Remember when your mom said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? As usual, she knew what she was talking about.
As leaders, we often see it as our responsibility to fix what is “wrong” with our organization. We focus on problem-solving, thinking the fastest way to reach our goals is to eliminate our organizational shortcomings. Here’s the down side of that line of thinking: what we focus on becomes our reality. So if we focus on problems, on what is wrong, then that is what we see — often overlooking or giving less weight to those positive things that aren’t consistent with our problem-solving lens.
What if, instead, we focus our attention on appreciating what our organization does exceptionally well, and encourage our staff to do more of those things? That is the focus of Appreciative Inquiry, and the research on this change management strategy is compelling. According to Sue Annis Hammond high performing teams had a 6:1 “positivity” ratio. They focused on the positive, and doing more of what they did well, six times as often as they focused on deficits or doing less of what they did wrong. What you focus on grows. Take a day and truly listen to the conversations occurring in your organization. Make note of the positive or negative tone of the interactions.
• Are meetings and conversations dominated by commiserating and problem-solving, or is there a positive focus to the dialog?
• Is there fear and uncertainty or a sense of anticipation when staff talk about the future?
• When considering organizational change, is attention focused on the possibilities or the pitfalls?
• Is there a receptivity to learning and growing or a sense of helplessness to impact a situation?
• Is there an effort to reframe situations in positive terms or is the focus primarily on obstacles?
Based on your observations, consider if your organization is more appreciative or deficit-oriented. Negativity can easily creep in and suck the energy and forward momentum out of your organization. If that’s a situation you find yourself in as a leader, then maybe it’s time to get back to your mother’s wisdom and say something positive.
Even in the most challenging of situations, you can focus on the proven skills of your team to help move you to a more positive place. I remember an extremely challenging time in our organization where we repeatedly said, “Our organization is going to be stronger for walking through this.” We believed it. We walked through it. And we are stronger as a result. We used a positive lens and what we focused on — our ability to not just survive, but to thrive — grew. You already have the skills to do the same thing in your own organization. And the next time you see her, be sure to tell your mom thanks!