Positive Leadership provides a thought-provoking roadmap for training leaders based on the principles of positive psychology. Community leadership programs across the country find this approach resonates particularly well with their participants.
Currently used in leadership programs nationwide, Positive Leadership is often rated as one of participants' favorite aspects of their experience.
Positive Leadership fits seamlessly into your existing program and implementation is an easy, flexible process.
Available as one file and divided into separate chapters, whichever suits your needs
Step-by-step instructions to walk you through the process
Activities, worksheets and other tools that you use to create lively discussion among participants
A library of video interviews so you can benefit from the experience of current Positive Leadership users
Live, interactive calls scheduled quarterly to bring questions, share successes and exchange ideas
We pride ourselves on being responsive, helpful and available to consult 1on1 to ensure your satisfaction
These videos provide a good overview of Positive Leadership.
an overview of Positive Leadership
Leadership Snohomish County talks about their experience with Positive Leadership.
High school student provides overview of Positive Leadership.
Below are samples from the first four chapters of the Positive Leadership curriculum that your participants will read before your program days and discuss during class.
For this book, at least, the definition for leadership is simple. Positive Leadership is when:
1. You identify a need
2. You decide on the best course of action to address the need
3. Others respond to your action in ways that are similarly forward moving
Positive Leadership is not concerned with status, title, role, position, ego or authority. It does not care if you are visionary, charismatic, alpha/dominant, or any of the other traits often associated with the people at the front of the room. It is not asking you to become something you are not, but a more powerful version of what you already are.
The term Positive Leadership serves as our shared meaning when we speak of leadership throughout the book.
The purpose of this book is to help individuals identify and develop their capacity to take positive actions that evoke positive reactions from others.
Self refers to the individual asserting leadership. Community can be any institution (i.e. corporation, non-profit, team, club, neighborhood, etc). Leadership is the link, via social force, between the individual self and the community.
The seven capacities of Positive Leadership, represented by the icons at the center of the diagram, emerge when we interlay three foundational concepts of self, leadership and community. The seven capacities we will explore are timeless human qualities. You may have developed several of these capacities to a relatively full extent and others to a lesser degree. Everyone has the potential to develop all seven of the capacities.
“Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.” James McGregor Burns
Leadership is hard to define. Sometimes entire books on leadership—good ones, even— fail to offer an actionable definition of leadership.
We believe that leadership exists. We can point to effective leadership when we see it. But can we directly put our finger on the particular quality we sense in people who inspire our votes in an election, snap us to attention and encourage our efforts in the face of hardship?
Why are some people more influential over other people and events than others? Why is it that the people who assert their individuality, even at the risk of going against the grain, often seem more engaging than those who try to blend in with those around them?
Ask someone to define leadership and you might hear: “It’s charisma.” Then images of likable frauds pass through our minds. “No, it’s integrity, definitely integrity.” We recall examples when our favorite leaders had occasions of moral lapse, but were otherwise quite effective. “It must be decisiveness then.” Then again, great leaders have often improvised their way through uncertain events.
Leadership is one of those words, such as love or communication, that eludes simple definition. When someone says “leadership” we assume that his definition is roughly the same as ours and leave it at that.
At the core, leadership is a moment when one person, for a host of possible reasons, feels accountable for some result. This sense of accountability translates into an intention and then into an action. The accountable moment could be an instant (i.e. a specific conversation) or a protracted period of time (i.e. heading up a long term project). It depends on the need. In the next moment, someone else may be become accountable. From the Positive Leadership perspective, leadership is much more fluid and dynamic than traditional views of leadership. This is not a revolutionary new model for leadership. It is a description of how leadership actually works if we strip away all the barnacles such as politics, status, turf, and authority.
What do we mean when we call someone a leader? We have a general notion of leaders as—the person “in charge.” It is more accurate to call that person an “authority”. Authority is a much better term than leader to describe someone’s positional power. But if we dig a little beneath the surface, we find some questions worth considering:
– Is leadership a trait? If so, then is someone born with it, or can anyone develop that trait?
– Is leadership a role or position? If so, then does that mean whenever someone holds that role they are always a “leader” or if someone doesn’t have that position does it mean that they are not a leader?
– Does being named as a leader (i.e. by a CEO or the electorate) make a person truly a leader? Or does it merely mean they have been granted authority? If so, does that distinction matter?
– Is there a difference between authority and leadership? Or have we conflated the two concepts and merged them into one?
Perhaps the single largest impediment to developing one’s ability as a leader is the conflation of two overlapping concepts: leadership and authority. There are countless examples of articles on leadership where the author seems to referring to people in authority as “leaders.” When I read books written by CEO’s and military generals that dispense lessons on leadership, I frequently think, “It seems pretty easy to get people to do what you want when everyone has to follow your orders.”
