By JoAnna Brandi

 Alice laughed, “There’s no use trying”, she said, “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice”, said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

 – From Alice in Wonderland, by Louis Carroll

As we look ahead at the coming year, we’d be wise to listen to the Queen and spend time at the beginning of our day believing in the possibility of impossible things.

Our world is changing at a dizzying rate and those who cling to old models, old thinking and old ways of doing things won’t know what hit them as those who have expanded their minds to believe in the impossible create and recreate businesses that focus on what buyers want, not what sellers want to sell them.

The power has shifted from the people who sell to the people who buy. As customers equipped with smartphones scan barcodes to grab the best deals, they’ve commoditized almost everything. When ‘looking for a deal’ who’s doing the selling gets less and less relevant to today’s savvy shopper.

Equipped with more computer power in their hand than machines that took up a whole floor of a building just one generation ago, the customer can easily find the best deal and if they wish, even the company with the best reputation to buy it from.

The Internet gives customers a loud and influential voice in the marketplace. In fact, one could say they own the media now. One e-mail or post – often accompanied by a picture – from an upset customer with a following can impact a brand’s reputation for a long time to come. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A company’s response to their complaint better be swift and sincere and public. Today, companies find themselves accountable to customers on a very large stage.

And that’s just the beginning.

Operating at the speed of the Internet means that businesses must be nimble and quick, smart and flexible, connected and creative, and most of all, willing to challenge the assumptions that form the very core of their being, on a fairly regular basis.

The changing world of business today requires leaders who are willing to put their egos aside, spend time listening deeply, and patiently creating a culture of trust and appreciation. Cultures strong on trust and communication skills can mobilize swiftly as need arises. Supported by leaders who are clear about the guiding values, strategies and priorities of the organization, those closest to customers can then act with self-confidence and decisiveness to create the kinds of experiences that make customers say ‘Wow’ and willingly spread ‘positive word of mouth’ to friends and colleagues. Companies with loyal profitable customers who sing their praises enjoy better bottom-lines and grow quicker than those always looking to replace customers they’ve lost.

Leaders who really do embrace a ’21st Century’ model of leadership understand they don’t and can’t have all the answers; they don’t and can’t call all the shots. They understand it’s their job to create the kind of environment that enables extraordinary performance from people at all levels. They are skilled at managing the energy and focusing the attention of the organization.

They understand where the ‘energy drains’ on the organization are and refocus to create ‘energy gains’ that make everyone stronger and smarter. I call these people ‘Positive Leaders’ and they can exist at any and at all levels of an organization. Positive Leaders are not just the opposite of ‘negative leaders’. They are those informed and educated by the evidence-based science called ‘Positive Psychology’ (AKA The Science of Happiness) as well as by the groundbreaking work being done in fields such as Neuroscience, Sports Psychology and the emerging study of Wellness.

“Happiness”, according to author and former Harvard educator Shaun Achor, “is the single greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy.” Happiness in business is a new idea quickly gaining traction as results from the deliberate and sincere practice of positivity prove that people work better when leaders focus on what’s right more than they focus on what’s wrong. People realize more of their potential when leaders focus more on possibility and less on problems.

There is a massive amount of evidence accumulating that shows by increasing the ‘Positive Capacity’ of an organization it can experience and expand on all the benefits of increased positive emotion. Positive emotion makes us smarter, healthier, more socially adept, and by many accounts, even wealthier. Experiencing positive emotion causes beneficial changes in our brain function that increase creativity, intuition and the speed of problem-solving. It causes changes in our biochemistry that strengthen our immune system, lower cortisol and counteract negative effects of stress.

According to a meta-analysis of 225 studies, happy employees have 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales and are 3 times more creative than their not-so-happy counterparts. Teams that achieve a positivity to negativity ratio of 6:1 also have higher customer satisfaction and better 360 evaluations for the leaders involved. When leaders look for, and find, things to appreciate and acknowledge workers feel recognized and valued. When people feel good at work, performance increases.

Impossible? Impractical? Idealistic? Actually, no.

One only has to look at the success of US-based, and now world famous, Zappos, and the companies that are learning from them, to see that a culture based on values, a passion for the possible and the freedom to delight the customer can be outrageously successful even in a highly competitive industry.

At the core of Positive Leadership lies an ‘asset-based’ approach and a focus on expanding strengths rather than fixing weaknesses. The Positive Leader is skilled at ‘strengths spotting’ and giving feedback that helps employees connect their work to the mission of the organization. A Positive Leader helps ‘make meaning’ for people.

He or she identifies the best in their people and focuses their attention on how to make the best of the talents they already have. Through coaching, encouragement and caring, a Positive Leader gets people to move out of their comfort zones and into their stretch zones – without having to take them into the panic zone. Love replaces fear as the motivator. Studies tell us that when a leader emphasizes weakness, performance actually decreases by 26.8%. When a leader praises, supports and develops strengths, performance increases by 36.4%. That’s a 60 point spread!

Human systems grow in the direction of what they talk about, so Positive Leaders talk about strengths, values, and creating more value for customers. They deliver five times more acknowledgement, affirmation, praise, good will, recognition, and compliments than they do criticism, sarcasm or corrective actions related to weakness. They put five times more focus on what’s right and what they want to create than on what’s wrong and what they don’t want to happen. Their language is framed in the positive and the possible.

In order to create lasting value in the marketplace we must first create lasting value in the workplace. To create engaged, happy and loyal customers, leaders must create an engaged, happy and loyal workforce, one built on trust, strengths, vision and common goals. A Positive Leader cultivates positive emotion in the climate they create, the relationships they build, the way they communicate and the meaning they give the work.

Positive Leaders express and foster hope and optimism, compassion and forgiveness. They honor the dignity of others by creating a safe emotional environment where people can feel free to express how they feel, and share their ideas without fear of ridicule or recrimination. This is the climate necessary for creativity and innovation to flow.

Positive Leadership grows out of emotional intelligence. Dr. Daniel Goleman tells us that 67% of the competencies needed to be a really effective manager are emotional in content. As I think about what my hopes and dreams are for the coming year they all stem from my belief that we have the power to create positive and innovative workplaces that are exponentially more productive and profitable when leaders focus inward and make a personal commitment to increasing their own emotional intelligence.

We live in special times. Leaders have the opportunity (and now the tools) to create appreciative cultures that nourish and grow people, protect our fragile environment and respond to the ever-changing demands of the customers when they set their intention on connecting their heads with their hearts. My highest hope is to see that energy get into motion (E-Motion) to create happier workplaces.

Copyright © JoAnna Brandi & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

JoAnna Brandi is publisher of the Customer Care Coach® a self-study training program on mastering “The Art and Science of Exquisite Customer Care.” She is the author of Winning At Customer Retention, 101 Ways to Keep ’em Happy, Keep ’em Loyal and Keep ’em Coming Back and Building Customer Loyalty: 21 Essential Elements in Action as well as a gift book on positive thinking 54 Ways to Stay Positive in a Changing, Challenging and Sometimes Negative World. She is a contributing author to Best Practices in Customer Service and the Inc. Complete Guide to Superior Customer Service. Eight years ago she became an Authentic Happiness Coach and began developing programs on Positive Leadership and Creating Happiness for organizations. She is currently working on a book entitled “From Positive Thinking to Positive Doing” which teaches her ‘Positivity Practices’. Previous publications in the Learning Exchange:The Seven Secrets to New Age Leadership“; and “Use Values to Pull Your Team Together“.

For more information visit www.returnonhappiness.com or contact JoAnna at [email protected].

 

 

 

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