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Overcoming negative thinking to peak performance

How can people shift their mindset to a more positive one?

Overcoming negative thinking to peak performance

Every day, most employees face tough challenges and pressures impacting their work and psychological state. Choosing how to respond in any given situation provides a “moment of truth” which determines how a person is perceived by co-workers and how well they deliver outcomes that create value for the business.

People typically find themselves alternating between the two paths shown in the diagram below. Their assumptions, beliefs and interpretation of a situation place them at some point on either path and directly influence how they react to their circumstance. However, some people have a tendency to stay more on one path than the other based on their personality, background and how they choose to view the situation.

The lower path, the Path of Limitation, drives thought and actions narrowed by a negative mindset that focuses on problems, issues, failures, weaknesses and independent action. It results in fear, mistrust and pessimism. This in turn contributes to a culture of learned helplessness where individuals feel isolated and unable to progress. This self-doubt leads to lower performance and undesirable and unintended consequences, such as missing targets and damaged relationships.

The upper path, the Path of Possibility, is more productive. Thoughts and actions are broadened and focused on strengths, successes, opportunities, solutions and building collaborative partnerships. Performance is based on trust, hope, optimism, purpose and energy-boosting habits. This leads to a sense of powerfulness, positive energy, confidence and meaning at work, which fuels higher performance.

Most people don’t intend to be negative and aren’t even aware when they end up spending the majority of time on the lower path. This happens for several reasons, the most common being:

  1. They are naturally more pessimistic and critically-minded and when these behaviors are overdone, they can be perceived as too negative.
  2. They experience really tough events at home or at work that push them into the negative zone. Even the most upbeat and optimistic person can end up with a negative mindset if they experience cumulative events which cause distress, such as marital problems or major reorganizations creating uncertainty and insecurity. This can result in them feeling helpless, disengaged and lacking in confidence.
  3. They don’t get any feedback from their manager or co-workers about their negative outlook.

So how can people shift their mindset to a more positive one? By adopting and practicing the 4 steps below, individuals can become more aware of their mindset and guard against any detrimental impact on performance and relationships:


1.Understand what triggers your negativity and pivot

It is important to understand where you are at any point in time, and to understand the impact (including the risks and benefits) of your mindset on your performance and that of the team and other stakeholders (e.g., customers). Identifying specific triggers (people, events, etc.) that move you to the Path of Limitation, and the risks of staying on this path, will help you to pivot and move back to the positive path.

2. Focus more attention on strengths and solutions

Research shows that even if people are naturally pessimistic and critical, they can consciously choose to focus more attention on the positive aspects of their situation and performance. After a few months of patient and conscious practice, new habits will develop around a more positive mindset. Specific techniques people can apply to help shift their mindset include:

  • Inviting feedback from others (co-workers and key stakeholders) about both their strengths as well as areas for improvement.
  • Reflecting on, and keeping a diary, of what went well during each day and how these successes can be repeated and built upon.
  • Learning ‘flip thinking’ techniques to think about problems and issues using a more positive lens. The one I often recommend is POINT, a mnemonic which stands for Pluses, Opportunities, Issues, and New T When applying this technique it is important to frame issues as questions which encourages a search for new and creative solutions. So rather than saying: “My manager doesn’t provide me with clear goals”, it is far better to ask something along the lines of: “What can I do to ensure I get more clarity on my goals from my manager?”

 3. If you are prone to negativity, draw on positive co-workers

If you are naturally a more pessimistic and critical thinker, leverage the art of complementary partnering by bringing in more positive colleagues to support you in spotting the upside and possibilities in situations. This will ensure a more balanced perspective in your team and will keep your negative excesses in check, particularly if you invite honest and regular feedback.

 4. Express negative feelings, but don’t dwell on them

Maintaining a positive mindset doesn’t mean you need to be happy and upbeat all the time. As was so well illustrated by the recent Pixar movie, Inside Out, every emotion – including sadness and anger – has a role to play in ensuring success, productive interpersonal relations and wellbeing.

A positive, strengths-based approach doesn’t encourage people to suppress ‘negative’ emotions, as this is unhealthy. It highlights the need to remain aware of them and to learn to build agility in moving on from them and mitigating any negative effects associated with these emotions.

Developing and maintaining a positive mindset is essential to great performance and relationships at work. What we now know, based on the latest research into neuroscience, is that any person, regardless of their personality and how negative they are, can learn to become more positive in their approach and contribute to a high-performing, positive workplace.

7 Significant Strengths Applied to Employee Engagement

This is a guest blog post from David Zinger, employee engagement expert.

Strength application at work benefits both the organization and the individual.