A hierarchy is based entirely on the notion that people further up the chain of command have the ability to reward and punish those below them. We are all, in a sense, domesticated to adhere to the wishes of those in authority. From early childhood, most of us learn that there are consequences for obeying or disobeying our parents. In school, there are privileges for good students and punishments for those who break the rules. Law enforcement is there enforce laws and the U.S. has the largest incarcerated population in the world.
In the workplace, we get raises and promotions to the degree we are deemed worthy by someone above us and we know that there are a range of behaviors that can be career limiting (or ending) if we upset the wrong people. All of this is not to say authority is bad. In fact it is necessary to preserve order, but mobilizing people through authority is not the same thing as doing so through leadership. Authority causes people to comply and leadership causes people to willingly follow.
Authority requires positional superiority and leadership does not. If we are to have a useful discussion about community leadership then we need to acknowledge the reality that we will not have the benefit of authority in many situations.
What are examples of community leadership situations where you may not have positional authority?
What challenges could that create?
What means do we have to mobilize others when we do not have authority over them, or when they do have authority over us?
To become skillful leaders, we must develop ways to mobilize others without reliance on authority. To accomplish that we need to separate the concepts of authority and leadership at least in our own minds. There are effective ways to properly use authority when we possess it. There are also infinite examples of abuses and underuses of authority that could be prevented if we studied authority separate from leadership. Cleaving these related, but very different, concepts would make leadership training much more useful.
Yes, we need people who can properly wield the responsibilities they’ve been assigned in order to make decisions and manage resources. This is the necessary role of authority. I’m not disparaging authority in any way. Still, authority is a very different set of skills from leadership. In the context of community leadership, one cannot always rely on authority to drive positive action. The difference between leadership as “authority” and leadership as a “moment of accountability” is similar to the difference between being a parent and the act of parenting. Simply because someone has the authority does not mean they are always leading just as someone who has a child is not always parenting. Having authority and being a parent are positions. Leading and parenting are something else—a set of skills that can be enhanced through knowledge and practice.
This is one of the essential differences in Positive Leadership. Whenever we use the term “leader” or “leadership” we are very deliberately NOT talking about authority. This point needs to be absolutely clear: Leadership and Authority have some overlap but they are not the same thing.
If leadership is not a trait or a position, then under which category does it fall? To define a chair, it is helpful to understand it is part of the category called furniture. To what category, then, does leadership belong?
Leadership is a type of social force. We are not talking about forcing someone—as in ‘taking by force.’ We mean force in the way it is used in the physical sciences. In the physical sciences, the term “force” is defined as: a push or pull acting upon an object as a result of its interaction with another object. There are different kinds of physical forces— i.e. gravitational, frictional, magnetic, etc. Leadership requires relationships in order for that push and pull to take place among social objects.
Just as physical forces act on physical bodies, social forces act on social bodies. Leadership is the process by which one person influences others by taking actions that evoke reactions— it is a type of social force.
Because we are specifically interested in using social force in a positive manner, we define Positive Leadership as the process by which one person influences others by taking positive actions that evoke positive reactions.
Authenticity is the matchless, irreplaceable essence that defines you. The most celebrated leaders live authentically as individuals first, using authenticity as a source of personal strength and then infusing it into their communities to make them stronger.
Authenticity is a highly potent aspect of Positive Leadership. We are compelled to trust people who know themselves. They command our respect because we know we are dealing with individuals who present themselves as they really are. We find them credible. We watch what they do and hear what they say. We realize they are not easy targets for manipulation, from us or others. We find ourselves listening to, trusting and even being led by them. Such is the force of “authenticity”.
Almost every definition of authenticity in leadership literature is simply “being who you really are”. This is somewhat helpful, but provides minimal guidance for how to expand one’s capacity for authenticity.
In terms of a capacity that can increase social force, think of authenticity from your perspective: are you more available to someone’s influence when you gauge them as authentic? Conversely, are you less willing to be mobilized by someone when your b.s. detector goes off?
You must identify what is true for you and let this truth guide your outward behavior. This is the Essence of Positive Leadership: Positive actions evoke positive reactions
Author Charles Guignon expounds on authenticity in his book On Being Authentic:
The basic assumption built into the ideal of authenticity is that, lying within each individual, there is a deep, “true self”—the “Real Me”—in distinction from all that is not really me. The real, inner self contains the constellation of feelings, needs, desires, capacities, aptitudes, dispositions, and creative abilities that make the person a unique individual. The ideal of authenticity has two components.
First, the project of becoming authentic asks us to get in touch with the real self we have within, a task that is achieved primarily through introspection, self-reflection or meditation. Only if we can candidly appraise ourselves and achieve genuine self-knowledge can we begin to realize our capacity for authentic existence.
