Organizations need to become better at change, agiler, responsive to the fast pace of technology and global competition, more innovative, just, and sustainable. But they have a hard time doing so.

In many organizations, people are waiting for the boss to create a vision, to solve the problems, or to give permission. Or they feel unsafe in a political hierarchy and are hiding to protect themselves. Thus, the majority is not engaged and not contributing.

We are operating on an outdated paradigm: “There should be one leader who knows best and tells us what to do.”

  • Being the leader, you’ll be exhausted from pushing and pulling employees forward (trying to engage, and motivate, etc).
  • Being the employee, you’re either bored, anxious, obstinate or criticizing. You may be doing what you’re told as long as the boss is in sight.

What we need is the opposite. Organizations need fast collaboration among autonomous professionals in flexible roles who like to collaborate.
Once people engage, you’ll be surprised by the speed, quality, energy, and self-organization that they display to achieve shared purposes and goals.

What is your Personal Positive Power?

So, how could we retrieve our power and engage? How could we start to influence the organizations where we work, the teams that we lead, the colleagues that we share our workdays with? I like Diana Whitney’s definition of power. In the book Appreciative Leadership, she says: Being powerful is bringing your best self forward and engaging with others to create a world that works for all – while helping others be powerful, too.

Personal means we taking ownership. It’s something you personally can do without permission or resources from others. Focusing on what you can do, however small that may be, will bring peace of mind (you control this part!) and positive energy.

Positive means cherishing a positive attitude with helpful thoughts and hopeful narratives. It means enhancing positive emotions because we have better access to our genius and competencies from a positive emotional state (that opens us). Barbara Frederickson’s research confirms that a positive state “broadens and builds” both people and organizations. No one delivered their magnum opus feeling bad. Only when you feel good, can you realize your potential and inspire others to follow your example.

Positive is not happy hippie-talk and denying what is wrong. Positive is firmly grounded in research (positive psychology, positive organizational scholarship as well as appreciative inquiry). Positivity enhances excellence. It is a conscious choice to focus your attention on what is already working and to amplify that.

Power is having the potential to do something, or make something happen. You need energy to accomplish anything. You need to engage with people and issues. You need to empower yourself and others to work on a positive culture.

Why bother to contribute to a positive culture?

But why would you develop your personal positive power and contribute to a positive culture?

First, you will achieve more and feel better by choosing a positive mindset of possibilities. Focusing on what you can control and changing yourself will yield positive energy. That in itself might be reason enough.

The second reason is to influence others (and, eventually, your team and organization) in a positive way. When you change an (inter)action, you’ll make the other person think. You could inspire them to try new behaviors, or respond differently because you are acting differently.

Third, when enough others see and do things differently, the organization as a whole is changing. That is needed to develop a positive and productive organization.

People copy each other unconsciously to fit into the culture. Changing a culture starts with changing your mindset, and next, your language! After your language, your behaviors and your outcomes will change for the better. People want to collaborate with positive people. They’ll share more ideas and issues with you. They’ll support you because you support them. Your interactions and actions might be copied because they are successful – and slowly but surely, the culture will become more positive and productive.

Being the Change

Being the change you want to see is the most compelling way to help others change. Even though it starts small and nearly invisible, something is stirred. If it takes on, the new “vibe” will spread and grow stronger. First, you inspire one other, then another, and so on. You’ll add to a positive culture, one interaction at a time.

I use this in culture change projects: when a number of committed individuals change certain behaviors, it becomes easier for the others to copy these behaviors. It may evolve into the new “way we do things around here”.

That’s how you can make a positive difference, regardless of your position. This means you don’t have to be the boss to start developing a positive culture.

As a leader or a team member?

Of course, it can be easier as a leader. People have a tendency to look at authority figures to get an idea of what is expected “good behavior”. As a leader, you are visible, you are a role-model, and you have formal power to make others do things, and to coach or correct them if they don’t.

But because of your formal power to “force” others, a leadership position may also be more suspect. There’s a power distance between a leader and the team, however small. People may be wary of your motives, or they might feign to please you but they don’t really agree…

If you make a positive change as one of the colleagues on the team, people might be less cautious and more open to your new behaviors than if you were their boss. You can make a huge difference in the work lives of your coworkers if you become your best self with a positive mindset…
You might notice that people love to work with you, ask your advice, want to include you, and so on. Positive people energize others. And more and more people will adopt these positive behaviors.

Through this ripple effect, organizations will change their (inter)actions. Organizational change is always preceded by personal change. It starts when some people change their minds and interactions, and when they are copied and enough people behave more positively, there’s a tipping point and the change becomes “the new normal”.

What could you do today to contribute to a more positive culture at work?

© Marcella Bremer, 2017. All rights reserved.

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