tips for management success

Benefits For Leadership Of Focusing On Strengths


I recently attended a Cincinnati Business Courier BizWomen breakfast (a fabulous networking event) where we were given as a table a number of discussion topics. One of them went something like this…

”If you could choose between being supported in one of the following ways, which would you choose?”  The choices were something like a.) flexible hours b.) more financial security and another choice that I don’t remember. But, what immediately stood out to me was what was missing in that list.

What was that extra choice? Feeling valued.

Yes, in this world of tough economic times and business downsizing, when employees often talk of just being leadership that focuses on strengthsfortunate to have a job that pays their bills, my answer is still ‘feeling valued.’

A Lesson In Leadership With Positive Reinforcement

Leaders should take notice. It is in environments where our strengths and positive outcomes are genuinely noticed and encouraged where we do our best work; where we tend to work above and beyond the expectations set forth for us; where we feel the greatest loyalty and passion; and where our gifts shine with brilliance.

I have studied this in behavior science for many years as it relates to positive animal training; however, I have experienced and practiced this throughout my career and my life also.

When I look back at my career highlights and the projects for which I accomplished huge outcomes, even winning regional awards, the common thread among them was that I was working for people who believed in me, who made me feel appreciated for my contributions, and who trusted and supported me to do my best work. Those also tended to be the organizations with which I enjoyed long term relationships.

On the flip side, I have seen animals I train go from being ‘stubborn’ or ‘dumb’ to great brilliance in a matter of minutes when I teach using positive reinforcement. When I focus on finding their strengths, I have seen people I teach, manage or mentor through my pet training, PR work and personal life want to work harder and become better…and generally do.

According to Dr. Barbara Frederickson, a leading scholar in the area of positive psychology, a ratio of positive to negative emotions above three to one serves as a tipping point that determine your odds of languishing or flourishing. In other words, catching people doing something right should occur three times (or more) frequently than catching people doing something wrong.

Equally important is reinforcing those ‘good’ choices and behaviors as soon after they are made, the better. Providing reinforcement only when asked for feedback or only during periodic reviews is not enough. Scientifically speaking, this is known as contiguity. It refers to the closeness in time between the consequence and the behavior. The less lag time, the more the learner can build that relationship between the valuable reinforcer and the behavior.

What are some of the key benefits to all of this?

Well, your employees or those around you will grow in self-confidence with an eagerness to learn and perform. They will be more creative, cooperative and open to change. They will excel. And they will have greater commitment and loyalty to you (and your organization) as they associate those positive outcomes with you.

leadership that focuses on strengthsOn the flip side, in an environment where we are not made to feel valued, we will tend to only work to the level we need to, to avoid negative consequences; we won’t have that sense of greater commitment; and we won’t experience that passion or love of learning.

 Here is my take-a-way challenge for you: Make a conscious effort to focus on the strengths of those around you (AND yourself), to encourage them, and provide positive feedback. When you do, you’ll be amazed to find so much potential right there in front of you.

To read more about the benefits of using positive reinforcement in your work environment, read Lisa Sansom’s blog post at this link.

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