Second, this ideal calls on us to express that unique constellation of inner traits in our actions in the external world—to actually be what we are in our ways of being present in our relationships, careers, and practical activities. The assumption is that it is only by expressing our true selves that we can achieve self-realization and self-fulfillment as authentic human beings.”
In this chapter, we will build upon the two aspects Guignon lays before us by adding two more critical phases that come between “getting in touch with” and “expressing” authenticity. The additional two stages are accept and embrace. Our four principles for enhancing authenticity are: Self-Awareness (“getting in touch with), Self-Acceptance (accept), Self-Development (embrace), and Self-Assertion (“express”).
Ever have the experience of sitting in a meeting where something important is left unsaid? It seems so obvious to you and you think it’s strange that people are talking around the issue—like an elephant on the table that everyone sees but nobody acknowledges. You begin to doubt yourself. Maybe what you want to say is totally off base and that’s why nobody else has said it. Perhaps it’s not off base, but maybe it’s a taboo topic. If other people are thinking it but not saying it then maybe, you think, you shouldn’t say it either. This unspoken thought seems important, however. The urge wells up to say something, but you stuff it down. The meeting continues and the course of the conversation affirms your observation that what you want to say is relevant and important. The urge to say something bubbles up again.
Despite your reservations, your hand shoots up and the speaker (the CEO, the Director, or someone of authority) calls on you. All eyes turn to you. It is time for you to speak up or sell out.
These ‘speak up or sell out’ moments happen more often than we may realize because we develop habits that govern how we respond in those moments of choice. Your choice is influenced by your upbringing and shaped by your values; the thought that comes to you is a product of your unique strengths, experiences, skills and knowledge. What you do in these moments gives you one way to assess your authenticity.
I’m not suggesting you should say every thing that comes to mind. Of course this is highly situational. I am saying that those moments where you feel apart from the crowd can be indicators of what’s unique about you. I want you to carefully consider this: If you believe that a desired course of action is necessary and a true reflection of who you are, then do you act on it or let it pass?
In The High Impact Leader, authors Avolio and Luthans provide several accounts of real leaders in defining moments. One that particularly resonated with me involved General Colin Powell. After giving a keynote speech to a large group of real estate agents and brokers, Colin Powell was asked this question: “General Powell, I understand that your wife once suffered from depression, had to take medicine, and was even in a mental hospital. Do you want to comment on that?” Everyone was aghast, and you could hear a pin drop as they awaited his answer.
What might you do in that situation? Play it safe? Go ballistic? Deflect with humor?
In this defining moment for Powell (and for how others perceived him) he replied, “Excuse me sir, the person you love more than anyone is living in hell, and you don’t do whatever you can to get her out? Do you have a problem with that, sir?” One journalist who observed this exchange declared, ‘You felt Powell’s values and principles fuse into deeply felt conviction. Talk about leadership! I said to myself ‘I would buy a used country from that guy.’”
For the authentic individual, the chosen course of action often comes from an internal map rather than one sanctioned by external sources.
Contrast this example of authenticity with Powell’s address to the UN where he assured the world that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Since that moment is what many people will consider when we talk about Powell, it serves to demonstrate a valid point about authenticity— it is not necessarily a steady state. According to Powell, he fully believed the information he presented to the UN was accurate. He later learned that the reports were filtered through the Vice President’s office before coming to him. So, does this mean Powell was inauthentic in this instance? This situation raises an interesting distinction between sincerity and authenticity that Charles Taylor makes in his book, The Ethics of Authenticity that sincerity is truly believing what one says. I think Powell was sincere, he believed what he was presenting. But he wasn’t authentic because what he presented was false. Authenticity isn’t just believing what you say. It has the added criteria of what you say being consistent with truth and reality.
Sincerity is not necessarily “bad”, especially in contrast to pretense. Pretense is saying the opposite of what is true. The worst reason for pretense is a deliberate intention to mislead, but pretense can also arise out of fear, or a desire to not “make waves”. The pretense, sincerity, authenticity model is based on concepts from Connolly and Rianoshek’s book The Communication Catalyst.
We might present ourselves sincerely, but what if we don’t really know ourselves? What if our sincerely held notions of who we are simply aren’t true? I could sincerely believe that I feel a certain way about values I profess to have. I could profess that belief to other people. When I wrote out my values about 15 years ago my values statement sounded very noble. But when I thought about the values I actually live by, it turned out that “comfort” is something I value but was not on my original list. While it is not very noble sounding to say “I value my comfort”, it is true for me. Until this realization, I sincerely believed my original version of values reflected my current state. It wasn’t until I took a more rigorous look at myself that I was able to reach beyond sincerity and approach authenticity. This is why self-knowledge isn’t as simple as just being familiar with ourselves. Self-knowledge requires a much more intense and honest look.
