How praise and positivity can make your organisation fearless

When I was growing up, I remember my mum having difficulties with the head teacher in the school where she worked.  He was mean and enjoyed making people feel intimidated which stifled creativity and made everyone miserable.  My mother would come home stressed, depressed and wondering how she could go back to work the next day. 

Sadly, there are many bosses like this in the workplace and far too many employees who are unable to reach their potential because they are held back.  This means that organisations are limiting their own capacity.  To survive and thrive, especially in the current climate, employees need to be given space to deliver to the best of their ability.  They need to be encouraged and supported to make a full contribution and grow from their experiences.  If we can achieve this, organisations will truly know success.

If I asked you what makes a good boss, you certainly wouldn’t respond with the qualities displayed by the head teacher in my story.  More likely, you would say a good boss is someone who is trusting, supportive, listens to your views, believes in you, shows appreciation and so on.  Which boss are you likely to go out of your way for?  And therefore, which would you say is able to get the best out of people?

In his work on ‘fearless leadership’, Richard Varey explores the importance of kindness in leadership.  It isn’t about the leader being brave which is what I thought at first, but about creating an environment where people feel safe.  The foundation of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is security. Individuals will not reach the lofty heights of self-actualisation if the organisation’s culture is based on blame and fear.

Varey says ‘if you are kind, people feel safe; if they feel safe, they can grow’.  And actually, it’s better for everyone because kindness increases the levels of oxytocin for all involved which increases optimism and makes everyone feel physically better.

Compare this with an environment where people are scared to do anything wrong.  In a culture of fear, people shut down because the stress response is triggered when they sense danger.  When this happens, cortisol floods the system which creates a fight, flight or freeze response.  This literally shuts down the rational mind and short term memory.  In a culture of kindness, no conversation is off-limits because people feel secure and are more open to discussing whatever you need to address.

In this work, I really like the idea of ‘emotional collateral’ and it reminds me of something else I read in relation to ‘difficult conversations’.  It’s basically about the emotional bank account.  This needs to have enough in it for some to be taken out of the account.  If an individual’s emotional bank account is depleted, they are unlikely to receive any ‘constructive’ feedback positively.  It’s a bit like getting your bank statement and seeing it in the red… especially if you have just been paid!! You feel panicked immediately and that is not a good place from which to deal with the problem.

So what do you need to do as a fearless leader?

  1. Offer praise – if you want to inspire people, you need to tell them they are good. In a study of praise and effectiveness, the most improvement was achieved through praise (71%) compared with criticism (19%) or being ignored (5%).
  2. Focus on the positive – make sure you get the ‘balance’ right with at least 3 positives for every negative. Basically, every time something good happens, say so.  That should give enough credits for when you have to talk to them about improvement.
  3. Praise for effort rather than ability – telling someone they are good at something is not effective. The trick is to praise for effort rather than ability so notice when individuals try hard and tell them they did well.

 

Praise builds people up and makes them resilient.  Resilient people lead to resilient organisations and we have never needed that more than now so go ahead and tell everyone you work with that you see them and they are amazing.

Have you created a culture of kindness? Have you experienced the limitations of fear?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

3minuteleadership.org 

 

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay

Perfecting an 80/20 ‘balance’ that nurtures talent and celebrates success

Recently, I was speaking at an internal session on managing performance and explained why I believe the role of a leader is to help people be the best they can be.

The discussion began when we were asked to identify measures of staff satisfaction and organisational success.  One of the first things that came up was staff retention with many believing this this is a sign of problems.

Now, I accept that if staff start leaving in numbers then it can indicate that there is a problem which needs to be addressed but I asked them to consider a different possibility: perhaps it shows that people are being managed well, developing skills and progressing to the next level.

When asked, I explained to the group that I strongly believe part of my responsibility as a leader is to develop people.  This means that they should grow professionally during their time in a role, gaining new skills and enjoying a boost in confidence.  Ideally, they would then rise through the ranks and feel the satisfaction and fulfilment of working for an organisation that nurtures talent, utilises this appropriately and rewards people for their success.

However, in a small organisation, it can be hard to do this and so it needs to be OK to develop people so that they can move on.  If people move on to better things as a result of what they learnt with me, then I consider that a good outcome for the organisation.  I also find that it means we have champions in the wider world and many of my staff are still working with us in their new roles.

Doing things in this way creates ambassadors who can raise awareness of our work with their new colleagues and partners.

 

The 80/20 rule

In terms of how I ensure people are able to develop, I believe in an 80/20 rule.  Put simply, this means that individuals should spend 80% of their time doing things they feel they are good at and 20% stretching themselves.

To help me identify their strengths and development areas, I ask staff to complete a personal development plan which allows them to list their skills, achievements and goals.  We then sit down and have a discussion about what they have included and I might make further suggestions about anything I think is missing.  People don’t always see something as a strength or a talent so I might explore certain things with them to highlight any skills I think they have but don’t recognise.

This provides a framework for which they can develop an action plan to push themselves forwards.

 
The theory part

One of the key theories that underpins my leadership style is Dan Pink’s work on motivation which argues that the three things people need to be successful at work is autonomy, mastery and purpose.

The 80/20 rule means that they spend 80% of their time utilising their strengths and working towards mastery.  If their time is spent mostly on things they enjoy and feel they are good at, then they will feel good most of the time and will be doing things that fire them up, satisfy them and allow them to feel confident.

From that place, they can focus on the other 20% which should be about things they either don’t want to do (we all have those things) and things that they want/need to learn to be the best they can be.

The key to success with the 20% is to have a clear action plan which identifies skills and competencies that need to be developed in order to achieve career goals.  This should include steps that will be taken to ensure that individual can push forwards and make tangible progress towards their goals.

In terms of monitoring, I hold individuals to account for completing their actions by making sure progress is discussed on a quarterly basis and then on an annual basis, I ask staff to reflect again and complete a new plan for the year ahead.

 

Achieving ‘flow’

If you look through the stages, you can see that the method is based on the high performance cycle – Plan, Do, Review and Improve.  In following this process and ensuring the 80/20 ‘balance’, I believe people can be supported to achieve ‘flow’ which, in positive psychology, is:

‘The mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity’.

This has to be the state of optimum performance and exactly where we surely would want our teams to be so I challenge you to try a different way and see the difference it makes.

 

If you can see the value of this approach or have similar methods yourself, share your thoughts in the comments below.

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