The Power Of Positive

The latest research shows how critical it is for organizations to have managers who are prepared to be positive leaders—managers who actively encourage productivity, engagement, commitment, and performance.

My father, management expert Ken Blanchard, recently celebrated his 80th birthday and released the newly revised third edition of the bestselling “Leading at a Higher Level.” As a part of the review and revision process, we checked in on some of the assumptions we have been making about good leadership to see if they still hold true.

We were pleased to find out that the core leadership principles that leadership, learning, and talent development professionals have always known—and the philosophies my father has written and talked about for years—are still true. More important, we now know why and how they are true.

The latest research shows how critical it is for organizations to have managers who are prepared to be positive leaders—managers who actively encourage productivity, engagement, commitment, and performance. This kind of manager helps motivate people to want to stay with the organization.

Self-Focused Versus Others-Focused Leaders

We know from our own research on employee work passion that you can’t expect people to have positive behaviors— such as willingness to cooperate, to work across boundaries, to endorse the company and its leadership, and those sorts of things—unless they have a leader who they perceive has their best interests at heart.

One of the things we’ve identified more recently is that there are two distinct types of leaders as perceived by workers. The first is an others-focused leader—someone people see as being there to support them and being trustworthy. In different contexts, this kind of leader is referred to as a servant leader, situational leader, or purpose-driven leader.

On the other side is a self-focused leader—someone people see as being focused only on themselves. Under this kind of a leader—also referred to as a self-serving leader—people feel less valued and less important, as if they are interchangeable. They feel a distance between themselves and their manager.

When people perceive their manager as having their back and being focused on catching them doing things right, they want to work harder on behalf of the company, be a good team player, and apply discretionary effort. But when people perceive their leader as engaging in self-serving behaviors, it’s discouraging to them and contributes to a negative workplace environment.

Dr. Drea Zigarmi, our longtime director of Research and one of the founding associates of our company, has spent decades studying leader behaviors that impact employee performance. He recently published research that looked at behaviors associated with self-focused leaders versus others-focused leaders. When he broke those behaviors down into specific dimensions, he found that self-focused leaders tend to be more controlling, where others-focused leaders are more facilitating and enabling.

The research looked at the effectiveness of athletic coaches who used a controlling versus a facilitating approach. Some of the selectable controlling behaviors in the survey, which was given to players who worked with these coaches, included:

  • My coach tries to motivate me by promising to reward me if I do well.
  • My coach only rewards me to make me train harder.
  • My coach only uses rewards and praise so I can stay focused on the tasks during training.

Other behaviors in the survey were categorized as “negative conditional regard,” such as:

  • My coach is less friendly with me if I don’t make the effort to see things his or her way.
  • My coach is less supportive of me when I’m not training and competing well.

Intimidation was a third dimension that was explored:

  • My coach shouts at me in front of others.
  • My coach threatens to punish me.
  • My coach intimidates me into doing things he or she wants me to do.
  • My coach embarrasses me when I don’t do things he or she wants.

Finally, under the category of excessive personal control:

  • My coach expects my whole life to center around my work.
  • My coach tries to control what I do during my free time.
  • My coach tries to interfere with the aspects of my life outside of my work.

Even though these questions are about coaches, I think you can imagine other kinds of leaders using some of these same negative behaviors. These types of leaders crush people’s positive intentions—the ones great organizations strive for.

Research into Hiring Success Factors

We’ve also been studying a fascinating concept called locus of control. A locus of control can be thought of as a sense of accountability. It’s the extent to which people believe they have control over their own outcomes. About half of people believe they have an internal locus of control, and the other half see themselves as having an external locus of control.

If you have an internal locus of control, you believe that through your efforts, thoughts, determination, and creativity, you can achieve success in getting the kind of outcomes you’re looking for at work.

An external locus of control is when you believe outcomes are contingent upon things in your external environment such as financial rewards, pleasing your manager, or being given permission to do something or not.

In working with consulting firm Hireology, we’ve found that a candidate with an internal locus of control has a 40 percent greater likelihood of success in a new role.

A second predictor is a positive work attitude—a predisposition of satisfaction toward one’s work that persists across job experiences. It’s about the need, desire, and motivation to work.

A third predictor is prior related job success—if goals for past jobs were similar to those for the job at hand.

A fourth predictor is culture fit—the degree to which the candidate shares similar values with the organization and demonstrates an authentic interest in the job at hand. This is a question of values.

Impact on Reinforcing Behavior

Not only are these attitudes important in terms of hiring, they’re also important to maintain when reinforcing someone’s behavior at work.

Others-oriented managers support hard work. They encourage a sense of personal accountability and culture fit through positive behaviors. They help people create results—job success based on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation. It is imperative that these four qualities are allowed to be demonstrated and not quashed.

Frankly, self-focused managers kill performance. They destroy people’s initiative and discourage loyalty, accountability, and motivation. Conversely, managers whose people perceive them as others-focused reinforce the four job success predictors and create positive intentions.

We’ve always known that a manager is important to employees in terms of helping them achieve their work goals, as well as helping create high levels of performance and work passion. Now we know that the way a manager operates can actually influence a person’s fundamental outlook on his or her job and life, either negatively or positively.

For example, a manager who is overly controlling can negatively alter the way his or her team members think and act and what they believe about themselves. This kind of manager may cause people to develop an external locus of control and force them down a path where they become compliant—or worse, amotivated—where they stop caring, and lose their intention to perform at a high level. This manager ends up with robotic employees who do only what they’re told to do or what they’re rewarded to do.

On the other hand, a good manager who is empowering and supportive can positively shift the way his or her team members think, act, and view themselves. This kind of manager will encourage people to develop an internal locus of control—a huge predictor of individual success. This manager ends up with high-achieving employees who are passionate about their work.

If you want your people to take ownership of their jobs, produce better results, and provide legendary service, elevate and train your managers to be others-oriented. It’s a proven model that has worked well for more than 40 years.

Scott Blanchard is a principal and executive vice president of The Ken Blanchard Companies. For more information, visit: www.kenblanchard.com

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