Pygmalion and the Leadership Value Chain

I´m still tremendously inspired by my time at the Ross School of Business in December 2017. Today, I´d like to share with you one of the teachings of Professor Bob Quinn (I´ve posted about his fabulous book Lift before). At one point during the training, Bob introduced us to what he calls the Leadership Value Chain. It´s a model of how (top) management´s mindsets, belief systems and values influence their behavior, which in turn influences organizational values and climate, which ultimately shape peoples´ engagement, and, at the end (and beginning) of the day, their behavior:

Leader Value Chain | Robert Quinn | Mappalicious

One of the framework´s assumptions is that change at higher levels can be blocked or at least diluted by stagnation at the deeper levels. Thus, any (hierarchical) organization will fundamentally change if, and only if there´s a change at the level of leadership values and behaviors.

This got me thinking again about self-fulfilling prophecies and the Pygmalion Effect, whereby performance (e.g., of employees and students) can be positively influenced by the expectations of others. It does make a difference if leaders believe their people:

When leaders´ mindsets are shaped by the ideas on the left, they will act accordingly. When they adhere to the conceptions on the right, they will also act accordingly. Yet, the results will be different.

The left side will lead to optimistic, trusting and, thus, empowering leadership behavior, the right side to pessimistic, mistrusting and thus, controlling leadership behavior. People will adjust accordingly, either by being engaged, inquisitive, and entrepreneurial – or disengaged, unwilling to learn, and small-minded. This, in turn, will fortify their leaders´idea of men, either way. Thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy is fulfilled.

Now, here´s a funny thing about the Pygmalion Effect: Research has demonstrated it can (by and large) not be faked. Either you believe “people are good” – or you don´t. You cannot “believe that you believe”. Which leaves us with the following conclusion:

If you want people to change for the better, you better become a better version of yourself first.

Feedback on Optimal Human Functioning: The Reflected Best Self Exercise™

Nico Rose | Jane Dutton

Nico & Jane Dutton at Ross School of Business

In mid-December, I got to spend a week in Ann Arbor at the Ross School of Business, taking part in an open enrollment course called The Positive Leader: Deep Change and Organizational Transformation. It´s a formidable tour de force through the most important frameworks and applications of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS). I´m going to write some more about my experiences over the upcoming weeks.

Today, I´d like to share with you the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, a powerful tool that helps people to learn more about their individual strengths and what they´re like when they display some form of peak performance (from the vantage point of other people). In short, the exercise is about asking a group of people to supply you with stories of times when they perceived you to be at your best. In other words, you ask people for feedback about your strengths and capacity for peak performance – and only about that.

What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

What´s so special about receiving only positive feedback once in a while? It´s extraordinary because we typicially hear mixed messages, e.g., as part of a performance appraisal at work. What´s the point? Rick Hanson, author of “Hardwiring Happiness”, likes to say “our mind has velcro tapes for negative and teflon layers for positive information.” Even if the usual feedback we receive is mostly positive, our brain drives us to ponder almost exclusivley on the negative (= potentially harmful) information. This mode of processing has actually helped us to survive as a species over thousands of years (please see Bad is Stronger than Good for more background) – but it also keeps us from truly taking in any positive information, unless we explicitly allow ourselves to focus on that side of the spectrum, so we can learn and grow based on who we are when we´re at our best.

Learning from what´s already (more than) good

How are we supposed to improve and grow when we´re not focusing on our weaknesses? As the saying goes, “where attention goes, energy flows” (and results show). Learning about who we are when we are at our best helps us to:

The last bullet point seems especially important to me as it points towards the so-called Pygmalion Effect, the phenomenon whereby higher expectations by others lead to an increase in actual performance. When we ask people to reflect on our positive sides, we actually help them to perceive what Jane Dutton calls the “zone of possibility”, a reservoir of untapped resources and growth potential. Via authentically pointing us towards these strengths and capabilities, they help us to become more than we currently are. This is the true nature of appreciation. The typical connotation of “to appreciate” points towards a strong form of liking. But it also means to grow in value. What other people appreciate about us tends to appreciate over time.

