Mappalicious | Corona | PTG

What doesn´t Kill us Makes us Wiser: Psychological Growth in Times of the Corona Crisis

I haven´t posted anything new on Mappalicious for quite a while – but I think now is a good time to do so. Yesterday, I was interviewed live on German TV, talking about the short-term and long-term implications of the corona crisis for psychological well-being. While getting home from Cologne to my hometown on an almost empty fast train, I had some time to reflect on the last weeks – and what I´ve towitnessed either personally or via the media.

Covid–19 constitutes a world-wide health emergency and an ensuing threat to the global economy. While addressing the nation on national TV some days ago, Chancellor Merkel said the situation presents a challenge to my fellow Germans that can only be likened to the herculean efforts that were invested after the re-unification 1989/90 – or possibly even when trying to rebuild the nation after World War II.

Nico Rose | Psychologist | TVSome people will definitely feel it might be too early to even think about the possible positive consequences of this dreadful situation. Yet, I consider myself an eternal optimist, I just can´t help it. We have already seen multiple accounts of environmental upshots and “nature” reclaiming some of its proper territory as an outcome of billions of people shutting down travel and other human activities that cause pollution. But, being a psychologist, my thoughts center on the possible long-term upshots for the human condition.

Beyond Resilience and Bouncing Back

After finally getting home, I revisited some of my earlier writing on a phenomenon that, in my branch of psychology, goes by the name of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG). While much of the research on the consequences of traumatic life events focuses on negative outcomes and their mitigation (coping with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder; PTSD), by now there is a lot of research that hints at a path that, in the long run, is markedly different from just coping and eventually bouncing back. It is true that traumatic experiences can leave people shattered. But that is by far not the only possible trajectory.

A sizable body of extant research, initiated via seminal work by researchers Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence G. Calhoun, is able to demonstrate that, over time and under the right conditions (especially lots of social support), people may manage to reach a markedly higher level of psychological functioning compared to the time before the critical incident. In case it occurs, PTG tends to manifest itself via five pathways that can occur separately, in conjunction, or somewhat consecutively (not necessarily in the order given below):

Now, while the corona virus is still rampaging and will likely continue to do so for quite a while, I cannot help but notice the incipient signs of PTG – basically everywhere I look. It is utterly terrible that so many people are dying or losing their jobs right now. But that is only a part of what´s going on. Globally, people suddenly manage to cherish the “simple things” again: The fact that they themselves and their loved ones are still healthy. The safe space of their homes, and at best, gardens. The music. That sizable stockpile of toilet paper (but that´s another story…).

Traditional zero-sum games suddenly are turned into non-zero-sum games. On a global scale, individuals (and even lots of for-profit organizations, for that matter) start supporting, caring, and rooting for each other in unprecedented quantity and quality. They freely share their resources, their knowledge, and their time. We swiftly learn how to lead, learn, and love in new ways, a lot of them involving the smart use of digital technologies.

While oftentimes, many people feel helpless in times of crisis and wait for some kind of savior (in Germany, mostly in the form of “the government”), I see folks getting creative about their personal lives and their businesses, ramping up their sense of self-efficacy and ownership, developing a distinct can-do attitude. I could go on endlessly with these observations – but you get the picture.

Outlook: Has Hollywood told us the Truth all along?

Now and then, I feel we´re all turning to that part of the plot from cheesy disaster movies where people, towards the beginning of the third act, recognize a sense of urgency and unity. Suddenly, they bury the hatchet and finally start to cooperate in order to beat up alien arses. Just, in real life it´s not cheesy at all. It´s strikingly beautiful (e.g., watch the Spanish police force root for hospital staff in Madrid). In more places than not, the corona virus brings out the best in people.

While I´m an optimist and tend to (force myself to) look on the bright side, I don´t classify as a naïve ignoramus. I am fully aware that, in all likelihood, most people will revert to more self-serving behaviors when we´ve found a way to adequately deal with this pandemic (first and foremost, when a reliable vaccine has been created). A quick look at history suggests this is a sure bet. My hope is that more folks than not will not go back all the way.

Time and time again, psychological research has exposed the fact that creating significant and lasting changes in human behaviors (without an external crisis) is strikingly hard. It becomes all the more difficult when people imagine that change to be a black-or-white, all-or-nothing game. In this spirit, I remember learning from management professor and leadership luminary Kim Cameron at University of Michigan, shortly before Christmas 2017. He imbued us with the idea that changing a behavior to the extent of just one percent, but then sustaining that effort for 365 days, will make a difference that makes a difference – be in our personal lives or within organizations. Now, this is what I hope for, for myself and all of mankind:

Let´s make sure we all sustain at least one percent of what we´re all doing better right now – when all of this is through. Let´s sustain one percent for a year. And then another one. And another…


Prof. Dr. Nico Rose is a German organizational psychologist. He currently teaches at International School of Management (ISM), Dortmund, Germany. From 2010 – 2018, he worked for Bertelsmann, Europe´s premier media company, most recently as VP Employer Branding & Talent Acquisition.


