By leading with grace and positive thinking, you’ll become a strong, resonant leader. The sort of leader whose team draws on their maximum potential every working day; the sort of leader whose team is happy, energetic and who achieve better results and increased profits.
But how do you do this “leading with grace” business?
It’s important that you know, since it will be the key to both better opportunities for you, and an improved culture in your workplace.
One crucial aspect is to build your resilience. Simply by spending more time in an unconsciously positive state, you will trigger the chemical changes that naturally increase your ability to push through challenges and to keep up momentum throughout the process. When in a positive state, you are much more disposed to come through stressful circumstances with few battle scars too.
So much so, in fact, that positive psychology research shows a person’s resilience will determine whether they experience post-traumatic growth or stress disorder following a trauma.
It is the reason why the US Army trains all its non-commissioned officers as positive psychology coaches, after all. As you can imagine, I heartily approve of this approach and the statistics prove its worth too; panic symptoms, substance abuse and depression among troops have since halved.
But positive psychology doesn’t solely belong in the army. It’s pivotal in a happier home life, and also makes an enormous difference in businesses across the world.
As you are undoubtedly already aware, prolonged stress is very bad for a person. Not only can it affect energy levels and emotional intelligence, but it is bad news for clarity of thinking, analytical reasoning, creativity and motivation too. And since these traits are all crucial to becoming a decent leader in the workplace, it would be hugely beneficial for CEOs and bosses like yourself to remain in a low-stress, high-performance state instead.
Your business will thank you, and you’ll enjoy your life more at the same time.
Perhaps you are under the impression that natural strength of character will be the determiner in whether or not you can achieve this positive state that leads to resilience.
While it is true that some people are pre-disposed to optimism, positive thinking is not available exclusively to them. The good news is that positivity is a learned behaviour and there are several exercises you can do to condition yourself to unconsciously enter a positive state.
(Our founder, Graham, will help you practise these behaviours with examples and teaching in his book, Positive Leaders, Positive Change.)
Of course, we could forgive ourselves for thinking that willpower could be enough to change the way we think and lead us to be better leaders. There are plenty of self-help books out there telling you that’s the case.
But the truth is, willpower is not enough to change the way you think. And that means it won’t help you to become a genuinely better business leader either.
It’s scientific fact that whenever we have a new thought, our brain creates a new physical pathway for it. Subsequent same thoughts will use that same pathway. In this way, our thoughts have the power to change the way our brain physically looks.
So if you were to give your brain an annual appraisal you would see that thought pathway structures look different from one year to the next.
While we think, our thought pathways have the ability to diverge at any time, and in any direction. So how does our brain choose which way to go? Like an electric current, our thoughts will follow the path of least resistance and opt to go down the “strongest” route.
The thing that makes one pathway stronger than another? Use.
Every time a thought process travels along its projection, it grows a little stronger, which in turn increases the chances of its being used again in future. Established thought processes are strengthened by repetition. It’s another reminder that naturally positive people are more likely to remain optimistic, simply because their positive pathways are strongest and most susceptible to repetition.
Similarly, negative people will likely remain in a negative state without intervention. But, as I said just a moment ago, positive thinking is a learned behaviour which requires us to recognise this habitual path-taking and instead go down the paths of our goals.
By making the conscious choice to build up the positive pathways and allow the negative to degenerate, we will eventually always travel down those goal paths. With enough effort, goal-realising behaviour will become automatic.
So why do we fail at it so often? Why is it so hard to simply decide to travel down the “goal pathway” at every opportunity? Willpower is not enough. If you try to force a behaviour that conflicts your self-concept, the results will simply be unsustainable.
This is why it’s crucial to go further than just deciding to take the positive path. We need to mentally rehearse it.
It doesn’t matter whether we are physically going through something or simply imagining going through it; our thought processes will form or go down the same pathways no matter how real a situation is.
(Remember the last time you ducked in a 3D cinema?)
So by using mental rehearsal, rather than mere willpower, you will be able to create new dominant thought pathways that embody your positive goals.
Similarly, no amount of willpower can enable the brain to simply reverse collapses in performance like those outlined in the US army example once they have kicked in. As the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure.
Stressful situations will cause the part of our brains where our higher functions reside to close down thanks to a combination of chemical triggers. If our brain has not rehearsed how it can best function under emotional hijack, the hormones generated can lower our performance levels for the entire eight hours it can take for stress to dissipate from our systems.
You can see, then, why it is so crucial to focus on positive conditioning to build your resilience as a leader. Studies show that the most important impact a leader has on their organisation is the emotional climate they create. Furthermore, they demonstrate that diligent, resilient CEOs achieve some 490% of the profit of an average leader.
That’s quite something, isn’t it? What’s more, the same study by Professor Richard Boyatzis found that CEOs who were particularly skilled in building and managing relationships increased profits by 210% on average.
So you see that a combination of important skills and ways of positive thinking can drive a surge in profitability.
In positive psychology, we call this combination “discretionary effort”. It covers a wide range of activity and amounts to going the extra mile to meet targets and going over and above your obligation in your organisation.
It is more than simply working hard though, and more than increasing sales or streamlining your costs.
As a leader, discretionary effort does, of course, involve setting a good work ethic example, but it also means doing the things that will result in your team truly following you. That’s not to say that you are simply likeable enough, but that you are the one who takes responsibility in a crisis, who acts on painful-to-implement decisions, who leads with grace through each and every storm.
Your team’s emotional engagement with your organisation will galvanize discretionary effort and lead to greater respect for company resources, boosting productivity in the process.
It is your job as a leader, then, to cultivate engagement-based discretionary effort. A workplace where staff feel as though they don’t want to let colleagues down and where they choose to go above and beyond is the perfect environment for increased operational productivity and financial success. And when such success is achieved, leaders should share the benefits or risk crushing engagement among the workforce.
Discretionary effort is certainly not just for the workers. It is essential that you do what you can to improve your resilience and maintain positive thinking to avoid reverting to negative behaviours under pressure.
So continue to mentally rehearse positive outcomes; don’t fall back on willpower and hope that it will be enough to see you through new challenges. Without a resilient leadership approach, it will be all too easy for employee engagement and trust to evaporate.
Don’t be afraid to call out senior leaders who are displaying the behaviours that you are trying to eliminate in yourself and your team. Fail in these areas and talent will wither, financial performance will suffer.
During chaotic times just like those which we’re living through, resist compromising your commitment to the values you have worked so hard to instill and the culture you’ve strived to create. Keep your workforce engaged and you really can continue on your positive, high-profit trajectory, even during a world pandemic. Get in touch to take a step in the right direction.
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