1. People have a visceral response to authenticity
Think of times when you speak from a deep conviction. As with the first Powell example, something changes— hesitancy vanishes, your mind is clear, the formation of your thoughts comes naturally and your words are articulate and succinct. When we hear someone speak from conviction, in these acute moments of authenticity, it is powerful and moving.
Contrast that with a speaker who seems insincere. At some level, either subconsciously or mindfully, the listeners scan for authenticity. When gaps in integrity emerge, deception detectors sound an alarm.
2. Credibility rises to the degree one is authentic
To the degree a leader is viewed as authentic, less time is given to evaluating the leader and more time is available for creativity, solutions and progress. Researchers Adrian Chan, Sean Hannah and William Gardner use the term leadership multiplier to describe when leaders are more favorably received and the impact of their actions amplified. In the article, Veritable Authentic Leadership, their research found that “Leaders who are authentic to themselves are able to achieve this leadership multiplier effect because they display behaviors that engender trust and allow followers to easily and confidently infer authenticity from their actions.” Authenticity multiplies your social force.
3. Authentic leaders foster authenticity in others
Authenticity is contagious. Community members take cues on how authentic they can be from their leader. If the leader is inauthentic, the implied message is ‘it is not safe to be authentic’. In the absence of authenticity, people play games like the one I call “Winking and Nodding”. This essentially is the unspoken agreement between two people: “If you don’t call me on my baloney then I won’t call you on yours”. “The dyadic effect,” a principle from communication theory, holds that if one person self-discloses it triggers a reciprocal response of self-disclosure from others. This is truly an example of social force. If the desired response I want from others is greater connection and openness, then the positive action I can take is to model this openness by revealing more about myself first.
4. Authenticity increases your level of engagement
I like the advice Tim Ferriss provides in his book The 4-Hour Work-Week. Forget about trying to figure out what makes you happy for a moment. It’s a tough question to answer for most people. Instead, answer a more pointed question, “What makes you excited?” What are the things to which you look most forward? These are the most engaging activities for you.
When your energy and attention is freed up for the things you most enjoy, you will find yourself aligning your activities to your positive personal traits. When that happens, you will experience more positive emotions. The result will be a sense of flow and engagement. Extending this further, when you create a climate of authenticity for others you foster their engagement.
The capacity of purpose flows naturally from the previous discussion of authenticity. Purpose comes down to answering the question: “Why?” The more authentic we are, the more attuned we can be to answering deceptively simple questions like:
-Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
-Why does your organization (or department, or team) exist?
-Why does something need to be done?
-Why are we having this meeting?
Sometimes we use other words such as aim, goal, intention, mission or objective but fundamentally we are talking about purpose. Purpose lies beneath of the surface. Rarely does it jump out from the background and announce itself. In order to deepen the capacity of purpose, its important to understand that it is not so much something one creates as something one discerns. Marcel Proust captures what I mean when he said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.” In other words, the capacity for purpose does not require you to learn a foreign set of skills but instead to practice seeing more deeply into what is already before you. It is a subtle shift; a new lens to glimpse the why behind what you experience every day.
As our authenticity increases, we rely less on society’s scripts for answers and allow our direction to come from within. We can develop the ability to see purpose in the background and draw it forward. Something as simple as a conversation has a purpose. As does an object. The leader’s job is to recognize purpose, make it clear to others, and remind them when they lose sight of it. In the cases when multiple parties represent different purposes, the positive leader is able to bring alignment among them to harness engagement and minimize drama. For Positive Leadership we will be concerned with purpose as it relates to you and your community.
Specifically, we will examine purpose through three distinct vantage points
1. Original Purpose— the most basic expression of purpose.
2. Personal Purpose— the most individualistic expression of purpose.
3. Situational Purpose— the most practical and frequent expression of purpose.
Survival and Thriving
Original purpose is the most foundational for individuals and communities and the most basic for leaders to understand. To begin, let’s use an example. What is the first priority parents have for a newborn baby? The most bare-bones answer is survival (to remain alive, persevere and sustain) and thriving (to grow, prosper and flourish). There is one primary motive to which everything else becomes secondary—to keep the baby alive. Only after survival is ensured can we begin to think about thriving issues like college funds.
The same is true for any community. Faith communities, business entities, non-profit organizations and educational institutions all require resources to survive before they can consider expanding products or services or upgrading facilities. The ultimate concern of leaders must be to ensure the survival of their community. Mere survival can seem like a low bar for which to aim, but it is a difficult, constant and primary duty. When sudden disaster strikes, the community looks to leaders for protection and will hold them accountable. They will ask, “why did you not see this coming?”
