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

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Pollyanna and the Prisoner’s Penetrating Question: A Reflection on the Positive Perspective

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

Despite a demanding professional schedule, a friend of mine volunteers to work with prisoners. He has a surprisingly high rate of success in helping them turn their lives around.  How does he achieve this? Through authentic conversation. We often talk about his unusual volunteer experiences and how a positive perspective plays a role.  He recently shared a thought-provoking exchange:

Your deep commitment to seeing the good in all things prompted me to engage one of my inmates to talk about the spirit of positive organizational scholarship. Given where he had come from and where he had spent most of his teen and adult life, I was surprised to see the 24-year-old deeply engaged and curious about a life outlook that was very alien to him. His upbringing was pockmarked with series of abuses by his family and “friends,” who saw him as someone to be manipulated and marginalized. After sharing the concept of POS and its effects, he startled me with a simple, yet penetrating question: “How can I trust you when all you see is the good?”

“How would you have responded to him?” my friend asked me. This question is a much more efficient and elegant version of a criticism often leveled at the positive perspective. It suggests that to take a positive view is to ignore or distort reality. It is common to denigrate the positive perspective by saying, “Oh, that’s Pollyanna.” This expression refers to the iconic 1913 novel of the same name in which a girl embraces the silver lining no matter what challenges she encounters. This bestseller inspired movie versions in 1920 and 1960. I had heard that critical expression so many times that I decided to watch the 1960 Disney version. I wanted to examine Pollyanna’s lack of realism so I could use it to distinguish between her unrealistic perspective and the practical positive perspective about which I teach and research. I had a surprise. (more…)

When the Future Determines the Present: How to See What Others Cannot See

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

We tend to accept that our current circumstances are heavily influenced by our genetics, culture, and past decisions. So here is a challenging question, “When does the future determine the present?”

The normal belief that the past determines the present. But a recent workshop led me to question this assumption.

A Workshop

Our topic was vision. I met with a group of leaders and gave them a worksheet with these questions: What is a vision?  When have you been directly exposed to someone with a vision? What was unusual about the person? When in your life have you committed to bring about a vision? What happened? When a person has a vision, how does it change the daily life experience?  What vision do you have right now?

The Future Already Exists

After the participants filled out the worksheet, I asked those questions aloud and listened to the answers. The early discussion focused on the notion that a vision is a perceived end; it is something you see in the future. 

Then two more insightful points were made. One man seemed to speak from experience. He thoughtfully and confidently said that a vision is a future state that already exists. 

This sentence caught our attention, it seemed contradictory. How can the future already exist?  According to my left-brain logic, the present and future are two different categories. The future cannot already exist. 

As I pondered his strange claim, my mind flashed to similar claims made by others. Michelangelo, for example, stated:

I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set it free.

In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.

An Illustration

In my interviews with highly effective teachers, a fourth-grade teacher made a claim much like Michelangelo’s. On first day of school, she announced that it was time to begin math. Suddenly, one of her students burst into tears. She took the girl to the hall for a brief and private conversation. “I can’t do math,” the girl said. “Numbers don’t make sense to me. I hate math.”

The teacher made a promise. “You know what? You don’t know me very well, and I don’t know you very well yet, but I’m going to trust that you are a mathematician. You just haven’t figured it out yet, and I need you to trust that I can get you to see that.”

As the year unfolded, the teacher connected with the girl. “I worked with her to go back and build some foundations, hence confidence that she could kind of start moving on.” 

By the end of the year, the student announced that math was her favorite subject and that she “loved the challenge of trying to figure it out.” She scored well on the state math assessment and wrote the teacher a letter thanking her for turning her into a mathematician. 

Surprisingly the teacher had a different interpretation. She told us that she did not turn the girl into a mathematician. She said that the student “always was [a mathematician].” What kept the girl from knowing that she was a mathematician was her lack of confidence. Once she had confidence and acted upon it, what was already in her simply came out.

Under normal assumptions we believe it is the teacher’s job to be an expert, to instruct or inform, to put information into students.  Educe is a root of the word education.  Educe means to draw or extract, to bring the out the greatness that is already in them.  Many of the highly effective teachers shared this unusual orientation.    

