How to See the Bad and Pursue the Good
Confronting things you don’t like is part of leadership. Whining and complaining is not.
It takes real leadership to see the bad and pursue the good.
If you aren’t careful, you become a spiraling vortex of negativity. Leaders who end up as black-holes began with intentions to help.
Beware the gap between intent and impact.
3 sources of spiraling negativity:
- Bad is stronger than good. (Reference)
- Your loud inner critic gets worried when it doesn’t have something to complain about.
- Talking about something magnifies its importance. Words are rudders.
The more you talk about what’s wrong, the more important it becomes. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, wrote, “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it.”
4 ways to pursue the good:
- Eliminate jerks and bossholes. Eliminating the bad is more important than accentuating the positive, because bad is stronger than good. (“Scaling Up Excellence,” by Bob Sutton and Huggy Rao.)
- Adopt a “Bob the Builder” approach. Ask, “Can we fix this?” Wait for a, “Yes.” Our brains can’t resist trying to fix something after we say, “Yes,” to Bob’s question. (“To Sell is Human,” Daniel Pink)
- Use a 1 to 10 scale to explore the positive side. Ask negative team members to rank on a scale of 1 to 10 their commitment to make change. Follow up by asking why they didn’t choose a lower number. For example, “How committed are you to this project?” They might say, “3.” You ask, “Why didn’t you choose a lower number?”
- Redefine the future. Ask, “If things were going perfectly, what would it look like?”
Distracted leaders know what they don’t want and forget what they want.
What behaviors might leaders employ that counteract the downward drag of negativity in organizations?
Can you expand on point number 3? I assume 1 is low commitment and 10 is high. What is your rationale for asking them why they didn’t choose a lower number? What do the follow up questions to their response look like? How do you use this to drive commitment, action and results?
My opinion – will be interested in Dan’s. Asking them why they didn’t choose a lower number gets them to open up to what is good about the situation. It forces them to acknowledge it’s not a completely lost cause. This opens their mind up to the possibility for improvement and change and creates a more positive base to work from.
For example, if someone says “3” and we ask “why not lower”? They might say, “well, I do like the people here. They are great. And we did have record sales last year, so we have that going for us. But everything else is a crap storm”. I might reply “great, let’s stay focused on the positive things first. We can come back to what is ailing us. Now, about the people. Share with me what you like about them” (I might follow up with “do you think they like you as much as you like them – a deliberately provocative question to get them to think about their own contribution).
To me, it’s all about trying to get people out of a mindset focused on negativity and into one that is open to possibilities. As long as they have a cloud over their heads they won’t be able to envision better days ahead or how they can contribute to that.
As the cloud clears I’d be nudging towards “so, sounds like we have a base to build from. What is one small step we can take today to move from a 3 to a 4”? As much as I’d be saying “we” I’d soon convert that to “you” as in “what can your contribution to that be” or “what will you personally commit to”.
By the way, I believe you can’t complain without making a commitment to help. If someone does the former and not the latter, I know exactly where the problem is.
Thanks Alf. Brilliant!
Thanks Shawn. I think Alf nailed it!
“Smile” they don’t know what your thinking!
Observe with silence and critique to build positive people! Don’t humiliate others in front of people, if a lecture is needed go one on one!
Another keeper — many thanks for your consistently good work, Dan! (And, I’ve never seen “bossholes” before — so useful!)