Beyond survival, a leader can envision the community thriving by asking, ”What would it look like if my community was in top form?” This sentiment of survival and thriving is, to me, beautifully captured with Thomas Jefferson’s statement explaining his involvement in the American Revolution: “I became a revolutionary so that my children can become farmers so that my grandchildren could become poets.” Picture your work community or family. Would you say it is in survival mode? A state of thriving? Or somewhere in between? How have you ensured survival and nurtured thriving? What potential threats to survival must be addressed and what opportunities for thriving can be seized?
Once survival needs are adequately addressed, the issue that concerns people centers on the sense that what one does matters. Personal purpose plays a pronounced role, yet do we have the skills necessary to identify and facilitate it? Personal purpose provides a sense of direction in your life. It helps guide you in making decisions about where to invest your time and talents. A friend of mine had her favorite quote stitched into a pillow: “Life is not a dress rehearsal.”
Even when we do not know its exact form, we do contain a personal purpose if we A) identify it B) choose to access it and C) we conform to it. This work involves looking closely at how we have lived thus far and sifting through the experiences where we excelled, were energized and felt a sense of meaning. Such experiences do not automatically flash a sign that reads, “Your purpose is THIS!” Instead, we must work to find the golden thread that runs throughout the fabric of our lives. Personal purpose is like your signature. It is unique to you and something to which you alone are accountable. It is something that you must discover for yourself.
A first step to identifying your personal purpose is to answer the questions like: What would constitute a meaningful life to you so that, at the end of it, you could say, “That was worth it?” Under what conditions are you at your best? What drives you? For what can you not resist volunteering? These are the kinds of questions that can help you discover your personal purpose. Identifying your purpose is a deeply personal journey and one that requires continual focus and refinement over time, reflecting on the positive and negative meaningful experiences of your life. It is a task only you can do.
Others may not fully understand or appreciate your personal purpose. If satisfying other people is your scorecard for success then expect a rough journey. Some additional things to keep in mind:
You have to be willing to risk failure. In most stories of extraordinary personal success, initial rejection and even ridicule seem to be the norm. To hear the stories of Dr. Seuss receiving hundreds of rejection letters of his books, Abraham Lincoln losing far more elections than he won, Michael Jordan not making his high school basketball team and Thomas Edison encountering failure after failure all provide inspiration. Who would have expected Sojourner Truth, Helen Keller or Oprah Winfrey from their humble beginnings?
Situations and people that do not allow you to access your personal purpose are painful. When you find yourself in a situation that makes you feel like you don’t belong, something key to your purpose is missing or constrained.
Your purpose is inherently important. Inherent importance means that you may not be able to say something is important without saying, “It just is.” What is inherently important to you?
Look for what energizes you. When you are engaged in something purposeful, it may look or feel like work to other people but feels easy, effortless and enjoyable to you. Activities that are a high drain on other people’s batteries are low drain on yours and may actually give you back some energy. Look for subjects and activities that naturally draw your attention and energize you.
In response to discussions of personal purpose I often hear someone say, “But I’ve already invested so much to get where I am. If I re-orient my life to my purpose it may mean undoing a lot and even disappointing some people that are important to me. Am I to just disregard those things?” This is a conundrum that each person needs to sort out on their own.
I have found wisdom in the Turkish saying, “No matter how far down the wrong road you go, turn back.” Alfred Nobel serves as a great example. We know about the annual prize that bears his name for chemistry, physics, economics, medicine, literature and peace. What most people do not know is that he earned his fortune from the explosives empire he built around his invention of dynamite. When his brother, Ludvig, died, the newspapers mistakenly reported it as Alfred’s death. He read his own obituary that described him as the “merchant of death who grew rich inventing new ways to mutilate and kill people.” He rewrote his will so that his fortune would go to celebrating mankind’s greatest accomplishments.
Too few of us seize the opportunity to rewrite our legacy by discerning, articulating and fulfilling our personal purpose.
The third and final lens through which to view this capacity is situational purpose. In the life of a leader, various situations arise that may not evoke an original purpose (the need to survive and thrive) and may not hold much relevance to personal purpose. Even in the mundane instances of our day-to-day, a potent leader is able to discern the underlying purpose in each situation as it arises. I speak of simple tasks. Many of us know the experience of our email inboxes backing up because of emails that we just don’t know what to do with. If we could just get in the habit of asking “What is the purpose, if any, that needs to be addressed here?” It is a matter of analyzing what the situation calls for and responding accordingly. Over the last year, your community would have had many such situations: product launches, projects, staffing issues, etc. Original purpose never changes. Personal purpose is relatively fixed—although it requires a continuous process of tenacious refinement and actuation. Situational purpose, however, changes from one set of circumstances to another.
Situational purpose differs from one moment to the next. Once satisfied, the purpose of that situation is fulfilled and we experience the satisfaction of completion.
Leaders demonstrate the capacity of purpose when they can see the purpose in any situation. Amid the pressure to take immediate action, they are able to pause long enough to first understand “why.” They add a simple step in between the call for action and their response by asking questions that call attention to purpose, such as: How come? Why is this important? What are we trying to accomplish? Clarifying purpose becomes a mental habit.
