How Positive Psychology Can Help Your Organization

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In her Personality Matters series, Leslie Sachs examines the personalities and people-issues that are found in technology groups from cross-functional, high-performance teams to dysfunctional matrix organizations.

Summary:

Positive psychology is providing a new focus on effective ways to ensure that teams exhibit the right behaviors in a group or organizational setting. Closely related to many agile and lean concepts, these emerging practices are helping teams to improve communication, collaborate, and emerge as highly effective groups. Leslie Sachs explains what positive psychology is all about and how to start using these practices in your organization.

Many of my articles focus on identifying and dealing with dysfunctional behaviors in the workplace, such as paranoia or the learned helplessness that we see in many IT operations shops in which systems go down even after technical personnel issue warnings. Psychology has long focused on pathologies in a valiant effort to identify and cure mental illness. However, one limitation with this approach is that focusing on the negative issues can sometimes become a self-fulfilling proficiency.

First-year medical students are notorious for thinking that they have almost every illness that they learn about in medical school. If you want an effective and healthy organization, then it seems obvious that it is essential to focus on promoting healthy organizational behavior. Psychologists Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi have pioneered a new focus on a positive view of psychology, and this article will help you to understand and begin to apply these exciting and very effective techniques.

Technology leaders from CTOs to ScrumMasters work every day to foster the optimal behaviors that lead to improved productivity and quality. That said, we all know that dealing with difficult people and dysfunctional behaviors can be very challenging and sometimes disheartening. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi wrote that “psychology has become a science largely about healing. Therefore, its concentration on healing largely neglects the fulfilled individual and thriving community.” [1] Instead of concentrating so much energy on remediation, it would be better to empower technology leaders to focus on and encourage positive and effective behaviors in the workplace. Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, note that “the aim of positive psychology is to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities [1].”

Seligman delineates twenty-four strengths, ranging from curiosity and interest in the world to zest, passion, and enthusiasm, which he suggests are the fundamental traits of a positive and effective individual [2]. Notably, playfulness and humor, along with valor, bravery, and a sense of justice, are also listed among these traits that Seligman describes. So, how do we apply this knowledge to the workplace and how can we use this information to be more effective managers? The fact is that we all know people whom we admire and we have all had more than a few employers who seemed less than completely effective.

Effective leaders do indeed exhibit valor, bravery, and a sense of justice in identifying barriers to organizational success. The best leaders are not afraid to deliver a tough message and also use their positional power to help teams achieve success. Technology leaders are often particularly motivated by curiosity, interested in the world, and most certainly exhibit enthusiasm and passion for their work.

Other traits observed in strong leaders include kindness and generosity, along with integrity and honesty. Successful leaders also exhibit perseverance and diligence as well as a love of learning. It hardly comes as a surprise that so many of these strengths are specified as beneficial traits. In fact, many of these aspects have been discussed earlier by Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers in their work on humanistic psychology, a discipline that focuses on helping people achieve success and realize their full potential.

User Comments

3 comments
Ben Linders's picture

Positive psychology can help people in organizations in many ways. One way of applying positive psychology is to use solution focused in a strengths based retrospective. It helps teams to become better in the things that they are doing great and improve themselves by focusing on their individual and team strengths.

December 12, 2013 - 1:58pm
Nadia Makhnovskiy Linares's picture

Thank you Leslie!

 

I was so pleasantly surprised to find here an article on Positive Psychology. I recently completed PP college course and it greatly contributed to deeper understanding of myself and the people around me. 

 

If someone is interested to identify their strongest and weakest sides (24 strengths discussed in the article), the VIA Inventory of strengths survey is available for free at www.viacharacter.org

 

The 1-5 strengths are your strongest sides. The 5 bottom "strengths" (19-24) are more your weaknesses, which might need some personal work.

 

I find it useful to retake the survey once in a while to monitor the personal progress.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 24, 2013 - 6:29pm

About the author

Leslie  Sachs's picture Leslie Sachs

Leslie Sachs is a New York state certified school psychologist and the COO of Yellow Spider, Inc. (http://yellowspiderinc.com). Leslie is the coauthor of Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World, Addison-Wesley Professional (http://cmbestpractices.com). Ms. Sachs has more than twenty years of experience in the psychology field and has worked in a variety of clinical and business settings where she has provided many effective interventions designed to improve the social and educational functioning of both individuals and groups. Ms. Sachs has an M.S. in School Psychology from Pace University and interned in Bellevue's Psychiatric Center in New York city. A firm believer in the uniqueness of every individual, she has recently done advanced training with Mel Levine's "All Kinds of Minds" Institute. She may be reached at LeslieASachs@gmail.com, or link with her http://www.linkedin.com/in/lesliesachs.

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