New Manager

Focus on health and sickness will recede

TT Srinath | Updated on January 23, 2018

The challenge for many CEOs is how to alter attitudes and change mindsets, without attempting drastic organisational changes that are not only hard to enforce but are even harder to sustain.

Looking for things which are going right can often help address those which are not

A king once decided to beautify his kingdom. He commissioned several hundred painters to paint his country green so as to give his country a positive and fresh look. He also ensured that all pathways were carpeted to make them soft to walk on. One day, a child playing in a park, as the King rode past, teased the king, calling him foolish. The King was intrigued and asked the child why he did so. The child asked the king what his purpose was in painting the whole nation green and carpeting all pathways. The king said that he wanted to beautify the nation and soften walking on the pathways. The child then asked, “Why don't you give us all green tinted spectacles and shoes, for then wherever we see, everything will appear green and the shoes will make the pathways on which we walk soft?”

The challenge for many CEOs is how to alter attitudes and change mindsets, without attempting drastic organisational changes that are not only hard to enforce but are even harder to sustain.

Very often the focus of consultants, prompted by the brief given by heads of organisations, is to undertake a diagnostic exercise. Like in medicine, diagnosis is based on the edict that 'perhaps something is wrong, broken and dysfunctional, thus needing root cause analysis.’ On the other hand, ’sensing’, which is most often a right brain effort, attempts to merely watch the situation or scene with no pre-fixed agenda; not with an eye to find what is missing, yet merely with the curiosity to learn what is happening.

Thus in sensing, the focus is always with an 'attitude of mystery,' an effort to find the 'goods' and a curiosity to experience 'positive' surprise.

I was recently invited by the CEO of a large enterprise to help him assess the organisation’s climate and culture. In conversation with him I realised that he carried misgivings about his way of working and felt that maybe his leadership style was impeding progress.

He had a few people who reported directly to him, and I asked if I could meet with them. He readily agreed.

When meeting with his direct reports, I asked each person to speak about the organisation in a way that was celebrative and enabling and also look at what was going right.

There was unanimous appreciation for the CEO, his humaneness and his leading from the front. Following this admission, I asked each one of the reports, 'what then was disenabling them, if at all, from giving their best.’ They said, and I paraphrase, “The CEO is so human that we find it difficult to disagree. In so being, we settle for sub-optimal decisions, not wanting to hurt him.” The lack of confronting one another and particularly the CEO came not from fear of reprimand but from fear of upsetting 'such a good man.' ‘Good’, here showed me that it was the enemy of ‘great’.

The CEO and I then decided we would ask each of the reports to write out a 'personal script of the ideal organisation they would like to inhabit.' Each person was asked to spend a month crafting the script and during that period, meet with as many members of the organisation, both past and present, as they could, and listen to their stories. At the end of one month we assembled as a group, for over two, hopefully meaningful days, to hear each one's script, to be recounted in story-telling fashion.

The collective outcome of the story-telling was a rich amalgam of possibilities.

The power of positive

Positive psychology and its equally enabling component, appreciative living, encourage persons, particularly in organisation, to focus on health and abundance. The adage 'what you believe is what you see,' becomes significant when people who run and control the destinies of organisation divert their attention to concentrate on all that is well.

Appreciatively living, which dictates that all reality is co-created, helps clarify that it takes 'two to tango.' Given this belief, organisations can benefit from a concerted effort to direct its lens towards positive feelings that people have about their place of work. After all, so much of one's waking time is spent at work and therefore if one can learn to dwell on what is enabling at one's workplace, much less stress develops. The belief, that 'what you focus on grows and what you ignore disappears,' is also true for organizations; Concentrate on health and sickness will recede.

The challenge for 'people officers' — and this includes CEOs in organizations — is to generate the 'necessary and sufficient' conditions for people to admire the organisation, to tap into each other's wisdom and attempt to 'care' and not 'cure.' Care is healing while cure sometimes becomes 'pathological', and suggests rectification, when what is merely needed is true and genuine acknowledgement and celebration.

My mother, when I was a child used to tell me, “it is the little things that count.”

Positive psychology combined with learning to live appreciatively can help organisations become healthy places to work, evolve and grow.

(The writer is an organisational and behavioural consultant)

Published on August 20, 2015

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