Given the overwhelming research on the power of optimism can leaders and teams be too positive? Intuitively we know that’s true. An overly positive view often leads to whitewashing issues as if pretending they don’t exist will make them go away. Over the top optimists often avoid those courageous conversations that address the difficult Moose on the Table issues.
On the other hand we also know that many leaders and teams are often way too negative. Energy and engagement levels plummet as cynics drive the Bitter Bus down Helpless Highway through Wallow Hollow right into the heart of Pity City!
Extensive research supporting our Strengths-Based Leadership Development System shows that for most people building strengths is two to three times more effective than fixing weaknesses. However, if a leader with an overshadowing weakness or fatal flaw focuses on improving that skill he or she will see dramatic and highly noticeable improvement that significantly boosts his or her leadership effectiveness.
So what’s the right balance? Where’s the tipping point that will send us soaring to new heights or sinking into mediocrity and failure? In “The Positivity Ratio” chapter of her book, Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive, Professor Barbara Frederickson (who positive psychology founder, Martin Seligman, calls “the genius of positive psychology movement”) reports from her extensive research that “individuals, marriages, and business teams, flourishing — or doing remarkably — comes with positivity ratios above 3 to 1.”
In their latest Harvard Business Review blog The Ideal Praise-to-Criticism Ratio, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman report on research on 60 business unit teams. “The average ratio for the highest-performing teams was 5.6 (that is, nearly six positive comments for every negative one). The medium-performance teams averaged 1.9 (almost twice as many positive comments than negative ones.) But the average for the low-performing teams, at 0.36 to 1, was almost three negative comments for every positive one.”
Reflecting on Zenger Folkman’s research Jack and Joe report:
• A little negative feedback can be quite helpful and — in the right situations — propel leaders to show dramatically higher performance.
• Criticism can rupture relationships, reduce confidence levels, and blunt initiative.
• Positive feedback and building on strengths is by far the best pathway to improved performance for the vast majority of leaders.
• Helping average leaders become extraordinary by building on their natural strengths has the greatest team and organizational payoffs.
• Marriage research shows that almost the same positivity/negativity ratios leads to long happy marriages or pave the surest route to divorce.
Joe Folkman covers the issues below in his webinar on “GOOD NEWS! Poor Leaders Can Change Their Spots:” (click title to view)
• Data on the 71 leaders who were able to elevate their leadership effectiveness from the 23rd percentile to the 56th percentile.
• The nine common leadership skills they used to change and develop.
• Fresh techniques for overcoming fatal flaws.