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A blog by Ryan Quinn, Robert Quinn, Shawn Quinn, and Amy Lemley

Archive for the ‘Energizing the Workplace’ Category

Becoming a Leader: A Positive Lesson from Failing CEOs

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

Some CEOs become so focused on profit that they cannot generate it. This fact is of great importance to you because it means you can acquire capacities unavailable to many executives. It means you can lead more effectively than the people above you. It means you can assure yourself of a successful leadership career.

A Sobering Message

Yesterday I received a message from a friend who has spent his life as a consultant. In his message he makes an observation about the behavior of CEOs: Having worked with CEOs from around the world for a long time, and getting to know some of them very well over time, I have found only a small handful whose decisions and behaviors are evidence of purposeful governance and leadership. Many others, yielding to pressure from board and market expectations, work as slaves to the top and bottom line. When getting into conversations about the importance of “noble purpose” in business performance, they talk about getting to “purpose” as soon as the numbers are right.

I see a frightful amount of ego in many, wishing to best others in terms of numbers in the news. Interestingly, many of these work in the financial markets. Then there are always those who inspire the world by mindful and even heroic actions, but I see the scale tipping in the direction of “profit”- minded leaders, in some cases even despite best intentions.

The Economics of Positive Leadership

Anjan Thakor and I recently wrote a paper in which we talk about the process of imbuing an organization with higher purpose. We point out that many organizations perform below their potential. They comprise self-interested people playing zero-sum games, pursuing external rewards, engaging in conflicts, and living in alienated relationships.

Yet it is possible for those same people to willingly pursue the common good, to value intrinsic rewards, live in trust, and experience high collaboration. This transformation occurs when an organization is imbued with a higher purpose. In another paper, Anjan and I provide a mathematical model demonstrating that when a leader introduces higher purpose, the human system is transformed and becomes more productive. We suggest that the mathematical model provides an economic foundation for the practice of positive leadership.

A Surprising Discovery

After building our model, we wondered how the heads of organizations think and behave regarding higher purpose. We conducted 30 interviews, but with an incorrect assumption that all organization leaders would value higher purpose. The majority told us they did not. When they first took over, many did not see the value of higher purpose; some even belittled the notion.

This taught us an interesting lesson. Executives tend to be steeped in the assumptions of microeconomics: They are busy and hunger for task completion. The belief in normal microeconomic assumptions leads to a focus on motivation through the manipulation of external rewards. In that context, creating purpose and meaning may seem like a waste of time.

Pressure may lead to the search for easy tasks with high payoffs, not the grueling task of understanding the deep needs of stakeholders and articulating a vision, believing it, living it, and communicating it over and over. The need for task completion may work against the notion of continually monitoring and revitalizing the meaning “system.”

There is a natural pull for executives, even CEOs, to be managers rather than leaders. They can become so focused on profit that they cannot generate profit because they cannot release the human commitment that lies dormant in the organization. The work force does not flourish or exceed expectations.

The Opportunity

This blindness is your opportunity. In the opening message from my friend, he suggests many CEOs yield to the very real external pressures and become narrowly focused on profit. They become ego-involved and competitive, desiring to be recognized for generating profit. Hence they have no use for higher purpose and the creation of meaning. In the search for profit, they become disconnected a powerful generator of profit, a connected and focused work force.

This dynamic becomes your opportunity as a leader. In any position, at any level, you can focus on your highest responsibility: to provide “purposeful governance and leadership.” If you dedicate yourself to learning how to imbue an organization with purpose, your chances of succeeding at every level go up. You will be able to do what many CEOs cannot.

Lead from the Positive by Cultivating a Grade-School Classroom’s “Culture of ‘Can’”

Monday, February 11th, 2013

By Amy Lemley

No manager wants to “baby” his or her employees. Who has time? Yet borrowing some ideas from the grade-school classroom can bring positive leadership into play in a way that is meaningful at an adult level—no babying necessary.

A recent post by InformED blogger Julie DeNeen identified 20 tenets schoolteachers can use to create “a culture of ‘can’” for their pupils. Those practices read like a page from the positive leadership playbook:

1. Make It a Safe Place to Fail

2. Encourage Curiosity

3. Give Your Students a Voice

4. Tiered Responsibility—“show me, teach me, let me”

5. Foster Peer Support

6. Use Natural Consequences

7. Confidence Building

8. Model How to Learn

9. Don’t Impose Limitations

10. Use Real-Life Examples of Perseverance

11. Teach Students How To Set Manageable Goals

12. Teach Students How to Overcome Disappointment

13. Reward Attitude, Not Just Aptitude

14. Believe in Their Abilities

15. Accept the “Mess”

16. Offer Reflection after the Project Is Over

17. Give Immediate Feedback

18. Give both Short and Long-Term Assignments

19. Identify Obstacles and Negative Beliefs

20. Let Go of the Idea That a Student’s Success Reflects on You

When we picture a classroom full of children, I think most of us imagine it as a place where these 20 tenets are in play. Boys and girls, young men and young women, engage with each other and with their teachers openly and without fear of ridicule, receive constructive feedback that supports them to try, try again. Their teachers show them how to learn and learn with them. And their self-confidence grows.