A leader can use the following questions to quickly orient to any situation based on these three lenses of purpose. Treat these questions like the mirrors in your automobile. They work best when you periodically scan among them at regular intervals.
1. Original purpose: What must happen in order for the community to survive and thrive? What are potential threats and how can we preempt them? What are opportunities we can leverage in order to thrive?
2. Personal purpose: How am I uniquely designed to contribute to the community’s surviving and thriving? What is important to me? What is something I’m committed to that would endure any changes in my personal circumstances (i.e. health, wealth, etc.)
3. Situational purpose: What is the purpose of the issue at hand? What is needed now?
Advocacy is related to the idea of voice, as in using our voice. From this, we get that sense that advocacy originated to call people toward something of importance.
While we may not be aware of it, we advocate for things all the time. We give advice to a friend. We share something we heard in the news. A great deal of our daily communication is a form of advocacy. In fact, we unwittingly advocate for things through our behavior as well. We advocate company brands through what we buy, wear, or drive. We advocate values (or the lack of them) through the things we say and do.
On your way to work, you will see all kinds of bumper stickers that advocate for a certain activity (i.e. running) or for a particular breed of dog, a politician, a product. We may write an online review for a restaurant or product because we want others to experience the benefits we derived or avoid the negative experiences we suffered. We even advocate the advocacy of others when asked to upvote or downvote an online review or comment.
Not all advocacy is equally warranted or effective. We know from experience that if somebody fails to present their viewpoints clearly, the force of their advocacy suffers. If the advocacy strikes us as mean spirited or illogical or poorly worded, we are less inclined to adopt the advocate’s view. If we question the advocate’s motives (i.e. he/she has something to personally gain), we remain skeptical. This is why paid advertisements are less reliable than a product review. Movie trailers, for example, are meant to entice movie-goers by portraying the best aspects of the film, but websites like RottenTomatoes.com provide much more compelling cases for whether a move is worth seeing by aggregating ratings from viewers and critics. In other words, there are many factors that lead to successful advocacy.
Advocacy is one of the most essential actions that evoke reactions from others and a primary means for mobilizing communities beyond survival and toward thriving. In the context of leadership, it’s surprising that the capacity for advocacy is not discussed more often. Perhaps we fail to consciously associate advocacy with leadership or we have come to take it for granted, assuming that people are naturally capable of effective advocacy. Maybe it’s because the work of advocacy can be uncomfortable and, at times, risky. Or, it could be that we simply don’t understand the nature and dynamics of advocacy well enough.
The reason we use the term “capacity” to describe the seven aspects of Positive Leadership is that capacity can be increased. The more we increase it, the greater our ability to deploy social force. The more skillfully we advocate, the greater our social force and we can increase our capacity as advocates.
As with each capacity, everyone has the power to advocate–the ability to hold something up to the world as important, whether or not they actively engage it. What is sorely missing is not the potential to advocate for something or someone, but the purposeful intent to advocate and the skills to do it effectively. We all have the ability, but do we maximize our social force to make a difference? Or do we miss opportunities to make valuable contributions?
Advocacy requires us to step apart from the crowd and this increases our vulnerability. Inherent to advocacy is the call for change—the need to do something differently, stop doing it altogether, or start doing something new. Machiavelli perfectly articulates the precarious nature of advocacy:
Advocacy is a crucial part of charting a community’s direction. When we advocate (for something or someone), we direct community members attention and harness the social force available to affect change. Since a community’s survival, and ability to thrive, rests largely on the effectiveness of its leaders ability to advocate, it is a significant capacity to develop. What are some of the qualities of an effective advocate? Consider the following:
1.They have clarity. They know what they are trying to accomplish and can articulate it clearly for others.
2.They have conviction. Doubts and fears take a backseat to a worthy purpose.
3.They provide compelling rationale. The recommended course is presented thoughtfully and convincingly.
4.They have a specific focus. The attention they commanded is directed toward the most important things.
5.They inspire other advocates. Their passion and intensity is transferred to others.
6.They anticipate sources of resistance and address them instead of avoiding them.
7.They are the right person for the message. If they are not, they identify the right source to deliver the message.
Advocacy is rooted in the idea of change. This connection may not be immediately apparent. I don’t mean change for the sake of change, but change when it is necessary for a community’s survival and thriving. The environment you are in will not allow your community to stay the same no matter how good things may seem to be and, eventually, change is necessary. Threats to survival will emerge: new competitors, advances in technology, changing markets, outdated policies, etc. If someone does not recognize the need for change then it puts the community in peril and the first job of a leader is to protect the community. If the community dies, it is the fault of leaders. For example, if a non-profit closes it’s doors, I blame leadership. There may be excuses or good reasons but ultimately it falls on leaders.
