Published on January 10th, 2016 | by admin


Positive Leadership: Enabling Success

By Commandant Declan Noone and Mr Armin Forstner

(Article part of the new Strategy Workshop introduced at BDC 2015)

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), are ever present in our world, both as professional military leaders and as private citizens. The rate of change experienced globally as a result of: advances in technology and science; alterations in political systems and structures; evolving domestic and international security environments; as well as in the economic and social spheres, is at an extraordinary level. We live in a disruptive world where changes to systems, processes, and mind-sets can happen quickly, which tend to generate conflicting feelings of excitement and awe, apprehension and fear.

The military is no different than any other industry, in that it strives to assess and analyse the causes of disruption, so that it may develop tools and techniques that enable it to continue to perform and evolve despite the changes to its working environment. This appears to be a rational and reasoned approach, identify the problem, address it and move forward, but at what cost? Are you constantly fire-fighting, dealing with problems and paddling to keep your head above water? What impact does it have on you? What impact does it have on your subordinates? Do you feel that you are driving forward or stagnant? Many of us will cope and perform despite these challenges but how can you, your team, and your organisation, flourish in spite of these challenges?

It is our belief that a critical enabler of success in a VUCA environment is ‘Positive Leadership’. For the majority of people when they hear the term ‘positive leader’ the cynic within them kicks in. It generates images of leaders sitting behind desks, oblivious to the obvious problems of their teams and organisations, and all the while the hit song to the Lego Movie, ‘Everything is Awesome!’, or depending on your age, ‘Always look on the bright side of life’ by Monty Python plays in the background.  As a result, people tend to close their minds to this new concept, it principles, mechanisms and most importantly its benefits.

So what is Positive Leadership? 
Positive Leadership is the application of Positive Psychology to the human challenges in the workplace*.

Its purpose is to enable organisations and their leaders to ‘understand behaviour – centring on strengths rather than addressing constraints – and to leverage this understanding to achieve extraordinary results’.
In other words, by developing a deep understanding of how people work, and how they achieve extraordinary performance levels (positive psychology and human behaviour), an organisations’ leaders and managers can design new structures and processes which will enable performance levels to be optimised. This form of leadership is human centric at its core. The application of positive psychology to discover the drivers/influencers of greatness, as well as designing methods that empower people and teams to achieve their potential, are the main drivers of this new science, with its focus on human performance.
Critical to optimal performance is the enhancement and maintenance of wellbeing and happiness ** within your workforce. Consequently, generating a greater frequency of positive emotions, enhancing individual and collective engagement, recognising the importance of relationships to people, providing or creating a purpose or meaning for an individual, team and organisation and, recognising and rewarding success, are all important building blocks to achieving increased levels of wellbeing and happiness**.
Understanding the impact these building blocks have on people, and how to generate them within yourself and others, is a key skill for a positive leader.
Essentially, by establishing a generative environment for you and others, you increase the likelihood of fostering greater wellbeing and happiness, which will ultimately enhance performance levels and positively impact output.

How do you generate positive leaders?
While heavily based on hard science, mastering the tools and techniques of a positive leader is very much experientiallybased. The direct application of what you learn, to your working environment, allows for real time skills application development. Therefore, we believe that to generate positive leaders, organisations should review the way they educate and train their leaders.
In our opinion, three critical components should be included in the educational development of any leaders, they are:
(1) developing new ‘mindware’, in other words rewiring the way they operate and think at work by introducing new practices such as mindfulness and concepts like behavioural decision making; (2) developing a deep understanding on the significance of positive development:
appreciating how generating positive environments, focusing on strengths development, enabling and empowering dialogue and enhancing wellbeing can radically change the emphasis of how you lead, manage and develop your individuals and teams;
(3) engaging in the new era of professional development focused on ‘training behaviours’ at work, for example: practice in the workplace; habit hacking; behavioural tricks. This has been coined
as ‘Behavioural Fitness’ by Professor Lee Newman*** as a means to explain how by ‘training behaviours’ you can be more productive and establish the conditions for success.

The challenge of embracing and applying positive leadership within the Defence Forces is aptly encapsulated by B. H. Liddell Hart, when he stated that: “The only thing harder than getting a new idea into the military mind is to get an old one out”5, but we are not advocating an either/or position when it comes to leadership development, rather we acknowledge that positive leadership is a further enhancement to the knowledge and skills base already present with the DefenceForces. This is a further step in theenhancement of that knowledge and skills base.
If we consider for a moment some of the internal challenges facing the Defence Forces: retention levels; levels of engagement; increasing operational demands; requirement to create an innovative culture; an ever increasing educated workforce with greater expectations and demands. Can the Defence Forces afford not to examine the benefits, tools and techniques available under the positive leadership umbrella? As a parting reflection on the potential impact of positive leadership, we offer you a brief case study of what is possible.

The senior leadership of RACO, the President, General Secretary, Deputy General Secretary and the National Executive in the first half of 2015 identified a number of internal and external factors that were going to significantly impact both the internal social architecture of the Association and the external working environment in which they would continue to engage with both Partners and Stakeholders. Acutely aware of the complexity of these challenges, the senior leadership of RACO were seeking a methodology that would harness the strengths of the association through an open and informed dialogue with the membership in order to develop a vision, and a mission statement for RACO 2025. As a result, Serrano 99 Management Consulting were engaged by
the Association to facilitate this process and an Appreciate Inquiry Workshop was selected as an appropriate method to achieve those objectives.

At the Biannual Delegate Conference, for a day and a half, guided by Serrano 99 Management Consulting Ltd, the RACO delegates identified:

(1) the positive core of the Association;
(2) the root causes of its success;
(3) the challenges, development and trends RACO faces over the next 10 years;
(4) generated a collective initial vision statement;
(5) enhanced the connection delegates have with the Association;
(6) identified strategic pillars and mission statements, to list but a few of the successful outcomes.

Through mindful awareness of the challenges the Association faces both internally and externally, as well as the importance of generating a collaborative dialogue that is solutions-focused, the senior leadership of RACO have placed the association on a progressive and proactive path to meet the needs of its members.
Note: Declan Noone and Armin Forstner are Partners in Serrano 99 Management Consulting Ltd.

Executive Masters In Positive Leadership

** 2 Martin E. P. Seligman in his book‘Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and wellbeing’, New York, Free Press, 2012, introduces these five building blocks under the acronym of PERMA (Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement).

*** Professor Lee Newman is the Dean of School of Human Sciences and Technology and
Professor of Behavioral Science and Leadership at IE University and IE Business School in Madrid. www.leenewman.org 5 B. H. Liddell Hart, Thoughts on War, first edition, London, United Kingdom: Faber and Faber, 1944



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