Lift! On Leading with Purpose

Most managers behave as if they were still in high school. The primary goal is not being laughed at.

This sentence resonates with/in me ever since I’ve heard it three days ago. Professor Robert Quinn, co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business (Michigan) coined it during a workshop on building positive cultures which was part of the Positive Business Conference 2016.

This is, of course, not the first time someone explained to me that most organizations create an atmosphere of (more or less) constant fear. But I have learned over the years that, in order to really grasp a “thing”, somebody has to present it to you at the right time in just the right words.

LiftI was so impressed after the workshop that I instantly bought his book Lift: The Fundamental State of Leadership (co-authored with his son Ryan) at the book table and devoured it on the plane back home from Detroit to Frankfurt, Germany. And what can I say? It´s one of the best books on leadership I´ve ever read.

Truth be told: I read a lot of management and psychology books (broadly speaking) and most authors on interpersonal leadership leave me rather unimpressed. I´m a senior human resources manager working in the headquarter of a multinational organization of 120,000 people, leading a team across two continents, additionally being responsible for groups of people that are part of our international trainee programs, and coordinating the efforts of multiple agencies that support us in recruiting and employer branding.

Against this backdrop, I can honestly say: Leadership is not easy. It doesn´t come down to checklists and simple recipes. Instead, it can be immensely taxing and challenging: It´s hard work. That´s why I enjoy leadership books that acknowledge and appreciate this basic condition.

Lift - Psychological States - QuinnRobert Quinn´s “Lift” is such a book. It draws on a useful metaphor from aerodynamics (the dynamic that makes objects fly even though they are heavier than air) but more importantly, is grounded in decades of top-tier research. The framework that serves as the outline of the book is based on an influential article in the journal Management Science from 1983, A Spatial Model of Effectiveness Criteria: Towards a Competing Values Approach to Organizational Analysis that aims at describing the basic dimensions of organizational effectiveness.

Quinn takes this framework and uses it to outline four corresponding psychological states of leadership: Purpose-centered, internally directed, other-focused, and externally open. This is the crucial point that differentiates “Lift” from most other leaderships books: It doesn´t tell (aspiring) leaders what to do on a concrete level. Instead, it serves to cultivate a certain mindset, a stance, a leadership conduct – what the author terms the fundamental state of leadership.

The author proposes we can enter this special mindset when we (implicitly or explicitly) apply a set of questions to given leadership situations, especially those that bear potential for resistance and conflict. These questions correspond to the four quadrants of the effectiveness/psychological states model.

  1. What results do I want to create? (objective: becoming less comfort-centered and more purpose-centered).
  2. What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others? (objective: becoming less externally directed and more internally directed).
  3. How do others feel about this situation? (objective: becoming less self-focused and more other-focused).
  4. What are three or more strategies I could try in learning how to accomplish my purpose? (objective: becoming less internally closed and more externally open).

If you want to hear a short summary in Quinn´s own word, here you go:

For me, an added value of the book is that it provides a very clear definition of an individual purpose. I´ve been struggling with that concept for quite a while now. I know I will have to sharpen mine in order to live up to my full potential – but most of what I´ve read so far has left me irresolute. Here´s what Quinn proposes:

When people are purposed-centered,

  1. they envision and pursue extraordinarily results that are not constrained by previous expectations or by expectations that they receive from others;
  2. the results they pursue are energizing because they are self-chosen, challenging, and constructive;
  3. they provide a clear definition of the situation, focusing people´s attention.

Most management books I read – whether I enjoyed them or not – don’t nudge me to do anything differently afterwards. I put them in a shelf and hope, at best, to remember one or two good ideas.

With “Lift”, it´s a different story. I have already printed out the four questions and I will stick them to the computer screen in my office next Monday. And I will use the aforementioned definition to further mold my individual purpose.

Share and enjoy!

P.S.
To learn more, you might want to watch Quinn´s 2013 TEDX talk.

Paying it Forward: On Generalized Reciprocity

Gluecksschweine_kleinWhat is the “paying it forward”-principle?

Basically, it´s the opposite of “paying it back”. Most theories about human nature assume that we are a pretty selfish bunch. We´re supposed to play the “tit for tat”-game – which roughly means “I rub your back, so you rub mine”. More generalized: We´re nice to people that have been nice to us – and vice-versa. Another, slightly less selfish version is: I´m nice to you because you´ve nice to someone I´m affiliated with.

Paying it forward runs counter to this intuition. In practical terms, it means, e.g., paying a coffee for a person you don´t no at all, just by leaving money at the counter and instructing the barista to tell the next customer that her tall decaf white soya moccacino has already been taken care of. Ideally, this will put the person in good/grateful mood which makes it more likely that this person will be nice to others in return, thereby creating a ripple effect of reciprocity (please have a look at this really cool video to have a glimpse at what this could look like).