Credit: Hope picture

The Center for Positive Organizations: My Top-10 List of Research Papers

This is some stuff you should definitely check out if you´re in HR, or an (aspiring) leader – or if you want to up your game in general with regard to understanding positive organizations. All links lead you to PDFs of the respective articles.

Cameron, K. S., Bright, D., & Caza, A. (2004). Exploring the relationships between organizational virtuousness and performance. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 766-790.

Cameron, K., Mora, C., Leutscher, T., & Calarco, M. (2011). Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(3), 266-308.

Dutton, J. E., Worline, M. C., Frost, P. J., & Lilius, J. (2006). Explaining compassion organizing. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51(1), 59-96.

Heaphy, E. D., & Dutton, J. E. (2008). Positive social interactions and the human body at work: Linking organizations and physiology. Academy of Management Review, 33(1), 137-162.

Mayer, D. M., Aquino, K., Greenbaum, R. L., & Kuenzi, M. (2012). Who displays ethical leadership, and why does it matter? An examination of antecedents and consequences of ethical leadership. Academy of Management Journal, 55(1), 151-171.

Owens, B. P., Baker, W. E., Sumpter, D. M., & Cameron, K. S. (2016). Relational energy at work: Implications for job engagement and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 35-49.

Roberts, L. M., Dutton, J. E., Spreitzer, G. M., Heaphy, E. D., & Quinn, R. E. (2005). Composing the reflected best-self portrait: Building pathways for becoming extraordinary in work organizations. Academy of Management Review, 30(4), 712-736.

Spreitzer, G. M., Kizilos, M. A., & Nason, S. W. (1997). A dimensional analysis of the relationship between psychological empowerment and effectiveness, satisfaction, and strain. Journal of Management, 23(5), 679-704.

Spreitzer, G., Sutcliffe, K., Dutton, J., Sonenshein, S., & Grant, A. M. (2005). A socially embedded model of thriving at work. Organization Science, 16(5), 537-549.

Wrzesniewski, A., & Dutton, J. E. (2001). Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26(2), 179-201.

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The Center for Positive Organizations at University of Michigan: a Book List

Kim Cameron | Nico RoseI´m the luckiest guy in the world. I get to spend the week at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, more precisely: the Ross of Business. Part of the Ross School is the Center for Positive Organizations – which without exaggeration can be described as the global focal point for research and application(s) of Positive Psychology in business (Positive Organizational Scholarship). It´s home to POS luminaries such as Kim Cameron, Jane Dutton, and Robert Quinn. Additionally, some of the big shots in the field have completed their Ph.D. studies here, among them Adam Grant and Amy Wrzesniewski.

I´m going to provide an overview of what I´ve learned here at a later point in time. For today, I´d like to provide a book list of works that been crafted by faculty of  the Center for Positive Organizations. After is, Christmas is coming up soon – and you might still be looking for something for your loved ones (or yourself)…

Also, watch out for Wayne Bakers upcoming book “Just Ask”…

Welcome to the Center for Positive Organizations

CPO_LogoSo, I’m sharing a commercial video here. Yes, that’s not the usual content on Mappalicious.

It’s just that so many of my academic heroes are gathered in this video (and thus, at the CPO, e.g. Robert Quinn, Jane Dutton, and Kim Cameron) that I’m actually eager to share it. The CPO is a fabulous place to learn. I know this ever since taking part in their Positive Business Conference in May.

Please also check out their fabulous website. They host a wide array of Positive Psychology resources, e.g., this extensive list of research papers on Positive Organizational Science.

Your first and foremost Job as a Leader is… Peter Drucker​ on Positive Organizations

I guess it must be really hard to be a management guru these days. No matter what you say, no matter how brilliant you are – there’s a very high probability that somebody will already have laid out what your core message is. And with “somebody”, I don’t refer to a lot of people, I’m just talking about one person: Peter Drucker.

If you visit, e.g., his notable quotes on GoodReads, you’ll find that he was an incredibly smart thinker – and the he basically laid out all the principles of modern (and in some instances: post-modern) management (in the best sense of the word…). And he did all of that mostly during the 1950s and 60s!