Advocating must be rooted in necessary change. Some people advocate for other reasons: to leave their mark, put a notch in their belt, personal gain, politics, fear or to showcase their intelligence. In other words, ego-driven change instead of need-driven; which can look like advocacy but it is not. The heart of advocacy is recognizing a true need, making the case, and bringing others along. Sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not and there are many variables, but we are going to focus on the leadership variable.
As we discussed under the first capacity, authentic leaders take an honest accounting of who they are— their strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, base hungers and noble aspirations. Authenticity bolsters advocacy when leaders know who they are, accept themselves, set an internal benchmark for their development, and effectively assert themselves.
Purpose, the second capacity, provides not only a powerful starting place for leaders, but also a reliable guide along the way as complexities mount. You can enhance your ability to advocate by connecting to a worthy purpose. Where authenticity and purpose are largely internal (they do not necessarily involve other people), advocacy influences others and is, by necessity, external. Authenticity and Purpose provide the internal base. Advocacy expands your reach outwardly into your community. The stronger the base, the greater the social force that propels your advocacy forward.
A person can be authentic and purposeful yet still not fully realize the potential social force of Positive Leadership in his or her communities. Communities take their cues from their leaders. Advocacy broadens the borders of a person’s private self to begin shaping the agenda of the larger community. When you advocate, you extend beyond yourself to actively influence affairs around you. Of all seven capacities, Advocacy is most pointedly linked to the deployment of leadership; turning social force into social action.
When you hold up an ideal to the rest of the world and say, “This matters!” you shape your communities. This is what it means to be an advocate. One example that comes to mind is that of a senior executive at IBM who recently started the “Slow Email Movement.” He concludes his emails with the message that employees should check their email only twice a day (instead of constantly) so they can relearn the lost arts of dreaming, relaxing, and focusing. In so doing, this executive is advocating a more deliberate pace of work–one based on being proactive rather than reactive.
Bob Barker provides another example of advocacy. He ended each episode of The Price is Right with a reminder for people to spay and neuter their pets. He used his platform for a message important to him: The reduction of homeless or unwanted pets and the reduction of suffering they endure.
A friend of mine works for a small company where the CEO advocates for family and wellness. He allows three months of paid maternity leave for women with newborns to allow them the space to manage parenthood and work. He also has made sure that a couple of employees who developed substance abuse did not have to worry about the cost of rehabilitation or whether they would have a job when they returned. These are ways he advocates for values that are important to him.
I was moved when reading about Marla Ruzicka, a 28-year old Californian, who became concerned about innocent victims of war. She went to Afghanistan and Iraq to go door to door in war torn areas to gather data and stories about those injured and killed. Along the way, she used her data to raise awareness and millions of dollars in funds. She arranged for medical services for people who suffered because they did not have a voice. On the way to visit one such victim, she and her translator were killed by a car bomb on April 16, 2005. Marla and the organization she formed called CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict) exemplify the epitome of advocacy. Marla used her authentic talents, passions, and the privilege of being a United States citizen to advocate for dignity for those who had little power.
These examples may remind you of acts of advocacy in your community. They abound. Each non-profit represents a great deal of energy and resources directed at their particular cause and to improve conditions. Advocacy comes in many sizes ranging from a single action (i.e. holding the door open as an act of civility) to a lifelong pursuit of changing a particular aspect of the human condition (i.e. civil rights, curing a disease, advancing technology, etc.).
We also know that acts of advocacy achieve varying degrees of success. A parable I recount often is that of the salmon and the hen. A salmon swims hundreds of miles upstream to reach its spawning grounds to lay a million eggs just before dying of fatigue and nobody ever knows. A hen lays one egg and tells the entire world. Sometimes the most productive and creative people fail to have their ideas heard and sometimes those who have the least to offer occupy center stage. Advocacy is about substance and skill. Salmon lack the latter and hens lack the former. Positive Leadership is concerned with possessing both.
Operators of advocacy may be exactly right in what they advocate for yet fail to make a compelling case. This is exactly what happened in 1985 with the Challenger disaster. At least one expert closely associated with the project had strong concerns about the O-rings’ stability under high temperature variance but failed to advocate for safety and stall the launch. Imagine being an engineer on the project and you had special insights that led you to believe there was danger. Meanwhile, many months of preparation, hundreds of NASA employees and millions of dollars are at stake to make the launch happen. What would be your plan to slowing the momentum of an entire organization to take the time to hear your concerns? How would you hold up in the face of rabid resistance? Many successful endeavors can be credited to the effective advocacy of a few individuals. At the same time, how many disasters may have been averted but for the lack of someone to take a stand when they knew something wasn’t right?
