My earlier blog Your Mood: the Great Game Changer talked about the impact of positive emotions on individuals’, leaders’ and companies’ success. This piece expands on the reasons why positivity delivers, and the scale of improvement that some people and their companies are benefiting from at this very instant. (I also cover why negative cultures appear to reap similar results.)
I came up with the acronym CREAM for the five main improvements positive states deliver:
Creativity & solution finding
Like all higher functions, these skills sit in the cerebral cortex which functions best when we are relaxed, positive and free from negative emotions.
Indeed when for example stress goes above the tipping point level the limbic system & the prefrontal cortex jointly close down the cerebral cortex eliminating all higher functions totally – including creativity/solutions. (Incidentally this shows how dumb it is to pressurise people we want to create ideas or design solutions.)
Providing a relaxing and calm work environment – more like a spa than an office – is really smart and what many millennial / centennial super-performing companies do – as does Nakamatsu, the man who has registered more patents than anyone in history.
Resilience is built during the time spent in positive states. This doesn’t mean you’re resilient when you’re happy – that certainly isn’t true of any slightly fragile person – it just means that people who spend more time in positive states are more resilient.
Resilience makes the difference between post traumatic growth and post traumatic stress disorder, which is why since the US Army trained 30,000 NCOs to be positive psychology trainers in 2008, the rates of PTSD, anxiety, and substance abuse have all halved (Seligman).
(In this context I refer to our awareness of our emotional impact on self & others, & managing it.) We are more aware of others emotions when in a positive state.
In a negative state we are blind to them, and don’t really care, we are too taken up with our own issues. Think of the reaction you get from a person in a negative state – lots of examples: p**sed off waiters & shop assistants, disengaged colleagues, stressed boss etc
It turns out that the aspect of empathy that is concerned with being aware of another person’s emotional state is one of the two keys to excellence: in leadership, sales, customer service, teams, and followership.
… and multiple research studies have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that resonance (impacting others’ emotions positively) is the second key to all that.
Analytical reasoning skills
How smart we are varies with our mood, positive is smarter, negative is less bright.
Think of the intelligence behind the things we say when we are angry & frustrated – we can be really stupid eg hurting the one we love as much as we can, disrespecting our boss who our future significantly depends on, rushing off in a huff from a job or a relationship.
Although a little stress gives us an edge, once we get to our tipping point (which is quite low for most of us) our abilities rapidly fall off. Negative emotional flooding reduces our smarts for up to 8 hours while the stress hormones dissipate. Even the casual or tacit use of negative words has been shown (by Nobel Laureate Kahneman) to significantly impede our abilities.
Positive emotional states leave the higher functioning cerebral cortex fully engaged and so enable us to deploy all of our intellect. Positive states engender positive expectations which studies have shown accelerates the rate at which we find solutions.
One of the many ironies of our social evolution outstripping our biological evolution is that exactly when we need our motivation it deserts us – negative states (bored, sad, lonely) totally destroy motivation.
It’s an evolutionary trait: in pre-human pre-history it was often safer to hide in a deep dark hole then confront whatever was causing your distress eg a predator preying on your group – the ones that hid survived more often so that trait was selected in by evolution.
You will be able to think of many examples of “CBA” ie not being motivated to do the very thing which will give us the turnaround result we are craving, and the absence of which is the cause of our malaise:
- go out & see friends when lonely
- to hit the gym when we feel lethargic
- applying for jobs when we are depressed by being out of work
- networking & hitting the phones when our poor sales performance is getting on top of us.
Positive emotional states deliver high motivation – again from our own experience we know this to be true – it’s so easy to hit the gym, the phone or call a friend when we are feeling happy and positive.
CREAM is the reason why positive states are the high performance states.
“Resonant” vs “Perform of you’re out” Cultures
Companies and leaders deciding which leadership values they want to adopt should be aware of the following highly relevant considerations. Don’t be fooled by the SOB paradox (“son of a gun” :-)). Some users of negative motivation succeed. However, research tells us that they would do even better to be positive, it’s their massive talent & drive that lets them get away with it. Also their impact is always mitigated by positive lieutenants clearing up the emotional detritus they create.
Research repeatedly shows that companies whose cultures create positive emotions in their people (“resonant” cultures) outperform companies where emotional dissonance is caused by autocracy, stress, and negative motivation (“perform or you’re out”). As in these findings for example: by 38% in long term shareholder value growth (RSA / Kleinwort Benson); profits of businesses with resonant CEOs outperform those with dissonant CEOs by 110% to 390% (Boyatzis); sales of resonant sales people are 123% to 667% higher than those of average sales people (conquest & account management sales respectively; Spencer & Spencer).
Studies have long proven that although both negative motivation (focus on penalty of failure) and positive motivation (focus on benefits of success or of trying) work:
- Positive works better
- ONLY positive changes behaviour lastingly.
People used to think that positive leadership values and a positive outlook on life were nice things to have, but not essential. They used to think it was OK to depart from the positive paradigm when life threw them a particularly challenging curve ball. And one has to admit, negative leadership style comes more easily to many people, and makes it quicker for anyone to get their message across.
We all have to remember however what the evidence accumulated by the world’s leading researches over recent decades tells us. Positivity is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have if you want to compete as an organisation, to succeed to your full potential as a leader, and if you want to maximise your happiness, wellbeing and success as an individual at home, work and play.
The important thing to remember is that we are NOT helpless about how much positive emotion we experience, there’s a lot we can do. Increased optimism and hope is the key, optimists experience more positive emotion almost by definition, and these are not traits we inherit, they are largely behaviours we learn.
Please get in touch if you want to know more about how to make positivity and grounded optimism your natural state.
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