Passion

In our training session, I was caught up in pondering the paradoxical notion that a vision is a future state that already exists when another man spoke up. I had worked with him before. I knew that when he took over his organization, he spent an extended period trying to find a vision for it. Eventually he claimed that he actually had one. 

As he spoke up, he confirmed what the earlier man stated, that a vision is a future state that already exists. Then he added: “Once you see it, you become passionate about it, you cannot stop working on it. You become totally committed.” 

As I pondered this strange claim, my mind flashed to similar claims made by Robert Frost and Abraham Maslow.

In his poem “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Frost says his objective is to unite his avocation and his vocation.  “Only where love and need are one and the work is play for mortal stakes/is the deed ever really done for Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Maslow studied self-actualizing people.  He said they had “a rare capacity to resolve value dichotomies.”  Then he wrote, “Duty cannot be contrasted with pleasure nor work with play when duty is pleasure.”

Here again I experience a challenge to my left-brained logic. Duty is one thing and pleasure is another.  Yet there is another perspective.

When we do what we are supposed to do because it is our duty, we are normal. When we do our duty because we love to do it, we become extraordinary. We find ourselves embedded in an emergent, synergistic web. We not only work on the task, the task works on us. The process ignites virtues, enriches relationships, and makes the outcomes generative. All these dynamics loop back on us and we flourish in an upward cycle of self-actualization. 

An Illustration

I recalled my own experiences working with the man who made the second statement. He so believed in the vision that he pursued it constantly. I watched him lead his organization with passion and noted that he had extraordinary influence. When he spoke, people listened and willingly devoted themselves to the pursuit of the vision. He did not force them. He declared the vision with such confidence that for him the future already seemed to exist. It was an authentic message about an authentic vision.

I remembered how he was always extending himself, moving forward by trial and error. He was open to taking risks and learning. It did not embarrass him to learn from failure. He always shared his vulnerability, and he constantly talked about the vision. 

Others tended to trust him. They slowly embraced the vision and then began to pursue it with the same passion he displayed. They often came to him with willing contributions of their own, contributions he did not know to ask for. The future was being co-created in the present by people unified in a system of collective intelligence.   

His experience, and the results he achieved, violate many normal assumptions. Trust replaces fear. The future becomes more attractive than the past.  Passion replaces complacency.  Individuals of self-interest become a collective in pursuit of the common good. The mind of the authority figure is replaced by collective intelligence. Hierarchical control gives way to spontaneous contribution. The differentiation between present and future dissolves as the future is co-created and emerges in the present moment.

How to Bring People to the Common Good: What Authentic Leaders Learn about Higher Purpose

Monday, May 13th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

I was doing a week of executive education with senior government leaders. Many had military backgrounds. In the middle of the week, one of them pulled me aside and told me why he had recently left a high-paying corporate job.

Authenticity

He said that, when he was an officer in the Army, he had to make the conscious decision that he was willing to die in pursuing his various missions. Why? When you have to attack a high-risk objective, he explained, it becomes probable that some of your people are going to die. Everyone is aware of the probability.

There is a paradox. It is crucial that everyone is willing to die because that commitment actually reduces the probability of death. Total commitment leads to greater effort and higher coordination. Higher coordination increases the likelihood of collective success and decreases the number of people who are likely to die. If everyone is willing to die it becomes probable that more people will live.

A major determinant of total commitment among the troops is their perception of their leader’s commitment to the group. No matter what the leader says or does, the troops can tell if the leader is authentic, and if the leader is willing to do what the leader is asking them to do. If the leader is willing to die for the group, the troops are more likely to make the same commitment. (more…)

Thriving: What It Is and What It Takes

Thursday, March 7th, 2013

By Shawn E. Quinn

“Employees are not just satisfied and productive but also engaged in creating the future—the company’s and their own.”

“Employees have a bit of an edge—they are highly energized—but they know how to avoid burnout.”

Do these two sentences resonate when you think about your employees and your organization? As managers and leaders, no doubt all of us would answer yes—even if a bit of wishful thinking is involved.

