I was talking recently to the head of Executive Education at a business school here in the UK about Positive Psychology. It was going well, I thought – and then he asked me one of those beautifully simple, yet outrageously complex questions, “So what does this all mean a leader should do differently?” Not how should they be different in themselves, or how should they be coached differently – but what should they actually DO?
If I remember rightly I came up with a passable answer but as I drove home that evening it was what I didn’t say that came to mind (as it so often does!) – and I think I missed out one important element.
Psychological Capital by Luthans, Youssef and Avolio suggests that an individual, or even an organization, can gain competitive advantage through the attainment and growth of efficacy, hope, optimism and resiliency. My own article in January talked about the positive psychology constructs which might contribute to employee engagement and thus to productivity.
So what is one of the things a leader should do?Assess and measure positive constructs within themselves and within their organization – and respond accordingly. If the evidence is pointing towards a relationship between these characteristics of our psychological make-up and thriving, sustainable performance or engagement – wouldn’t you as a leader want to how much of them you’ve got? For some leaders it may be enough to develop their own “barometer”- an awareness and appreciation of how these constructs are faring within their own organization. For others it might mean hard measurement. Many “people measures” that we use measure the consequences of a lack of these positive elements such as turnover, and absenteeism or stress. Others measure something closer to the output required such as productivity or employee engagement.
The analogy for me is one of production. If you’re making Potato Chips (something I know a little about) you don’t wait until they are “in the bag” and leave it to the consumer to tell you there’s a problem. To make the best possible Potato Chip you measure each component of the manufacturing process so that you can spot problems early – the raw ingredients, the peeling, slicing, frying, flavoring, and packaging. If leaders are to make flourishing, engaged organizations a reality, they must actively manage the hope, resilience, efficacy, strengths orientation, levels of meaning and social connections within their organizations in the same way they do quality, safety and costs. They then stand a better chance of creating the kind of sustainable high performance that is good for all.
Luthans, F., Youssef, C. & Avolio, B. (2006). Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. Oxford University Press.
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