“Every exemplary leader that I have met, has what seems to be an unwarranted degree of optimism – and that helps generate the energy and commitment necessary to achieve results.” ~Warren Bennis
Are Leaders Who Lead with Positivity Pollyannas?
This was a question that a group of thoughtful and reflective nonprofit leaders grappled with at the first “Courageous Conversations Alumni Forum” of the Courage to Lead training program for nonprofit leaders. I was honored to facilitate what was indeed a “courageous conversation.” Sigrid Wright, an executive with the Santa Barbara nonprofit, Community Environmental Council (CEC), wrote her reflections of that day, which are reprinted here with her permission and with the permission of Courage to Lead.
Alumni Forum: Can We Lead From a More Positive Place? by Sigrid Wright
That provocative question — posed at the first forum for Courage to Lead alums in early October – sparked an interesting (even courageous) conversation about what it means to lead from a place of optimism, gratitude and positive thinking.
Gathered at Lotusland, the first Courageous Conversations forum was organized by a CTL alumni committee and facilitated by Dr. Lynn K. Jones (www.lynnkjones.com), a certified personal and executive coach.
Initially, the group grappled with the word “positivity.” Does that mean overlooking the very stark realities that many of us face every day in the non-profit sector as we address issues often relegated to the darker corners of society? Does it mean having to be sweet, or worse—nice–when a situation really calls for fire-in-the-belly, call-it-like-you-see-it bravery? The word “happiness” seemed equally troubling. For some it suggested a world of forced smiles and mood-stabilizing drugs.
In other words, disingenuous.
Which led, naturally, to a discussion about genuine positivity. Deliberate, authentic efforts to shift the way in which we think and react–and in doing so, making it easier to think and react from that state more often. Citing recent studies in the fields of psychology and brain science, Dr. Jones talked about the relatively new emphasis on neuroplasticity: the brain’s capacity to rewire itself to form new neural pathways.
As with muscles, the more you exercise certain neural pathways, the stronger they become. The more you train yourself, for example, to look for options when trying to solve a problem, the more options you will begin see in other situations, even when you aren’t looking.
Dr. Jones also discussed the impact that placing genuine, authentic emphasis on the positive can have on those around us. According to Barbara Frederickson, author of Positivity, maintaining a 3:1 ratio of positive thoughts to negative emotions creates a tipping point between languishing and flourishing. Tools such as humor, stressing a staff member’s strengths over his weaknesses, or opening a project debrief with an invitation to share “what went right” can create that tipping point.
Sigrid Wright has 20 years of experience in non-profit management, currently for the Community Environmental Council (CEC). She leads the annual Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival production team and is co-author of CEC’s Regional Energy Blueprint. She is an alum of the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Katherine Harvey Fellows program and Courage to Lead.
Courage To Lead® for Nonprofit Leaders is a yearlong program for the personal and professional renewal of Executive Directors and other top-level nonprofit leaders. Learn more about Courage to Lead.
Do you think that leading from Positivity is being a Pollyanna? Let us know!
My special expertise is helping leaders and organizations develop high-performing organizational cultures. If you would like to develop an optimistic and attainable view of the future for you followers—to move from being stuck with “how things are done around here” to how “how things could be done better,” please call me for a free complimentary session at 805.448.7681 or schedule a session using my on-line calendar to discuss how I can support you, your team or your organization.
p.s. I always am interested in what you think about these discussions. Please post your thoughts on the blog…your constructive criticism and support is appreciated!
Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach
Your MOJO Maven
Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach based in Santa Barbara, California and a sought after coach and consultant for organizations and individuals across the US. Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values using a process of Appreciative Inquiry. She coaches individuals on achieving their reflected best selves. An MSW@USC faculty member, Dr. Lynn K. Jones, MSW, DSW, CSWM, teaches Human Behavior and Social Environment.