In recent weeks, Lift Blog cofounder Bob Quinn wrote a six-part series for educators and managers about teaching positive leadership. Last week, Ryan Quinn looked at two ways issuing “positive tickets” when young people were doing something right had made a quantifiable difference in their behavior.

As I read Julie DeNeen’s article, it occurred to me that, whether we are four or forty, we respond best to a positive leadership framework. It’s only natural. We look to our leaders—parents and teachers when we’re young, supervisors and senior executives when we’re adults—to, in Bob Quinn’s words, “create the space” in which we can succeed. When we enter that space, whether as employees or students and as leaders, our potential expands, and so do our achievements.

Conditioning Ourselves with the Positive

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

By Ryan W. Quinn

One of positive leadership’s essential features is creating a culture of positivity.  Last semester, on the final day of class, I had my students read a blog entry from the Harvard Business Review that presented a compelling example of this tenet in action.

It was entitled “Can We Reverse the Stanford Prison Experiment?” In that now-famous 1971 experiment, Philip Zimbardo randomly assigned Stanford undergraduates to be either prison wardens or prisoners and confined them to a basement for one week. Participants not only adopted their roles, but actually became their roles, with the prison wardens ultimately abusing their prisoners to such an extent that Zimbardo had to stop the experiment early.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is now a classic in the lore of social psychology, often cited among the best illustrations of how people’s behavior tends to be driven much more by their circumstances than by individual values and conscious choice. People familiar with it were not shocked by the U.S. military abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2003–04, even if they were disappointed that we still don’t seem to have learned much from 40 years of social psychology research.

Some recent events in the sciences of the positive suggest that, maybe, we have learned a little more than we might have originally thought.

Reversing the Experiment

The HBR piece did not actually focus on the Stanford Prison Experiment, but on what could be characterized as its opposite: A program that generated exceptionally positive results instead of exceptionally negative ones.

In Richmond, Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) addressed a spiraling youth crime rate with a novel idea—giving “positive tickets” to youth they discovered doing a good thing for the community; these tickets entitled them to free entry at the movies or a youth center.

In one year, they gave out three times as many positive tickets as negative ones. During that year, recidivism reduced from 60% to 8%, youth crime reduced by half, and overall crime reduced by 40%. And the cost of positive tickets was just 10% of the cost of processing the previous years’ crimes. (more…)

Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 5: A New Rule for Designing Meetings

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

This six-part series, “Teaching and Leading Positively,” explores the goals of teaching positive leadership: not merely to serve as an instructor conveying the theories or practices drawn for positive organizational scholarship, but to prompt lasting transformation in the way our students work and live. Serving as this kind of catalyst requires full engagement on our part. We must live from the positive leadership framework, allowing our students to learn by our example, each other’s, and their own.

One reason I write a gratitude journal is to increase my positivity level. Sometimes it works. One morning after writing, for example, I drove to the University of Michigan, where I teach (as most Lift blog readers know). As I stepped out of the car, I was teeming with positivity. This is a big claim. How do I know that my claim is true? I know it is true because there was tangible evidence. First, I was full of joy. The feeling was real. Second, I had a huge smile on my face. The smile was real. Third, I began to change the world. The change in the world was real.

As I walked by strangers who would have ignored me, I greeted them. They looked at me, and they lit up. As I walked from my office to a meeting, this phenomenon continued. I greeted each student with positive emotion, and each responded very differently than I usually observe when I walk down that hallway.

I walked into the meeting, and I consciously greeted each person with joy. People lit up, and I felt great because they felt better. Then something shifted. A half-hour into this typical two-hour information exchange, my positivity was gone. (more…)

Positive Leadership in Action: Prudential’s Jim Mallozzi Shows How It Works

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

By Amy Lemley

How would you unify more than 50,000 employees worldwide? Ask Jim Mallozzi, chairman and CEO of Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services.

The answer? Positive organizational scholarship (POS). As a senior VP in Prudential’s retirement division, Mallozzi became acquainted with the field eight years ago. That’s when he met Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship cofounders Kim Cameron and Bob Quinn (also a partner in Lift Consulting and my fellow Lift blogger). A colleague who was a University of Michigan Ross business school grad, introduced them, and Mallozzi was hooked.

