Once I´ll reach x (…put in one of your personal or professional goals…) I´ll be happy. This is a popular equation many people believe in. It´s promoted by a lot of self-help books as well.
And it´s wrong – or at least incomplete.
One of the central tenets in Positive Psychology is that happiness (positive emotions) actually lead to success. Researchers Julia K. Boehm and Sonja Lyubomirsky gathered the extant scientific evidence supporting this hypothesis for an influential review article in 2008. Ten years later they revisited this article and integrated new findings that corrobate their initial stance: Does Happiness Promote Career Success? Revisiting the Evidence. Here´s an excerpt from the discussion section:
First, the cross-sectional literature supports a correlational link between happiness and various success-related outcomes. Happiness is positively associated with job autonomy, job satisfaction, job performance, prosocial behavior, social support, popularity, and income. Happy people also receive more positive peer and supervisor evaluations […].
Second, […] longitudinal research suggests that people who are happy at an initial time point are more likely to find employment, be satisfied with their jobs, acquire higher status, perform well, be productive, receive social support, be evaluated positively, engage in fewer withdrawal behaviors, and obtain higher income at a subsequent time point.
Finally, […] experimental research demonstrates that when people are randomly assigned to experience positive emotions, they negotiate more collaboratively, set higher goals for themselves, persist at difficult tasks longer, evaluate themselves and others more favorably, help others more, and demonstrate greater creativity and curiosity than people assigned to experience neutral or negative emotions.
Two weeks ago, I gave my second TEDx talk on compassion in organizations. If you are interested in the (sort of) transcript of my talk, please visit this post. The purpose of this one is just to share some photos and to congratulate the fabulous organizing team of TEDxEBS 2016. The photos were shot by Erfan Fazloomi.
The word compassion sounds “soft”. It invokes images of praying Buddhist monks, nurses taking care of the feeble, or a priest administering the last rites to a dying person. What surely doesn´t come to mind is the picture of a corporate boardroom, right? But why?
When we walk into to the office in the morning and someone asks us “How are you?” we´re supposed to say something along the lines of: “Fine! How about you?” It´s part of the language game in the corporate world. We know this. At the same time, we all know that quite often, people are presenting a white lie at this point. We know this very well precisely because we do the same every once in a while. We say “I´m fine” even when things clearly aren´t fine at all.
Life can be a bitch. Our loved ones become sick or pass away. We fight with our spouses, our children, our parents, our neighbors. There are bills to pay and sometimes the end of the month is still too far away. Hell, the Warriors lose to the Cavs after a 3:1 lead in the NBA finals. It´s tough.
This emotional load – we bring it into the office, no matter if we admit it or if we decide to cover up. Most people indeed choose to cover up – as somehow, someone decided a hundred years ago that businesses ought to be rational places, spaces where emotions don´t belong or even disrupt normal functioning (whatever that is…).
The problem is: It´s just not possible. People cannot shut down their emotions at discretion. At least not for longer periods of time – and certainly not without paying a price.
There is always pain in the room.
This sentence was coined by the late management professor Peter Frost, one of the pioneers studying and advocating compassion in business settings. It´s a quite powerful proposition, even though (Or maybe: because?) it states something very obvious. Shit happens to the best of us. We suffer – and sometimes, it takes us a long time to cope. We feel pain and sorrow and those feelings don’t bother to ask us if we are currently at work or at home.
So, how should managers and co-workers react? The common rules of business tell us to ignore or downplay the issue but in most cases, that´s not what really helps.
Not showing our suffering or downplaying the suffering of our colleagues is a perfect example of what Finnish philosopher Esa Saarinen calls a system of holding back in return and advance. We don’t openly display our suffering because we expect from prior interactions that it will not be acted upon appropriately. Meanwhile, the others see no need to act compassionately as everything seems to be OK. Ad infinitum. And the longer this “non-reciprocity circle” is in place, the harder it becomes for an individual to make a first move in order to interrupt the chain of neglect.
Another way would be to act compassionately: To notice the negative feelings of our co-workers, to feel empathetic concern, and to act accordingly. Compassion does not equal to fully experiencing the same feelings as the person we´re compassionate to.
Put in a straight-forward way…
…being compassionate means to be willing to imagine how it would feel like to walk some miles in another person´s shoes – and then, upon recognizing this would probably be hurtful, trying to appropriately mitigate that pain or suffering.
That´s it. It´s not a mystic thing – and we don´t have to mediate in a cave for 20 years before we´re able to pull off that stunt.
We know how to be compassionate even before we can ride a bike. Small children act compassionately by nature. When they see another child crying, they instinctively show signs of distress – and then they try to help with their restricted means, e.g., by caressing their counterpart or sharing a toy.
But somehow, this get´s lost as we get our high school diplomas, university degrees – and then move on to become business people. Which is a pity, because businesses create a lot of pain themselves – it´s not all from our private lives. People suffer because they don’t get that promotion, because their buddies get laid off, or just because co-workers, or even worse, bosses behave in outright toxic ways. Again, we all know this to some degree.
Here´s the point: Science shows over and over again that by carelessly ignoring these emotional dynamics, businesses are hurting the bottom line. If you want to know how, I´d like to point you towards this superb review article written by science rock star Jane Dutton of University of Michigan´s Center for Positive Organizations and some colleagues (that´s also where I “stole” the graphic from):
Dutton, J. E., Workman, K. M., & Hardin, A. E. (2014). Compassion at Work. Annual Reviews of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 1(1), 277-304.
Are you fully charged right now? Do you feel energized? Full of zest? Or do you feel de-energized? Depleted? Run-down? Or maybe something in-between?