Reflected Best Self - Nico Rose

How does the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ work?

  1. Collect stories from a variety of people inside and outside of your work. You should receive feedback from at least 10 people. By gathering input from a variety of sources, such as family members, past and present colleagues, friends, teachers etc., you can develop a broader understanding of yourself. Specifically, ask them to supply you with short stories of episodes when they perceived you to “be at your best”. Ask for specific and tangible examples, not general impressions.
  2. Recognize patterns and common themes: After gathering those stories, read through them carefully, allowing yourself to take and savor in the positive content. Then, go through them several times, making mark-ups and remarks with a pen. The goal is to search for common themes and recurring patterns within the different stories. These commonalities will serve as the base for your “Best Self Description”.
  3. Then, write a description of yourself that summarizes and distills the accumulated information. The description should weave themes from the feedback into a concise “medley” of who you are at your best. This portrait is not meant to be a complete psychological profile. Rather, it should be an illuminating image you can use as a reminder of your contributions and as a guide for future action (you can see the result of my own process in the picture on the right).
  4. Redesign your job (optional): Now that you you have crafted your “Best Self Description”, what are you supposed to with it? To start, it´s a very good idea to hang a print-out in some corner of your office so as to have an easily accessible reminder of you can be, for those times when things become stressful (and they always do in large organizations). This will help you to keep your composure and look beyond the constraints of the current situation. In the long run, it´s definitely useful to think about the larger implications of your best self:
    • To what extent is your current job playing to your strengths?
    • Can you change your current task and responsibilities so as to better reflect your best self? (please see: Job Crafting)
    • Or should you maybe think about a change of careers to realize your full potential?

I hope you will have tons of fun and insightful moments with this framework; I surely did. By the way, I´ve found out earlier this also works perfectly using social media channels such as Facebook and LinkedIn. You can read my account of this “experiment” here.

Resources

You can find a full description of the Reflected Best Self Exercise™, its application, and the underlying research via these articles:

You´ll find lots of resources with regard to the Reflected Best Self Exercise™ on the website of the the Center for Positive Organizations at Ross School of Business.

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”…

Positive Psychology News Digest | No. 08/2017

mappalicious_news_digest_2017My favorite news and blog articles covering Positive Psychology and adjacent topics from (roughly) the last seven days.

Forbes: Two Reasons We Fail to Be Creative by Caroline Beaton


Mindful.org: Can Mindfulness Help Us Navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution? by Jamie Bristow


New Yorker: Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds by Elisabeth Kolbert


Greater Good Science Center: What Would Buddha Do About the Economy? by Jenara Nerenberg


The Positive Organization: The Power of an Organizing Image by Robert Quinn


Sciencer of Us: To Navigate a Challenge, Pretend You’re Giving Advice to a Friend by Brad Stulberg


Greater Good Science Center: Can You Change Your Personality? by Jill Suttie


Heleo: Feeling Adrift? Here’s How to Strengthen Meaning in Your Life, no author


Michigan Ross: The Business Case for Compassion, no author


Heleo: Why Bringing Compassion to Work is Good for Business, no author

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.

Mappsterview No. 7: Jessica Amortegui, Positive Business Champion

I was in the ninth cohort (2013/14) of the Master of Applied Positive Program at Penn – and the program is going strong. Consequently, there are tons of brilliant MAPP Alumni out there who have fascinating stories to tell: About their experience with the program, about Positive Psychology in general – and about themselves of course. I really want to hear those stories. That´s why I started Mappsterviews.

Jessica_Amortegui.jpgPlease introduce yourself briefly:

I am an introvert masquerading as an extrovert who still gets deathly shy meeting new people. Luckily this all dissipates when speaking to large groups (the bigger the better!). I have spent the past five years working in Silicon Valley and seeing my uber active boys, age 7 and 4, grow up way too fast.

What did you do before joining the MAPP program at Penn?