Thriving—truly thriving—is possible and even likely when you factor in the latest research on what you can do to move your organization more in this direction, and what happens when you do. (more…)

Choosing to Love: A Radical Way to Change How You Live

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

By Robert E. Quinn

An old friend’s father taught her love was a choice.  So, she told me, wherever she is and with whomever she finds herself, she makes the choice to love the people she is with.

I found this striking.  As long as I have known her she has seemed filled with love. She is one of my favorite people.  Yet never had I heard this story or realized that she lives the way she does by proactive choice.  She was making a claim that violates normal assumptions.  Love is not something you occasionally fall into. It is something you can continually create.  In fact, in her way of living, love is a skill to be developed through the process of conscious choice. 

Question: How would your life change if you chose to master the skill of love?

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.

Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 6: Emotion, Imagination, and Purpose

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

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.

By Robert E. Quinn

I had a dream. I was driving when the car in front of me stopped unexpectedly. I jammed on my brakes and stopped one inch short of its bumper. The episode filled me with so much adrenaline that I woke up. The event was a figment of my imagination, yet it triggered a physiological response that changed my reality. I moved from the condition of sleep to the condition of wakefulness. Lying there, I marveled at the power of my brain to create images of consequence.

I thought about this as I considered a situation my daughter is in right now. She has been hosting three orphans from Latvia who do not speak English. Suddenly taking on three children at one time proved overwhelming to her and to the rest of us. She seemed to go into a deep, negative hole.

Then one day she walked in the room signing a happy song. We were stunned and asked her what happened.  She said that she and her husband sat down and asked her father’s favorite question, “What result are we trying to create?” The question led to a long discussion and a new perspective on or image of the future. With this new perspective, her fears began to dissolve. (more…)

Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 3: Living What We Teach

Wednesday, January 23rd, 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.

For 10 years, positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship have scientifically explored the value of examining things when they are operating at an extraordinary level. One line of research has shown the power of positive feelings and of virtues such as gratitude.

The two fields have been well received and have grown considerably. Predictably, critics have emerged. One of the first critical books was written by a woman who had cancer. She wrote with some fury. In making her point, she cites the title of what she considers a ridiculous book, “The Gift of Cancer.” She attacks the positive lens as unrealistic and dangerous.

In making her attack, she is pointing out the dangers of optimistic self-deception. But the positive lens is not about unfounded optimism. It is about intelligent optimism. It is about seeing reality clearly and choosing to engage reality from a state of high functionality. (more…)

Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 2: Where Change Can Happen

Tuesday, January 22nd, 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.

The movie Freedom Writers is about a teacher named Erin Gruwell. She enters an impoverished school and eventually learns how to connect with her students.  She reaches extraordinary levels of performance, and her students change. At one point, she reflects on her teaching and she says, “I finally realized what I’m supposed to be doing, and I love it. When I’m helping these kids make sense of their lives, everything about my life makes sense to me. How often does a person get that?”

Her comment is reminiscent of statements I’ve heard from many top-level public school teachers. Teaching is not their job. It is their calling. When they are teaching, they are helping students make sense of their lives. The impact of doing such work loops back to the teacher, and the teacher finds increased meaning in his or her own life.

As someone learns to teach or lead in a transformational way, the activity becomes self-reinforcing because the teacher or leader is also being transformed. I find this in my own work, and awaken to it with every class session. (more…)

Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 1: The Digestion of Experience

Monday, January 21st, 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.

When I teach, my objective is not to transfer information to my students. It is to transform their identities. My history as a teacher tells me that if I can accomplish this objective, they will experience a huge jump in their capacity to influence their own lives and the lives of others. To accomplish my objective, I must have them do something unusual.

My wife was telling one of her friends about my writing frequent journal entries and sharing them. The woman later approached me about it. She asked several questions, including how much time it took to write a typical entry. I told her 15 minutes to an hour.

That is a serious time commitment, she responded. I explained that I see the journal writing as a form of meditation that has become like a positive addiction. She understood the benefit, but wondered whether a modern professional who leaves for work very early, puts in 12 hours, and comes home exhausted could accomplish such a thing?

I acknowledged that it would be hard for someone like that, and the conversation went on to other topics. But my heart stayed there for a time. Of course, I recognized the demands of modern life, yet I felt a deep sense of sadness about how we let the world act upon us. (more…)