Monday, April 27, 2009

How Leaders Stay Positive – Part II

Positive2j0157019jpg Mood is the final “M” (after Modeling and Mastery) to building the strong belief that a team can reach their goal. Many leaders don’t reach their goals because they let obstacles bring the team down. The top leaders I have studied choose to stay positive when things seem negative. Listed below are three more techniques to help you maintain a positive mood at work. Adapt them to suit you and your team.

1. Walk tall, feel better

How you move affects how you feel. Your motion influences your e-motion. Don’t believe me? Try the following exercise:

Sit down and start thinking about something that is bothering you. It might be a difficult employee, a problem at home, a health-related issue... As you think about this problem, create the clear sounds, pictures, and feelings that accompany this problem. Let your whole body feel the burden and pain of this situation. Please put this book down for minute and use your imagination to feel this exercise emotionally.

Now, how would you describe the position of your shoulders, head, and eyes? If you’re like most people, your shoulders are slumped, your head is tilted forward, and your eyes are looking down.

Next step: Please stand up. (Come on, humor me for a second and stand up.) Now, shake your legs and arms. Look up, walk across the room with your head up, shoulders back, and smile. Pretend there's a cape blowing in the wind behind you and that you’re listening to the theme song from Rocky, Superman, or Wonderwoman. How does that feel? Are you as down as you were before?

Act as if it were impossible to fail.

Dorthea Brande

Long before Dorthea Brande etched these words in her 1936 classic, Wake Up and Live, two giants of science observed that how we move affects how we feel. (1) In 1872 Charles Darwin wrote, “The free expression of an emotion intensifies it.” (2) In 1890 William James, the father of modern psychology, presented the flip side when he penned these words, “Refuse to express a passion and it dies.” (3) Recent research confirms that your motion affects your emotion.

Professor Carroll Izard, from the Department of Psychology at the University of Delaware, reviewed the large body of research on what is called “emotion activation.” (4) Her three key conclusions are:

1. More than 30 studies confirm that facial muscles play a role in mood alteration.

2. Facial muscle contractions change cerebral blood flow and neuro-chemical activity.

3. Specific body postures elicit specific emotions.

If you want to feel better throughout the day, move better. Put a smile on your face, head up, shoulders back, and march confidently. Stride as if you are unstoppable. Positive posture produces positive performance. Don’t take my word for it. Try it and see if you feel better when you move better. The proof is in your action, not my words.

2. Ask positive questions

Leaders who find themselves in a negative mood usually ask themselves and others negative questions, such as: Why does this always happen to us? Who screwed up this time? When are they ever going to get it right? These questions are legitimate and negative because they lead to negative thoughts.

As I told a Wells Fargo executive, there is no failure, only feedback. Think of a setback as feedback waiting for meaning. Remember, it's only failure if you don’t learn anything. To learn lessons from difficult situations or setbacks, ask positive questions like these:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What did happen?
  • Why?
  • What went well?
  • What could I do differently next time?
  • How can I grow from this?
  • What are some possible next steps?

3. Reward yourself and the team

Positive reinforcement is a great way to keep yourself and your team in a positive mood as you execute your plan to achieve your goal. Invite your team to create fun methods to apply the power of rewards to each other. You may also want to pat your team members on the back using these steps:

1. Have each team member give you a list of little things they enjoy as rewards (i.e., favorite ice cream, soda, candy, local restaurant...)

2. Pick one of these items as a reward whenever that team member makes significant progress towards the goal.

3. Give the reward to the team member at a team meeting.

For example, a few of my favorite things include: reading inspiring books, biking in the mountains, taking an afternoon nap, walking our dogs, eating yogurt, seeing great movies... So, when a client called a few days ago confirming a large contract, I celebrated by biking in the mountains and taking a mid-afternoon nap. Very simple and rewarding.

When you provide rewards, you need to be careful not to over-focus on the reward and under-focus on the work. So, apply the five I’s of effective positive reinforcement to maintain a good balance:

- Immediate: Give the reward as closely to the behavior as possible

- Intermittent: Reward randomly, not every time

- Important: Make sure the reward has motivational impact

- Interesting: Brainstorm fun, little ways to reward others

- Involvement: Include team members in the process

How surprised will you be when you and your team strengthen your belief in achieving your goal because stayed in a more positive mood using these tools? Let me know what works for you!

Keep eXpanding,


1. Brande D: Wake Up and Live. Cornerstone Library: New York, 1936.

2. Darwin C: The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1965. (Original manuscript published in 1872.

3. James W: Principles of Psychology (Vol. 2). Dover: New York, 1950. (Original manuscript published in 1890.

4. Izard C: Four Systems for Emotion Activation: Cognitive and Non-cognitive Process. Psychological Review 100: 68-90, 1993

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