Be Positive With Leadership Qualities

I was reflecting on a leadership workshop we ran last week where the topic was about dealing with people with difficult personalities. One of the most common types highlighted by the group were what they called “Negatives” you know the “Nay Sayers” the glass is always half empty types.

I choose to believe and therefore it has been my experience that most people and most leaders want to think positive thoughts and be positive. Not many would aspire to be negative would they? Surely being positive is one of the most important leadership qualities.

From a neuroscience perspective a negative mindset is associated with more of a fixed risk based mindset. In that state we are less flexible, less able to learn and less inclined to try new things. This is the antithesis of the leader mindset which has to be more open, flexible and growth based in order to visualise, influence others to work towards a better future.

The trouble is that it appears that our brains are wired to detect risk and to find that in many cases to be more important than rewards.

I guess that is plausible from an evolution perspective but it has some unforeseen ramifications in the organisational jungle where the amount of “busyness” and complexity of social networks throws up potential risks all over the place.  Be it not getting work done, not hitting KPI’s not making a good impression with the MD, not handling that feedback conversation well etc.. etc…

I suspect this “risk perception” is responsible for driving a number of less useful management and leadership behaviours. We have known for many years that authentic and appropriate praise and recognition works fantastically at just about every level. It builds status, confidence, good relationships, capability, useful new habits and behaviours and fosters engagement.

We also know that research suggests we should be getting our work colleagues to hear 5 times more often what they are doing right as opposed to what they are doing wrong.

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What neuroscience refers to as our negativity bias literally equips us to be more sensitive and more reactive to something that spells danger, harm, problem or something’s not right. And so if we let that negativity bias have its way, most of us are literally the opposite; we’re focusing on the upside five times less than the downside.

Feedback is a great example of this many people can buy into intellectually the power and potential of feedback but this is not translated into actual behaviour on the ground for a host of reasons. The term feedback (or do you hear criticise?) has become emotive and a default risk trigger.

This risk perception and mindset are important because it drives our choices of behavior. If we look for problems then we will find them, if all we see is mistakes and what’s wrong then our negative bias is strengthened and confirmed as realistic for ourselves. We embed this way of thinking.

What we are learning from neuroscience is that what we focus our attention defines our perception of reality.  Yes you read that correctly our reality changes depending on what grabs our attention. This raises positive thinking to be one of the priority leadership qualities.

So it raises an interesting question if you could purposefully (or perhaps we should say mindfully) move your attention around (and we all can) what would you choose to focus on and how might your behaviour, decisions and impact on others change as a result?