No matter what it is that you´re currently experiencing – it´s clear that humans tend to describe their condition in terms of energetic states. What is this energy? It is clear that we’re not talking about energy in a (strictly) physical sense. Yes, we may feel drained energetically because of a lack of food (especially carbohydrates), and definitely a lack of sleep – and we do feel recharged after eating or taking a nap. But with the kind of energy we´re talking about here, there´s more to it.
By way of example, taking a brisk walk after lunch can restore our energy and help us being more productive in the afternoon, even though a lot of physical energy is actually spent while moving.
Moreover, human energy feeds on interesting ideas, on passion, on having a goals, especially shared goals. Research shows the same activity can be energizing or de-energizing, depending on the question if that activity plays to our strengths – or if it autonomously regulated (by and large: intrinsically motivated) or externally regulated (forced upon us). A great of overview of different frameworks of human energy is given in: Quinn, R. W., Spreitzer, G. M., & Lam, C. F. (2012). Building a sustainable model of human energy in organizations: Exploring the critical role of resources. Academy of Management Annals, 6(1), 337-396.
But most importantly, our energy feeds on interaction with other human beings – yet, it can be drained during that process as well.
For a moment, think about a typical interaction with a colleague at work. Depending on the quality of that interaction, afterwards you might feel:
- (a little) elevated/uplifted (= energized);
- (a little) depleted/exhausted (= de-energized);
- just as before (= unchanged).
In reality, depending on the quality of past experiences, this process might start well before the actual interaction, precisely when a person starts to think about having to meet with another person. I mean, honestly, how often do we say something along the lines of: “Oh gosh, I have a meeting with X tomorrow – I wish I could send someone else…”
This is the reason why a lot of companies start to adopt a “no-asshole-policy”: They adjust their hiring/firing processes in order to minimize the occurrence of “emotional black holes” among their employees, those people that suck up the energy of their colleagues, even when they are high-performers within their respective domain of work. The damage they cause to the organizational network by far outweighs their productivity in the long run (please check out: Cross, R., Baker, W., & Parker, A. (2003). What creates energy in organizations? MIT Sloan Management Review, 44(4), 51-57).
Now, imagine how many encounters you have on an average day at work, be they short and fleeting (e.g., small talk at the water cooler) or extended and intensive (e.g., a day-long workshop). And now go on to imagine all the people in your company, and their encounters over a day, or a week, or a year.
With a large company, e.g., the one I work for (120.000 employees), we’re easily talking about more than a billion of those interactions per year. That’s more than one billion occasions to either charge or discharge the energy of that organization. Each energetic transaction may be minuscule, but together they form the most important asset of that organization (besides such aspects as the properties, machines, trademarks). Because here’s the thing (and you know this very well from your own life): The energetic state of each employee is connected to a lot of outcomes, such as work engagement, creativity, and satisfaction – and taken together, alles those interactions form a larger part of the organizational culture.
When we´re talking about “change”, usually we´re referring to big fluffy concepts: “change the culture”, or “change leadership”. But can we really work with those entities in real life? Isn’t it more advantageous to start with the little things, the day-to-day behavior? In order to do that, we´d have to be able to measure the nature of those interactions with regard to their “energetic quality”.
Such an attempt has now been made by a team of US-based researchers (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). They define (positive) relational energy as
a heightened level of psychological resourcefulness generated from interpersonal interactions that enhances one’s capacity to do work.
The researchers propose a new scale for the measurement of this kind of energy from the vantage point of the recipient; these are two of the items they propose:
- I feel invigorated when I interact with this person.
- After interacting with this person I feel more energy to do my work.
Large companies usually go to great lengths in order to measure employee engagement, satisfaction, and related psychological states. Now imagine having each employee in an organization fill out a short questionnaire on the relational energy they’re getting out of interacting with their closest co-workers, managers, and subordinates. This, in turn, could be used to create a detailed “energetic map” of that organization, thereby identifying the energizers and the “black holes” along the way.
I imagine this could lead to a complete new, data-based paradigms in leadership development.
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.
I 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.
Robert 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.
- What results do I want to create? (objective: becoming less comfort-centered and more purpose-centered).
- What would my story be if I were living the values I expect of others? (objective: becoming less externally directed and more internally directed).
- How do others feel about this situation? (objective: becoming less self-focused and more other-focused).
- 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,
- they envision and pursue extraordinarily results that are not constrained by previous expectations or by expectations that they receive from others;
- the results they pursue are energizing because they are self-chosen, challenging, and constructive;
- 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!
To learn more, you might want to watch Quinn´s 2013 TEDX talk.
While the first day of the Positive Business Conference 2016 has been stimulating and inspiring, the second day was truly transformative for me – and mind you, I don’t use words like this lightly. But I will eloborate on this at a later point in time. The impressions are too fresh to put them in intelligible phrases.
For today, I’d like to recap the day in the same day I did yesterday: by sharing some of my and other participants’ tweets.
First, I discovered my next job title:
Then I learned about how to infuse a company with purpose.
I was impressed to learn how Ross School of Business strives to develop leaders that make a positive difference.
The early afternoon was reserved for a workshop on compassion in business led by Jane Dutton and Monica Worline. Somehow, this one made the difference that makes a difference. But as said, I’m going to talk about that in a separate post.
Fellow Penn Mappster Jessica Amortegui was awarded with the 1. price of the Positive Business Project competition for her work with Logitech.
Just like Alex Edmans explained yesterday: It pays off financially to invest in ethical companies.
Coffee makes the world go round – but only if it’s fair-trade.
Michigan Ross: Thanks a million for hosting that is brilliant conference. I’ll be back…!