Earlier this year, I taught my first semester of a new online course on Positive Leadership in Spas and Hospitality for the UC Irvine Extension certification program in Spa and Hospitality Management. Because it was an online course, it attracted an incredible diversity of students from all over the world. There was a good mix of students from Asia, Europe and North America. And the experience of the students varied greatly from massage therapists and estheticians who were interested in growing into management positions (or someday opening their own spas,) to spa directors of varying backgrounds and experience levels all the way up to the CEO and COO of a hospitality management company. I am proud of the fact that all of the students, regardless of geography or stage of their career, seemed to get a lot out of the course.
I think I have a unique approach to teaching positive leadership because, while I emphasize the importance of the positive (which is often neglected in business) I really teach a balanced approach to management. Rather than learning how to focus on positivity and avoid negativity, I teach them the importance of developing a leadership style that recognizes and learns from both sides of the coin.
Here are a few tips for a balanced approach to positive leadership:
1. Learning from strengths and weaknesses. I teach Appreciative Inquiry, David Cooperrider from Case Western Reserve University’s response to the more typical “Deficit Based” approach to management. Most businesses focus almost exclusively on fixing problems and overcoming obstacles. Appreciative Inquiry teaches us to analyze our strengths and learn how to do more of what we do best. But unlike Cooperrider, I don’t teach leaders to ignore their weaknesses. We still need to analyze our mistakes and tackle our biggest challenges, but we should learn from our strengths too.
2. The negativity bias goes both ways. Human beings have a bias towards the negative. We notice the negative sooner and more often, and it impacts us more deeply than the equivalent experience on the positive side. For this reason, I teach a variety of positive appreciative approaches to remind us not to neglect the positive that is going on around us. But I also teach my students that they shouldn’t ignore the negativity bias. I draw a page from management guru and author of “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” Bob Sutton, who reminds us that our customers and employees also have a negativity bias. If we don’t notice and fix the problems that they are facing, this is what they will remember about us.
3. Stop trying to motivate employees. I do teach a slew of research from psychology on how to create the right conditions for intrinsic motivation (eg. self-determination theory) and a variety of other research-based tips for driving accomplishment and goal achievement. But I also teach that most employees are already motivated when they join your team. Managers think their role is to “motivate” their employees, but I think leaders would be better off by thinking about how to stop doing the things that strip away motivation. Humans have an inherent drive to do well. A good leader facilitates this in their team. It’s less about creating motivation and more about learning how not to demotivate the people who work with you.
4. Avoid the negativity witch hunt. I teach a variety of ways to create a more positive, more engaged work force. But I surprise my students when I tell them that they should create space for negativity in their organization. Managers who try to squelch negativity may be inadvertently closing off channels of communication. Sometimes negativity comes from passionate employees who are frustrated when things aren’t going well. A good leader needs to hear what’s not working from those who are passionate enough to care and speak up. Rather than suppress negativity, a positive leader should create a culture that allows for appropriate expression of negative feelings.
5. It’s not about creating happiness at work. I use a lot of positive psychology in my course, much of which is geared towards creating a workplace that people will enjoy working in and feel more fulfilled by. But I also teach that a happy workforce is not the end goal. Great work is often marked by great challenge and great sacrifice. Meaningful work is about accomplishing things that you passionately believe in, even when it doesn’t feel good. Happiness, if you find it, is just the icing on the cake.
If you are interested in learning more about a balanced approach to positive leadership, the course will be starting up again in June. I hope to see you there!
References and recommended reading (and the required text for my course:)
Cameron, K. (2008). Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
by Jeremy McCarthy