By Dr. Howard Gauthier
Positivity and Positive Leadership is more than just communicating in an upbeat, optimistic, and uplifting manner. Positive leaders have high standards and expectations for themselves, their employees, and the quality of their products. This leads to enhanced performance, quality products, increased sales, and strong customer loyalty. When a business, organization, or sports team compromises their standards of quality, the result becomes performance errors, an inferior product, or worse – the losing of customers and supporters. Take the case of Kim. Being the hardworking and loyal employee she is, when her boss (Kurt) announced his retirement, Kim and her team decided to throw a retirement party for him. Kim took the initiative to purchase a cake and the party was set.
When the retirement day came, Kim went to pick up the cake at a local bakery and was stunned by what she found. The cake had chunks of cake missing. She asked if the baker could fix the bare spots and he agreed. Since fixing the cake would take some time, she decided to run to the grocery store and pick up some plates and napkins. When she returned to the bakery, the chunks of missing cake were filled with a different colored frosting. The cake looked awful, and she decided not to make the purchase. Rather, she went to Costco and purchased a cake from their bakery.
Now, let’s take a look at a second situation in which a customer recently boarded an early morning Alaska Airline flight from Anchorage, heading to Austin, Texas. The trip would include stops in Seattle and Los Angeles. The first leg of the journey was smooth as the plane landed in Seattle. Since the customer only had about 25 minutes to catch her connecting flight to Los Angeles, she hurriedly exited the plane and made her way to the new gate. The issue was that she accidentally left her purse on the first plane. All of her ID’s and money were left behind. The problem was she didn’t realize this until the flight to L.A. had hit cruising altitude. That’s when panic set in. As she said, “full freak out tears flowing mode.”
In her state of panic, she alerted the flight attendants who told her to connect to the “Wi-Fi” and get in touch with her husband. She would then need to have him call the Seattle airport lost and found. At the same time, the pilot contacted Alaska Airlines in Seattle and they did find her purse. Alaska Airlines first tried to get the purse sent to Los Angeles, but due to another tight connection, they had to settle on sending it to her in Austin via FedEx. This would take a couple of days.
Just then, the flight attendant came back to her and asked her to wait for him once the plane landed in Los Angeles. After landing, she met with the flight attendant and he told her that he had reached out to his friend at SeaTac who walked down to baggage claim, claimed her purse, and walked it to the next flight to Austin. The flight attendant informed her that her purse would arrive in Austin about 30 minutes after she did. Once the plane landed, another flight attendant stepped off the plane and reunited her with her purse. This was an unusual situation for most organizations, but not with an organization with positive, “can do”, leadership. With positive leaders, customer service is a priority. It is a standard of excellence.
In both situations, something undoubtedly went wrong. At the bakery, whether this was a one-time error or a systemic failure, the outcome was a lack of standards that resulted in an inferior product. In the second situation, the employees at Alaska Airlines went above the call of duty. These standards of great customer service and outcomes are common at the best organizations.
Standards are not a once in a while behavior or activity that you do just when you feel like doing something a certain way. Rather, a standard is an understanding of the norm you establish for how something should be accomplished. It is a part of your culture. It is a clear focus on doing things right, on providing an outstanding product, and making sure the customer receives the value they deserve. In order to establish a standard of high quality, a leader needs to hire good employees, train them properly, hold them accountable for their behavior, reward the right behavior, and make sure the customer is satisfied. In other words, you as the leader need to have high expectations for yourself, your employees, your products, and your customer service.
In the end, the bakery lost a customer and severely damaged their brand within the community, and Alaska Airlines strengthened their brand and has built a customer for life. As a leader, what standards and outcomes reflect the core values of your organization? Positive leaders understand the need for having high standards and expectations. These leaders have a pulse on the quality of their products and services. They ensure that the established standards are maintained by being aware of the actions and activities that are occurring, and also by inspiring, encouraging, and supporting their employees to meet the high standards of performance that have been established for their team or organization.
By Dr. Howard Gauthier
Over the past few years many researchers have found a direct positive correlation between a positive organizational climate and a successful team or organization. Seligman & Shulman showed that happy employees sold 37% more and were 31% more productive than their unhappy counterparts. Another study, out of the University of Warwick, found that happy employees were 12% more productive than the average employee, while unhappy employees were 10% less productive.
I bring these statistics up because far too many coaches and leaders forget about the impact a positive environment has on the productivity and success of an organization. Whether it’s a sports team that wants to improve their win-loss record, or a business that wants to increase sales and improve customer relationships, a positive leader can make all the difference. This is how it works. When a leader creates a positive work environment and builds strong relationships, a team chemistry is built that inspires employees to care more about their job and the quality of work they do. In turn, these employees work harder, longer, and care more about their job, their products, and customer relations. The result is more sales in business, more wins in sports, greater productivity, and stronger customer relationships.
