Leadership Challenge: The Good Side of Negativity

Negative-NewsI’ve been talking about positivity and gratitude for leaders. Well, that’s nice, but it’s actually a leadership challenge. If you want to get people to do things, you can’t only use pats on the back and fists pumps. Delivering bad news has its place. The challenge is getting the right dose of negativity.

We humans have a strong survival instinct that draws on our ability to spot threats. We react quickly and intensely to warning signs. Negative headlines sell more newspapers, and people gravitate to TV shows that highlight negative behaviors. It’s said in politics that the negativity effect is more influential with voters than the positivity effect.

We often pay more attention to criticisms than compliments. Negative events have a greater effect on our mood and behaviors than do positive events. A healthy dose of negativity allows us to spot and avoid problems.

But too much focus on negativity saps our energy and compromises our ability to find necessary solutions.

Managers and leaders must therefore counteract the pull of negativity and the tendency to fixate on bad news. This means that as a leader, team member or friend, we need to seize opportunities to influence outcomes by emphasizing positivity and gratitude over negative possibilities.

Some research indicates that effective teams make three to five times as many positive statements for one negative statement. What’s that ratio like in your team?

Ask yourself this important question: How can I help others (and myself) overcome negative events and move forward?

How to Be More Positive (and Successful)

Be willing to invest five minutes a day in making a gratitude list. It’s quick, unbelievably easy and provides immediate benefits.

Each day of the week, write down five things for which you’re grateful. You can do this daily or once a week.

  • Day 1: I am grateful for………….
    • __________________________________________________________________
    • __________________________________________________________________
    • __________________________________________________________________
    • __________________________________________________________________
    • __________________________________________________________________
    • Day 2: I am grateful for………….(etc.)
    • Day 3: I am grateful for………….(etc.)

You’ll need to sustain this practice to reap ongoing benefits. Like any habit, keeping a gratitude list takes some discipline at first. An ongoing commitment will allow it to become a natural, established practice in your life.

A word of caution: You may feel gratitude just by thinking about it, but it won’t last. Thinking isn’t doing. Daily or weekly practice — actually writing down five things for which you’re grateful — will deliver lasting results.

In closing, I’ve included a list of three books referred to in this post and previous posts. However, there are now a multitude of books published just in the last decade about gratitude and happiness which merit reading.

I encourage you, as I do my coaching clients, to read any of these inspirational books. You’ll be glad you did.

Gratitude Book Resources

Tal Ben-Shahar, Even Happier: a Gratitude Journal for Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, McGraw-Hill, 2009.

Kim Cameron, Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2013.

Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, How Full Is Your Bucket? Gallup Press, 2004.

(Image: freedigitalphotos.net)

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