Technicians of social force are not only deliberate about what they choose to advocate, but they employ the means to effectively influence others. And when they haven’t succeeded in making their case, they understand resistance and know how to respond to it. Accurate situation assessment, compelling argument, setting an example, and handling resistance are four skills we will explore.
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1. Increased understanding of their leadership potential.
2. A clear approach with concrete actions to effect positive change.
3. A sense of increased competence to move people in a positive direction—whether it be committees, non-profits or business departments.
4. Added value from your program with a set of tools they would not have learned anywhere else.
Positive Leadership is about harnessing the potential energy when people come together—social force. Positive leaders take actions that evoke positive reactions. To enhance one’s social force, we focus on seven timeless capacities: authenticity, purpose, advocacy, resilience, community-building, reason and gratitude. These capacities are well-documented under a field of research known as Positive Psychology. The curriculum provides a rich experience for your participants to grow together through lively group discussion and personal development activities.
Leadership is not a title or position. Community leaders often need to mobilize others without having authority over them.
Authenticity is an in-depth process of self awareness, self acceptance, self development and self assertion.
Leaders must learn to discern and articulate their personal purpose as well as the moment-to-moment situational purposes that arise.
To effect change, leaders must make their case for a cause in a way that engages others in order to bring about needed results.
Resilient leaders have the capacity to bounce back when things become challenging, allowing them to endure.
Leadership is not a solo sport. It’s important to share progress and strengthen other community members capacity for leadership.
Leaders that align their personal views with the world as it really is increase their social force and ability to enhance the community.
Positive leaders recognize the truth that communities thrive based on the contribution of many. The capacity for acknowledging the efforts of others provides positivity and renewal.
Quotes from Executive Directors who use Positive Leadership.
"Leadership Tulsa has been using Positive Leadership with our classes for more than ten years. We find it is universally relevant to leaders at every stage of life and career and that it helps engage the class in meaningful conversations about their experiences. Positive Leadership is both refreshingly original and comfortingly timeless." - Wendy Thomas, Executive Director, Leadership Tulsa
“Including skills education is important, but this aspect of our program wasn’t very effective until now. Positive Leadership has made the difference.” - Kati Gimes, Executive Director, Leadership Montgomery
“Adding the Positive Leadership curriculum to our community leadership program created a way for us to have a thoughtful dialogue about leadership capacities. It enriched the experience for our whole class. The curriculum sets up each reader to be thinking, talking, asking, and wondering. It applies to leaders at all levels. It added a significant missing piece to our program.” - Sarri Gilman, Executive Director (formerly), Leadership Snohomish County
“This is a great program. Positive Leadership is easy to facilitate and easy to discuss. We’re good at teaching about the community, but we weren’t so good at teaching about leadership. Positive Leadership fulfills that need.” - Deann Bradford, Executive Director, Leadership Donelson-Hermitage
“Positive Leadership brings coherence and a unified voice to our discussion of leadership. The concepts are rich and clear.” - Lynn Harwell Algrant, Program Facilitator, Bergen LEADS
“Positive Leadership was a great addition to our curriculum this last year. It was the perfect tool to deepen the leadership learning and weave together all our sessions from month-to-month. I would highly recommend it to all community leadership programs.” - Lora Wondolowski, Executive Director, Leadership Pioneer Valley
“Positive Leadership gave us the missing piece that we were looking for. Many community leadership programs focus primarily on issues education. Where’s the leadership training? Positive Leadership fills that void. Positive Leadership is perfect – it was written for programs like us.” - Helen Lemoine, Executive Director, Leadership Metro-West
“We really enjoy using Positive Leadership in our program. For us, it was very turnkey. We work with limited budget and manpower, but the readings were nicely laid out and the discussion activities tied it all together. It provided us with a common theme from our orientation all the way through to graduation. I highly recommend this program.” - Amanda Beller, Executive Director, Leadership Siouxland
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The Positive Leadership model began as an outgrowth of Adam Seaman’s, curriculum creator, term as Board President of Leadership Tulsa in 2002. He refined his methodology to include research from a wide range of social sciences in order to make Positive Leadership as useful as possible.
To enhance community leadership across the nation and beyond by providing quality content and personable, responsive service to our partners.
Adam Seaman is an organizational development consultant and executive coach in practice for the past 15 years. His mission is providing people with tools to navigate the psychological and social plane. He has worked with a wide array of organizations from public and private sectors. Past clients include Pepsi, Ford, Honeywell, United States Navy and Williams. In addition to supporting clients from a wide variety of industries, he has also worked with employees at all levels, from the front line to the executive suite.
This breadth and depth of experience helped him formulate the concepts that resulted in the Positive Leadership model. His purpose is to articulate relevant and insightful principles of leadership that are universally applicable.
“Excellent and extremely relevant to each class. It was so enriching to hear the chapters used by fellow classmates in various contexts.”
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