Last week, I stumbled upon a quote that gives rise to the assumption Peter Drucker was also able to foresee some of the developments in Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), e.g.,  Jane Dutton’s concept of High-Quality Connections, or Kim Cameron’s idea of leading by managing Organizational Energy.

Here are some additional quotes alluding to the rise of Positive Organizations:

Peter Drucker on Positive Deviance and High-Quality Connections

Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.

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The work relationship has to be based on mutual respect. Psychological despotism is basically contemptuous—far more contemptuous than the traditional Theory X. It does not assume that people are lazy and resist work, but it assumes that the manager is healthy while everybody else is sick. It assumes that the manager is strong while everybody else is weak. It assumes that the manager knows while everybody else is ignorant. It assumes that the manager is right, whereas everybody else is stupid. These are the assumptions of foolish arrogance.

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The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.

Peter Drucker on Strength Orientation

A person can perform only from strength. One cannot build performance on weakness, let alone on something one cannot do at all.

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We all have a vast number of areas in which we have no talent or skill and little chance of becoming even mediocre. In those areas a knowledge workers should not take on work, jobs and assignments. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.

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A man should never be appointed to a managerial position if his vision focuses on people’s weaknesses rather than on their strengths. The man who always knows exactly what people cannot do, but never sees anything they can do, will undermine the spirit of his organization.

Peter Drucker on Purpose

An organization is not, like an animal, an end in itself, and successful by the mere act of perpetuating the species. An organization is an organ of society and fulfills itself by the contribution it makes to the outside environment.

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Only a clear, focused, and common mission can hold the organization together and enable it to produce results.

Peter Drucker on Self-Knowledge and the Growth Mindset

Success in the knowledge economy comes to those who know themselves – their strengths, their values, and how they best perform.

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People in general, and knowledge workers in particular, grow according to the demands they make on themselves. They grow according to what they consider to be achievement and attainment. If they demand little of themselves, they will remain stunted. If they demand a good deal of themselves, they will grow to giant stature—without any more effort than is expended by the nonachievers.

10 more Blogs on Positive Psychology and adjacent You Need to Know

IMG_2317A while ago, I posted a list of 10 blogs on Positive Psychology and adjacent I frequently visit. Back then, I already said it was hard to limit the selection to only 10 sites. Therefore, here´s another curated list of cool Positive Psychology blogs. Share and enjoy!

Eric Barker writes Barking Up The Wrong Tree. He brings you science-based answers and expert insight on how to be awesome at life. His content has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine and Time Magazine.

The Greater Good Science Center at Berkeley (co-founded by Professor Dacher Keltner) “studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society”. They frequently publish articles by their own staff as well as guest articles by eminent researchers.

In their own words, The Creativity Post (co-founded by Scott Barry Kaufman) is “a non-profit web platform committed to sharing the very best content on creativity, in all of its forms: from scientific discovery to philosophical debate, from entrepreneurial ventures to educational reform, from artistic expression to technological innovation – in short, to all the varieties of the human experience that creativity brings to life.”

The Center for Positive Organizations (staff includes Professors Jane Dutton, Kim Cameron, Robert Quinn, and Gretchen Spreitzer) based at the Ross School of Business (University of Michigan) seeks to “inspire and enable leaders to build high-performing organizations that bring out the best in people. We are a catalyst for the creation and growth of positive organizations.” They regularly publish articles by the aforementioned researchers and scholars in Positive Organizational Scholarship.

Paula Davis-Laack is a fellow Penn MAPP alum and writes a regular column called Pressure Proof about “strategies and stories for busy, complicated lives” on Psychology Today.

In their own words, The Pursuit of Happiness is a “group of psychologists, philosophers, educators, and web professionals dedicated to the advancement of scientific knowledge about happiness and depression prevention. We provide science-based information on life skills and habits needed to enhance well-being, build resilience against depression and anxiety, and pursue a meaningful life.” Professor Todd Kashdan is one of the contributors.

Happiness by Design is a column on Psychology Today by London School of Economics´ Professor Paul Dolan. It doesn’t update very often by the posts are cool to read.

Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier and more caring society. We want to see a fundamentally different way of life – where people care less about what they can get just for themselves and more about the happiness of others. Sir Richard Layard is among the founders. They publish compelling pieces by top-tier Positive Psychology researchers and experts in their news section.

To my mind, Michael Tomoff is one of the few people who write stuff worth reading on Positive Psychology in German. His blog is called Was wäre wenn? (What if?).

The last one is a sort of honorable mention. The late Professor Christopher Peterson published an immensely insightful and oftentimes very funny Positive Psychology blog via Psychology Today called The Good Life. Even though it has not been updated ever since 2012 (for obvious reasons), I revisit it frequently for inspiration.