I recently had a chance to sit down with business executive Marc Abshire about the effects positivity and negativity have on the success of an organization. Marc is the Executive Director of the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce in the state of Washington. He has held some pretty impressive leadership positions in operations within the Air Force and with NATO, and he is a big believer in the power of positivity. Marc shared that many organizations aren’t as effective as they could be because they have what he terms “negative overload”. He went on to explain that negative overload is when an organization’s work environment is negatively toxic. This includes leaders who treat employees poorly; which leads to employees having bad attitudes, gossiping, and negative conversations; which leads to employees not working hard; and this leads to an under-performing and toxic environment. In other words, a negative leader creates a negative and dysfunctional team or organization, which causes an unhealthy work environment where sales, productivity, and customer loyalty suffer.
Positivity is a Choice
So how do you overcome negative overload? The first thing you need to understand is that positivity is a choice and negativity is a bad habit. Researchers have found that approximately 50% of our disposition is determined by our genes. There’s nothing you can do about it. They also found that approximately 10% of who we are is shaped by life events. This leaves approximately 40% of our disposition (being positive or negative) that’s up to us and how we choose to look at life. Researchers have coined this concept as the 50-10-40 rule.
The second thing you need to understand is that negativity is about three times more powerful than positivity. In other words, it takes three positive comments or interactions for every one negative comment/interaction just to be in a neutral state (this is known as the Losada Ratio). Because of this, relationship experts recommend that coaches and leaders should teach and engage their people using a positive-to-negative ratio of at least five positives to every one negative. The key is that you as a leader be intentional and deliberate in your positive communication and building a positive organizational culture.
Five Leadership Strategies
In my book, The Positive Leader, I share five strategies a coach or leader can use in order to build a positive and highly effective team or organization. These five strategies take a commitment and hard work but the payoff is life changing. As a leader, you will be inspiring your people, encouraging them, teaching team, and supporting them. You will have high expectations for your people and you will hold them accountable; but you do this in a positive and supporting manner.
The five leadership strategies that I outline for you include:
• Building a Strong and Positive Organizational Structure
• Pursuing a Positive Purpose
• Cultivating a Positive Climate
• Building High Quality Relationships
• Using Positive Communication
So if you want to improve your team or business, try building your people up. Be like John Wooden and be a teacher – teach your team members how to do a task correctly. Then encourage them, motivate them, and support them. People and organizations are so much more successful when they operate in a positive environment. And when you create this type of work environment, you will be able to overcome the negative overload that is weighing down your team or organization.
About the Author: Howard Gauthier is a Professor of Sports Science at Idaho State University. He teaches leadership and is an expert in positive leadership and positive organizational culture. Dr. Gauthier is the author of several books including his most recent book “The Positive Leader.” You can contact him at howard@ThePositiveLeader.org.
Positive leaders are focused on building a strong and highly functional organization by having high standards for performance, and by encouraging and supporting their employees. These leaders have high expectations for the quality of their product (team), performance of their employees (players), and through creating great customer service. Positive leaders praise their people when they perform well, and they correct and instruct them when they don’t perform well. But one thing positive leaders don’t do is throw their employees under the bus to cover up when the leader makes a mistake. Instead, the positive leader acknowledges the mistake, takes responsibility, and moves on.
People follow leaders who work hard, make good decisions, who are honest, and who care about their employees or players. This builds trust amongst the workforce. And a team or organization cannot be at their best if team members cannot trust their leader.
Recently, the owner of a national software company threw the marketing director under the bus after the owner made a major public relations mistake and put blame on the marketing office. Most, if not all of the employees, knew that the owner was trying to save face and scapegoat the marketing director. This created a tension amongst the workforce, which in turn started to create a negative environment. Tempers became short and people didn’t trust one another. This created a bit of a dysfunction within the organization. In truth, if this type of leadership behavior continues, the organization will suffer from employee disengagement. This will hurt sales, productivity, and customer service.
Whether you’re a coach who is trying to build a strong team, or a business leader who is trying to create a quality product, the key is that you need to build trust amongst your people so they are motivated to work hard and are positively engaged in the organization. Positive relationships and communication are key to establishing this trust and loyalty. If you can build strong relationships amongst your people, they will work hard to create a quality product and provide great customer service. The by-product of this is increased sales, higher net income, and more wins.
When you feel the impulse to lash out at an employee (or player), or to shift blame, remember that you are the leader and your people want to follow someone who works hard, makes good decisions, is honest, and who truly cares about his/her people. Being a positive leader and creating an outstanding organization is hard work. Understand that you need to encourage and support your people. Be self-aware and know when to take a deep breath and refrain from making a comment that will tear down your players or employees. Have high expectations, build them up, hold them accountable, and by all means, don’t throw your people under the bus.
About the Author
Dr. Howard Gauthier is a Professor in the College of Education at Idaho State University where he teaches courses in leadership and management. Dr. Gauthier is the CEO of the Institute for Positive Leadership, and is an author, writer and an active speaker on positive leadership and culture. He is the author of five books, eight e-books, several research articles, and hundreds of blogs . Check out his book, The Positive Leader at www.ThePositiveLeader.org.