In scientific terms, this process is called generalized reciprocity. Accordingly, we´re not being nice to someone specific, but rather to “the public” – because this general entity has been nice to us. If you want to see how far this principle can go, please watch Prof. Wayne E. Baker´s TEDx talk on this topic. Among other things, he talks about a long-lasting chain of kidney donations, where people gave a kidney to complete strangers – as a result of feeling gratitude because another stranger had donated a kidney to someone in their families.

Now, those scientists who think we´re a selfish bunch believe that people use the “pay it forward”-principle mainly for non-altruistic reasons, e.g., to create a favorable image vis-à-vis other relevant people. And while this may partly be true, it´s not the end of the story.

Together wit a colleague, the aforementioned Prof. Baker published a paper by the name of Paying It Forward vs. Rewarding Reputation: Mechanisms of Generalized Reciprocity. In an organizational setting, the researchers are able to show that people do engage in both types of behaviors: Helping other and then hoping that those who have witnessed the positive behavior will be helpful in return (rewarding reputation) – and the unconditional, more general type where we help people “just because”. They also find that the generalized reciprocity creates stronger ripple effects in the long run (here’s a nice summary of the paper).

In the words of the researchers:

We conduct the first-ever critical test of two key mechanisms: paying it forward and rewarding reputation. These are fundamentally different grammars of organizing, either of which could sustain a system of generalized reciprocity. In an organization, paying it forward is a type of organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) that occurs when members of an organization help third parties because they themselves were helped. Rewarding reputation is a type of OCB that occurs when peers monitor one another, helping those who help others and refusing to help those who do not. Using behavioral data collected from members of two organizational groups over a three-month period, we found that reputational effects were strongest in the short term but decayed thereafter. Paying it forward had stronger and more lasting effects.

Ain’t that nice… 🙂

The Paying it Forward Paradox | TEDxUoM

What if the toughest barrier between us and our needs is that we don’t ask for help fulfilling them? Sociologist Wayne Baker offers insight into the concept of generalized reciprocity or “paying it forward.”

Wayne Baker is Robert P. Thome Professor of Business Administration and Professor of Management & Organizations at the Ross School of Business. He is also Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan and Faculty Associate at the Institute for Social Research. His work focuses on social networks, generosity, and values. His books include “United America: The Surprising Truth about American Values, American Identity, and the 10 Beliefs that a Large Majority of Americans Hold Dear” and “Achieving Success through Social Capital: Tapping the Hidden Resources in Your Personal and Business Networks”. He blogs five days a week at http://www.ourvalues.org, an online experiment in civil dialog.

The 3 Layers of Meaningful Work

A while ago, I shared a summary of a fantastic article on the sources of meaning in work co-authored by Amy Wrzesniewski. This year, while trying to understand how to create infographics, I wrote an article about Michael Steger’s (University of Colorado) CARMA framework on how leaders can help their employees to perceive meaning in their work.

Today, I’d like to share more of Michael’s insightful work. With several co-workers, he created a new scale that aims at measuring how much meaning somebody perceives in his or her current working role. It’s called Work and Meaning Inventory (WAMI, here’s the original article).

Steger et al. find that it might be useful to conceptualize meaningful work as having three different layers (please also see the infographic at the bottom): The meaning of the work itself, the meaning it helps to generate in the wider context of the person’s life, and the meaning that is generated when a job helps to achieve some greater good. In their own words:

Positive meaning in work. This facet is a straightforward reflection of the idea of psychological meaningfulness that has been part of work psychology since the job characteristics model. […] Meaningful work is often a subjective experience that what one is doing has personal significance. 

Meaning making through work. Empirical research has shown that work frequently is an important source of meaning in life as a whole. There seems to be a common overlap between one’s work and one’s life work. Indeed, the idea that work could be meaningful without also leading people to build meaning in their lives as a whole makes little sense.

Greater good (GG) motivations. The desire to make a positive impact on the greater good is consistently related to the experience of meaningful work as well as the related construct of calling. […] This facet reflects commonly held ideas that work is most meaningful if it has a broader impact on others. 

As the saying goes:

All good comes in threes.

Three_Level_Meaning_Steger

Finally, it´s here: Adam Grant´s TED talk on Creativity and Innovation

How do creative people come up with great ideas? Organizational psychologist Adam Grant (here´s an interview he recently gave for Mappalicious…) studies “originals”: thinkers who dream up new ideas and take action to put them into the world. In this talk, learn three unexpected habits of originals — including embracing failure. “The greatest originals are the ones who fail the most, because they’re the ones who try the most,” Grant says. “You need a lot of bad ideas in order to get a few good ones.”

While this is Adam´s first TED talk, he´s given two TEDx talks in the past:

Share and enjoy!

On TED: How to let Altruism be your Guide

What is altruism? According to Matthieu Ricard, happiness researcher, Buddhist monk and right-hand man of the Dalai Lama, it’s the wish that other people may be happy. And he believes altruism is also a great lens for making decisions, both for the short and long term, in work and in life.

 

Matthieu Ricard´s talk will also be posted as No. 49 on my topical list of Positive Psychology-infused TED talks, Michael Norton´s is already there.