7-Significant-Strengths - Employee Strengths

Strengths and performance

There is a very strong connection between the application of personal strengths and employee engagement. Gallup has demonstrated the relationship in many studies including a dramatic finding on engagement, strengths, and performance: If a manager did not talk with an employee about their performance there was a 40% chance that employee was disengaged. If a manager only talked about deficiencies and weaknesses there was a 22% chance the employee was disengaged and if a manager held strength based conversation there was only a 1% chance of disengagement (Tom Rath). The lack of strength based conversations are detrimental to performance, engagement, and ultimately organizational results.



Strengths and wellbeing

Martin Seligman, the former president of APA, found that when a person knew their strengths, used their strengths daily, and used their strengths in the service of others they had a higher level of both happiness and wellbeing.


There are many pathways to determine strengths. Strengthscope, out of the UK, offers an insightful assessment based on 24 possible strengths ranging from collaboration to strategic mindedness. I completed the Strengthscope strength inventory in preparation for a workshop in London UK in November 2012 on strengths, engagement, innovation, and excellence.

Here are my 7 significant strengths

1.    Creativity

2.    Developing Others

3.    Empathy

4.    Enthusiasm

5.    Flexibility

6.    Leading

7.    Self-Improvement


Significant 7 + 10 Block Pyramid of Engagement = Turbocharged Employee Engagement.


The assessment validated my own thinking. I believe strength inventories should be less about revelation and more about confirmation. Yet having my strengths confirmed is only one step. To get maximum professional and organizational benefit we must apply our strengths.  I decided to fuse the significant 7 strengths with my 10 block pyramid of employee engagement.

David Zinger is an employee engagement expert. Check out The Employee Engagement NetworkEmployee Engagement Pyramid

Find out more about Strengthscope’s HR training services.

Find your strengths and #PressforProgress

First, a disclaimer – honestly I feel like a woman should be writing this blog but I feel strongly about it and I feel like I have something to say, so here goes…

I can’t remember a time in my lifetime where the momentum to achieve gender parity – to close the gap between men and women as regards opportunity and pay – has been greater. But we all know how quickly an issue can move out of the spotlight as the ‘next big thing’ appears in the media and grabs people’s attention. So now is the time to fast-track progress, to make a historic difference, to smash the ceilings and change the game.


So what will fuel the drive towards gender parity?


In my work with leaders from all sectors and all backgrounds, I would say that one factor makes the greatest difference to leadership success (however you measure it): self-belief. And self-belief as a leader tends to come from deep self-knowledge, understanding how you as an individual can make your strongest contribution, how you’re different from others, and how those differences can create value for those who choose to follow you.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  But it’s far from that.


Most leaders struggle to make it over the first hurdle: gaining self-awareness and knowledge of their own strengths and vulnerabilities. Why? Because this type of self-reflection and analysis can feel painful, or indulgent, or embarrassing. As a result, many leaders can find themselves in a fragile ‘bubble’, barely protecting their sense of self-esteem and preventing them from taking risks in their leadership approach, careers or lives. They’re not really sure of the qualities and talents they bring to leadership and worry about asking for others’ views on this (for fear of being outed as an imposter, or feeling unworthy in some way).  As a result, they can get ‘stuck’, not achieving their potential and finding themselves questioning their value, purpose, even happiness at work.


Another contributing factor is that leadership, for most people, tends to just ‘happen’. Like parenthood, no one really prepares you for it emotionally or practically. And so you arrive in a role where, for the first time, you are someone’s line manager. You don’t know to manage people, you’re not sure of the right things to do or say, so you follow company procedures (if there are any) and hope that you don’t get ‘found out’, taking every opportunity to get back involved in the technical work that landed you a leadership position in the first place.  And sometimes, the leadership part of your role seems ok – people ‘get it’ and seem motivated and engaged. And at other times, you just don’t seem able to get through to people, even though you haven’t don’t anything differently. So you conclude that whatever you do, people are unpredictable and the role of leader isn’t something you asked for anyway and you end up feeling less engaged yourself, possibly even resentful.


What’s the answer here? Two things: take responsibility as a leader (‘own it’) and become aware of who you are and what you bring as a leader.  For most people, this isn’t an overnight process, it takes time – arguably it’s lifelong – and you have to be prepared to try things, fail, succeed, learn and try again. Which means you’ll need to stay humble and curious and be prepared to be wrong a lot. But by understanding all that you bring as a leader – strengths, talents, vulnerabilities, weaknesses – you can start to go easier on yourself, recognize that you’re only human, play more to the strengths that you have and limit the risks. And help others to do the same.


The rewards are great – by being clear on ‘brand you’, you will start to build confidence as a leader and start to value your role and responsibilities as a leader.  With that growing inner belief, people will respond to you as you want them to, you will attract the people and successes that you had envisaged and, over time, your aspirations for your career and for your life will seem more achievable.


