“To be a positive leader and bring out the best in people, you’ve got to care about people,” says Sue Langley, a leading global expert in positive psychology. “You’ve got to be interested in them. You must show up every day as the best version of yourself.”
Sue should know. She is also the founder and CEO of The Langley Group and has happily dedicated her career to synthesising positive psychology, emotional intelligence and neuroscience into simple, practical tools that help businesses and their people do their best work.
When employees are in a positive emotional state, they are proven to be more creative, more productive, and better at problem-solving. If leaders can create a culture where positive emotions predominate negative emotions, strengths take centre stage over the “you need to work on this” model, and where leaders show they care about people, great results are achieved.
“I can almost feel what the leadership is like when I walk into an office,” Sue says. “There should be a climate of trust, understanding and support. As opposed to a climate of distrust, blaming or fear of failure. In a negative climate, nobody dares to try anything new. Lots of companies these days are wanting their people to be more innovative, yet they fail to register that you cannot have innovation without also allowing people to make mistakes.”
Here, Sue shares five proven positive psychology-based strategies for being a more effective and inspiring leader today.
1. Take a strengths-based approach to performance appraisals
The strength-based approach is where I sit down with my boss, and they say: “These are your strengths, these are your weaknesses. If we need to fix your weaknesses to a certain level in order for you to be able to do your job, we will. If we can offload them to another team member, then we will. Most importantly, for the next 12 months, we’re going to focus on your strengths, the things that you are good at, the things that you love to do.”
They are the real development opportunities! Interestingly, if you look at the research around this, if you focus on your strengths for the next year, what you’ll find is your weaknesses actually improve as well.
2. Foster a positive work climate
How do you build a positive climate or culture? A climate where people feel that there is a sense of trust, collaboration, openness, and so on.
If we have a climate of fear, control, anxiety, negativity, stress or pressure, you are not going to do your best work. So you need to create a climate of trust and openness, one where there’s a sense of compassion and understanding that people have needs.
3. Keep compassion and forgiveness at the forefront
We talk about compassion and forgiveness, and people often see them as soft words. Yet we need to think about what compassion and forgiveness really look like.
If you’re in my team, for example, and you make a mistake, you’re a human being and I’m genuinely going to forgive you for that mistake. I’m also going to have the compassion to have the tough conversation that says, “This is not acceptable. And if you make that mistake again, then we may need to have a more serious discussion.” That’s still having a compassionate conversation.
4. Clarify context in any given task
In over two decades developing leaders, I have found that context, including level of priority, is often missing in many task assignments. Without providing the framework, you may unwittingly encourage your team members to become dependent on you because you are withholding vital information. You will likely contribute to their stress levels, impairing their judgement in the process.
Without context, you might be reducing their autonomy and motivating them not to think for themselves. You may be encouraging them to either “plough on” and do the best they can. Yet if they do so without context, they will probably not provide the outcome you were looking for. This could result in poor work quality, rework, extra cost or having to manage poor performance.
So always share the priority level and provide that framework so your team understand exactly the deliverables that are needed.
5. Employees must be free to fail
If we can create a culture where human beings can genuinely take a risk and make a mistake, then that’s when we thrive. If you look at organisations, they want people to innovate more. Well, in order to be innovative you’ve got to allow people to fail now and again. Yet sometimes there’s such a risk of people feeling that they dare not fail because they may get fired if they do. One of our clients has actually implemented an innovation program and says, “You’re free to fail, just fail fast.” Because they know that in order to get innovation, people are going to have to have failures along the way.
Learn more about how the Langley Group can help you foster a more positive and productive workplace.
Learn about the Langley Group Institute’s Diploma of Positive Psychology and Wellbeing.