In 2009, Mallozzi ascended to chairman and CEO of Prudential Real Estate and Relocation Services. Positive leadership principles seemed like a natural place to turn for corporate transformation.

In 2011—at the height of a difficult time in the relocation sector—Brookfield Residential Property Services acquired his company. This move creating a change management opportunity in which positive leadership was equally relevant.

Kim Cameron and Emily Plews (MBA/SA ’10) interviewed Mallozzi for the April 2012 issue of Organizational Dynamics. In the article, Mallozzi talks about how he and his employees have implemented some of its core concepts. He listed three examples of initiatives that made a difference:

  • -The reflected best-self feedback process, which we became really good at.
  •  -The use of the competing values framework, which is how we demonstrated respect for each other in terms of what unique attributes each person brought to the table.
  •  -The development of an Everest goal, or what we aspired to be and what we stood for.

POS posted a video of an extraordinary Positive Links presentation in which Mallozzi quite candidly discusses where things stood at Prudential and how positive leadership came to permeate its culture.

The February 2012 session—which Mallozzi calls “a great adventure and a great honor”—is entitled “Saving Private Ryan: Hard-Fought Lessons in Creating a Positively Deviant Organization.” It’s an hour and 20 minutes long and well worth your time. Click play, sit back, and enjoy.

From Emotional Labor to Emotional Opportunity: How Personal Investment in Work Pays Off

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

By Ryan W. Quinn

I walked into a restaurant a few weeks ago and was impressed with the person behind the counter. He was a fiftyish man named Jim, and he was smiling and laughing and appeared genuinely happy to be there.

He called people by nicknames, made them laugh, and engaged them about their orders. Everyone who ordered walked away from the counter smiling. If I lived in that community and wanted to get a bite to eat, I would be more likely to choose that restaurant just because that man was working there.

Emotional Labor

Since that day, I have had a number of conversations with colleagues about a concept known as emotional labor. Simply explained, the key idea behind emotional labor is that when people’s work settings require them to display emotions they do not feel, it has a negative impact on their physical and psychological health and can sometimes negatively affect social relationships later on. These are real costs, and they should be taken seriously.

Was the jovial restaurant worker just going through the motions because his work required it? Or was his good cheer authentic? I think it was real. And just as there are costs to emotional labor, there are benefits to feeling and displaying positive emotions on the job. (more…)

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: When Employees Help Each Other, Organizational Commitment Grows

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

By Amy Lemley

Here’s a study finding that may surprise you: Organizations that establish employee support programs engender greater commitment when they provide a chance for workers to contribute time or money to help their colleagues.

In Shawn’s blog entry two days ago, he shared how his cousin’s firefighter colleagues have taken all his shifts while he and his wife spend their days with their son, who is in a hospital four hours from home after being injured in a car accident. Not only are they protecting his job, but they have also arranged for the pay to go to him.

Because their organization approved this, the study findings would suggest, these firefighters are likely to be more committed to the fire company. The study also found that they probably feel grateful for the chance to make a difference, further engendering their commitment.

Typically, organizations believe workers place value in employee assistance programs for what they can get from them. But this study, says coauthor Jane Dutton, saw benefits far beyond “What’s in it for me?”:

-Individuals defined themselves more positively.

-Organizational commitment grew.

-Organizational citizenship was enhanced.

With Dutton, lead author Adam Grant (author of the study I discussed in my last entry), and Brent Russo surveyed about 300 managers and employees of Borders bookstores. Published in the Academy of Management Journal in 2008, their paper “Giving Commitment: Employee Support Programs and the Prosocial Sensemaking Process” examined the company’s employee assistance program, which is specifically designed to help co-workers who are struggling.

This opportunity engenders goodwill by giving employees the chance to make a difference, whether with confidential financial help or via something more public like bereavement baskets for colleagues who have lost loved ones.

One staff member reported feeling like a “better person” because he or she could make a difference. Said another, “It made me feel good to know that the money I give out of my paycheck goes to help someone within this company.”

Knowing the company allows for giving has heightened employee commitment. “How attached do I feel to the company?” an employee asked. “Very attached.”

Companies that have added the employee-giving component include Southwest Airlines, Domino’s Pizza, the Limited, and First Engineering Corporation. Will yours be among them?

Dutton has a few suggestions managers can follow to promote success:

-Introduce the employee support program.

-Make it simple for employees to give as well as receive.

-Communicate ways employees can give (e.g., financial donations, peer-to-peer support).