I started my career in consulting, first as an external consultant and then moving in-house. I dabbled in different kinds of consulting, from management to organizational development, to change management and human capital. After about seven years, I made the move to inside a company, and really enjoyed it. Besides the reduced travel load, I was able to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with employees. I also loved the awesome employee discount perks (Nike and Victoria Secret were my favorites!) After three years at a software company I am grateful to back at a product company building cool tech gizmos that I can procure with the coveted an employee discount. 🙂

What got you interested in Positive Psychology in the first place?

I was actually an unconscious, quasi-competent practitioner for a few years without even knowing it! I was delivering these two-day culture shaping workshops that applied many concepts of positive psychology in powerful experiential learning exercises – gratitude, positive emotions, strengths-based perspectives, etc. I became so passionate about the content and delivery that I began to read more about the work. I serendipitously stumbled on the MAPP website in 2007. I was pregnant with my first child at the time and thought I would never be able to squeeze the program into life. In 2013, six years later, I finally made it happen!

You now work for Logitech. What´s your role there?

I lead the Global Talent Development function. I joined a little over a year ago, and started development at the company – they didn’t have anything for employees. It has been awesome to create and build from scratch. The foundation has very much been inspired by the MAPP program. I have had the most amazing sand box to test, learn, and apply what I learned. The company is just over 2,500 employees globally, so you are able to see and feel the systemic change. That has been the most rewarding part of my job – to work at scale and see the impact.

Very recently, your company was awarded with the grand prize at Ross School´s Positive Business Project competition. What´s your project about?

I think of the project like my MAPP capstone – it was nine months worth of work that came together in a variety of mutually reinforcing initiatives. I knew if I was going to imbue positive practices into the organization I would need to pull many levers, and do them simultaneously. I created a two-day workshop that provides all employees an entrée into positive psychology. Participants experience vulnerability and connection, create a team purpose statement, and uncover their character strengths, to name a few. This is what we called our signature Logitech program. In one year, we had nearly 800 employees around the globe go through it – all by word of mouth.

I believe investments like that – in the whole person – will never backfire. It breeds a kind of loyalty that no cafeteria and ping pong table can ever deliver.

This intensive experience was complimented with 90-minute positive deviant workshops that we ran globally. We also rolled out job crafting to the entire organization. Together, employees got hit with tools and techniques that began to build different ways of thinking about themselves and their jobs. They began to reflect on themselves as people – not just employees. I believe investments like that – in the whole person – will never backfire. It breeds a kind of loyalty that no cafeteria and ping pong table can ever deliver.

What are the future plans for your initiative?

We want to build more relevant touch points with our employees. Our first phase was broad and now we are trying to go deep. We are working on producing more custom experiences for different employee segments that can meet them where they are and then take them to where they want to be. We have some cool new tools we are piloting to make that happen; tools that will give every employee one-one-one support and encouragement so they can truly flourish. This story is being written now, so stay tuned!

Given that you’ve successfully implemented Positive Psychology practices at your workplace: What´s the most important piece of advice for HR colleagues who´d like to do the same?

Oh wow – I feel so humbled by this question. I am the one who is always needing the advice! I think, in general, I have to reveal a dirty little secret. I have found some Positive Psychology words can really turn people off – to say you are taking a strengths-based approach, can make some, sadly, immediately shut down. I actually shy away from using a lot of the positive psychology language (this feels like a shame, as I do believe that words create our worlds, à la David Cooperrider!).

I try to describe what I want to do in language that I know matters to the organization. What do they want to see happen? Even if I don’t agree, I know it’s what they need to hear to support my cause. I then craft experiences that have an equal amount of pathos and logos. The employees and leaders the experience and embody it. They begin to talk about gratitude, strengths, connection, autonomy, and purpose – not me. I think there always needs to be a sense of co-creation despite knowing our larger agendas. Sometimes my ego wants to “prove” that my way is the more “enlightened” way. I step back and remember that what’s important is that I am not proving myself, but rather improving my craft.

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.