Why is this so important for female leaders? Well sadly, we still live in a world where parity for women in many areas of life has been hard-fought and only recently attained. Meaning that the predominant work culture is still unquestioningly biased towards men – in terms of wages, opportunities and attitudes. So for a female leader, there is an additional set of cultural challenges to be overcome in order for them to build that sense of self-belief and fulfil their leadership potential.


Starting today then, what can female leaders, or aspirational female leaders, actually do that will make a difference?  Well from my experience of working with a wide variety of astonishing female leaders, I would say these three things:


  1. Get clear on your brand – who you are and what you bring as a leader. Understand how you’re different and how these differences can be valuable to others. Ask colleagues for feedback, observe yourself, be realistic about who you are and who you’re not.
  2. Get clear on your goals – what you love about work and life and what you want to do more and less of. Where you want to be in a year, 3 years, 5 years.  Be honest with yourself and make sure your goals are yours, what you want to do, not what you feel you should do.
  3. Own it – lose the awkwardness, forget feeling like an imposter, be confident in letting others know where you want to take your career and how your approach to leadership will make it happen.


The world needs more female leaders. The time is right for a great leap forwards. Let’s grab the opportunity and make it happen, naming and shaming bias where it exists and wiping it out where we can, whilst at the same time taking a positive approach to developing female leadership strength.

Come and talk to us about our leadership development solutions and how they’ve helped women across the globe. We’d be delighted to support you on your journey in any way we can.


The Icarus Syndrome: why good organizations derail

In Greek mythology, Icarus was the son of the inventor Daedulus.  When both were locked up by king Minos, the innovative Daedulus made them both wings of feathers and wax. The wise father advised his son not to fly too close to the sun, as the wings might melt. Icarus ignored the good advice of his wise father, flew too high, and due to the melting of his wings, crashed into the sea and drowned.

This story emphasises the need for organizations to be on the lookout for performance risks caused by overplayed strengths, that is, when people’s strengths go into overdrive and lead to unintended performance problems. The hubris and rash investment decisions resulting from overplayed self-confidence and risk-taking among investment bankers leading up to the financial crises of 2006 is an extreme example. However, it illustrates the dangers when individuals and whole organizations stop using their strengths wisely, in a balanced way.

In over a decade working with a wide variety of organizations, we have witnessed many who trip up because of overplayed strengths. Their biggest weaknesses are not areas of competence they lack, but rather combinations of strengths that are overplayed. For example, we worked with one large organization that had a lopsided strengths profile from the leadership team right through the company. Their employees reported Execution strengths above everything else. Relational, Thinking and Emotional strengths were less well-represented and undervalued. This lopsided character was created by the company’s hiring and promotion strategy as well as the strong, results-focused cultural DNA of the business. Although this profile was positive in a relatively stable, fast-growing market, as managers and employees prioritized short-term action and results above almost everything else, it later meant that the company failed to recognize significant, disruptive changes in its sector calling for a more customer-focused, innovative and strategic focus.

Organizations can avoid the fate of Icarus by taking the following steps:


Help people to spot overplayed strengths

The starting point is to help people understand what overdrive behaviours look like, at the team and organizational, as well as individual levels.

In our experience, very few people understand their own overdrive behaviors, let alone what happens when the whole company becomes lopsided in the way it deals with people, problems and tasks.

Through helping people discover and use their strengths with caution and care, in the organization’s best interest, we can mitigate the risks of these excesses.


Cultivate diversity

Diversity of strengths and perspectives is crucial to ensure the longer-term growth and financial health of any organization serving a diverse customer base. Rather than being lopsided in only one strength area, teams should be diverse and complementary. This requires a progressive, strengths-based hiring strategy, taking account of not just the skills required for roles, but also the strengths of candidates who will complement the team, rather than simply exaggerating excesses. It also requires a culture and senior leadership team that values and appreciates people who possess different perspectives and strengths to the dominant ones already in the team and company.


Build a feedback culture

One of the best ways to avoid lopsided organizations is to create a culture that values and promotes open and constructive feedback. Feedback builds awareness of overdrive and is the catalyst to acceptance and adjustment. This helps prevent complacency and unproductive rituals from becoming institutionalized throughout the business.

When people understand their strengths and the language of overdrive and are encouraged by leadership to be open and honest, they will feel more equipped and empowered to provide feedback when they see examples of overdrive behavior.

Organizations need to take care not to institutionalize the strengths that made them great in the first place by over-relying on these strengths to solve all problems. They need to understand how these strengths can be balanced with less valued and leveraged strengths of employees that will help improve the company’s performance and the way it delivers value to customers, not just now, but well into the future.

Guarding against excesses and the Icarus syndrome almost always starts with good awareness. However, in our experience, levels of awareness about both strengths and overdrive risks in most organizations is still pitifully low. The HR function and top management should take a lead role to change this to ensure employees have meaningful discussions about their strengths and how these can be optimized to fuel the company’s success, but also the associated overdrive risks of these great gifts.