of Michigan Business School
Muhammad Yunus from Wikipedia article
World Cafe in Progress and Fran Nurthen Reporting both by Evan Cantwell, George Mason University