-Actively support the program by modeling participation, not relying on the program’s existence to promote itself.

-Subtly highlight the company’s own contributions to the programs (e.g., matching donations).

 Chances are, the change in your organization will be palpable: individuals will be more fulfilled, the work force as a whole will make an increased commitment to your organization, and your organization will enjoy an enhanced sense of citizenship). It’s what you might call a win-win-win.

Leading Change: Is “What’s In It for Me?” the Right Question to Ask?

Monday, September 24th, 2012

By Shawn E. Quinn

When I talk to executives who are trying to effect some kind of change in their people, they often work from one of the basic processes for leading change. Typically, they’ll start by looking for the burning platform and trying to think through what the benefit is for each person whom the change will affect. 

But is “What’s in it for me?” the right question to ask during the change process? Some PhD students a colleague of mine was supervising challenged that assumption with a simple but telling experiment. 

Doctoral candidate Adam Grant learned the University of Michigan Health System hospital was always trying to make sure all people using the bathrooms were regularly washing their hands to reduce the spread of germs.  Grant and his colleague David Hofmann got to thinking about motivation, and a study was born. In half the bathrooms, signs were posted that read, “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.”  In the other half, “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.” 

At the end of the study period, Grant and Hofmann went back to see how much hand gel (soap) had been used in each bathroom.  Had the signage increased hand gel use? (more…)

Full-Bodied Work: Put Both Mind and Body into What You Do and Get a Better Result

Monday, August 20th, 2012

By Ryan W. Quinn

A co-worker of mine once reminded me, as we were both working, of a story we both new in which the main character was challenged for his lack of enthusiasm. Implicit in his reminder was a question: “Should we be more enthusiastic?” I pondered the story for a moment. Then, I took off running.

For the next hour, I literally ran from task to task. My co-worker tried to keep up, but found it difficult to because he was laughing so hard. Every person I encountered for the next hour was surprised by the energy they felt as I approached them. Almost everyone responded positively to requests I made of them—requests that had often been denied in the past. My performance in that hour was higher than it had ever been in any other single hour I had ever worked.


Why Do Organizational Change Efforts Fail?: A Discussion from the Deep Change Field Guide

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

By Robert E. Quinn

This year, Jossey-Bass published The Deep Change Field Guide: A Personal Course to Discovering the Leader Within. It is an update and rewrite of my bestselling book Deep Change.  This self-guided course helps you become an effective agent of change.  Each chapter is linked to a Hollywood movie: Moneyball; Norma Rae; The King’s Speech; The Devil Wears Prada; Remember the Titans; Stand and Deliver; Dead Poets Society; and Gandhi.  Each movie serves as a case study in transformation.  Each one allows you to go beyond reading:  You get to see, hear, and be a part of a larger experience.  You can use the book as a personal course, a course you teach to others, or as a set of intervention tools.  In this week’s blog entries, I share ideas from the first chapter.  Here is what Chapter One suggests:

  • Change attempts often fail because of the assumptions we make.
  • We often find ourselves in situations that require us to adapt,but choose to distort reality and deny what the world is telling us.
  • To be excellent, we have to be at the edge, a place of uncertainty and learning.
  • When we are committed to a higher purpose, we move forward through the fear of conflict. As we do, we learn and we see in new ways.

Discussion 1: Why Do Organizational Change Efforts Fail?

An information technology executive’s team had spent months designing a technical change that was about to be launched across the corporation. Other senior people had consistently advised the executive to talk to someone who “understands change in terms of people and culture” before rolling it out. He asked me to come in and speak to his team about how to implement the change process. He also mentioned that his people were not very interested in hearing about the role of culture in their change effort and could see little value in such a visit.

This executive was a highly educated and experienced man. Yet he was about to launch a companywide change without having considered the role of culture in the change process. Such ignorance is unimaginable—it’s the equivalent of learning that your brain surgeon is ignorant of the organ known as the heart. Yet such ignorance is also widespread, to the point of seeming almost epidemic. My radical belief is that many people do not know how to lead change, including people who think they already have. As this executive described his situation, two questions came immediately to mind: Why did he spend months planning a change without considering his company’s culture? Where was he focusing his attention?

I invite you to engage in the same inquiry I suggested to him:

  • Have you ever been involved in leading an organizational change effort? What was the primary focus, the mechanical processes or the needs for human learning involved in the change? What was the result? Looking back, what do you think you should have done differently?
  • How might you plan a change effort to take culture into account? What would you do to be credible when you asked others to change their behavior?

In my next blog entry, we’ll explore another aspect of Deep Change Field Guide‘s Chapter One: “Why Can’t We Learn Our Way into the Implementation of Change?”