Positive Leaders Prepare Companies to Thrive

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As a leader, how are you setting up your organization (and team) for success? You may be focused on establishing the right strategic business partnerships. Or your focus might be on reducing the operational costs and improving efficiencies. It could be investing in marketing and growing sales. Certainly, all of these contribute to an organization’s future success. But focusing solely on these can be a distraction from what truly drives change, innovation, and success within organizations – its PEOPLE. 

Let’s consider, that some leaders and organizations are already focusing on their human capital. How are they making sure their employees are resilient and able to thrive during tremendous change, or even crisis, to drive the organization toward success? A common solution has been to just hire very TALENTED and SMART people. Many leaders and organizations hold the belief that this is enough. 

Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, shares several stories of leaders and organizations that focused on hiring the most talented and smartest in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In her book, you can see how the stories of these leaders and well-known companies did not necessarily end well. For example, she shares the story about Enron and how their culture and philosophy on hiring contributed to their bankruptcy and failures. Enron and its leaders valued talent and created an environment where employees felt the need to “look” and “act” talented and very “smart”. Enron’s leaders created what Dr. Dweck calls, a fixed-mindset culture, where creativity and intelligence are static givens and success is the validation of that inherent “smartness”. So, leaders and employees, within a fixed-mindset culture, strive for success by avoiding failures at all costs. Research shows that people with fixed mindsets don’t admit deficiencies and instead cover them up and frequently lie about them. Hence, the real and underlying problems cannot be solved, and the possibility of groundbreaking innovation is destroyed. Typically, leaders with a fixed-mindset, praise intelligence and focus on end results only. 

On the other hand, there are successful stories about leaders and organizations that also leveraged human capital but instilled a growth-mindset instead. “Positive Leaders” hold the belief that humans have the undeniable potential for change and growth. These leaders build cultures that value human development and have a strong love for learning – a growth-mindset. Growth-mindset creates a passion for learning rather that striving for approval. It is based on the belief that intelligence and creativity can be cultivated through effort and intentional practice. Jack Welch is an iconic example of a Positive Leader. He started with GE in 1980 when the company was valued at $14 billion, and twenty years later it had grown to $490 billion under his leadership.

David Kelley, founder, and chairman of IDEO (an award-winning global design firm) published a book called Creative Confidence: Unleashing the creative potential within us all, where he emphasizes that we are all capable of being creative. He mentions that leaders “just have to unblock whatever is getting on that person’s way” to “unleash the creativity”. David Kelley reflects that during childhood, every kid thinks they are creative, are risktakers, and like to experiment. After a certain age, he observes that we start to become more aware of others and their judgments, and the creativity stops. He argues that creativity can be unleashed in everybody. He suggests a practical method to do so by exposing employee to small projects at first. As they learn, grow, and excel, they will be exposed to more complex ones. This process will consequently develop and build what he calls “creative confidence”. People become more resilient, more confident and develop high levels of self-efficacy. 

Positive leadership focuses on human development and builds companies for success. To develop a positive leadership, I have four recommendations: 

  1. Take a close look yourself and from an honest place assess where are you coming from: a fixed-mindset or growth mindset? Remember, leadership is about growth and passion.
  2. Hire people who love learning, who look for challenges, and like collaboration.
  3. Develop a growth-mindset culture. Next time, you are presented with outstanding project outcomes, instead of just praising, always ask: What has been your biggest learning from this experience? Praise the learning, not the result. 
  4. Unleash the creativity in others. Expose them to small projects where they can experiment, learn, and gain confidence.