By Dr. Marla Gottschalk, Industrial & Organizational Psychologist / Workplace Strategist
Those who lead or manage others have the unique potential to serve as an energizing force within organizations today. With their position and collected experience, they have the ability to influence not only what transpires within our work lives, but how we process those moments. A leader’s view of a challenging situation, including the psychological vantage point or “mindset” they bring to bear upon a problem, can affect how we move forward. As such, understanding how leader behavior affects the attitudes and actions of team members, is of primary interest. There are many elements to consider as we evaluate strategies to effectively lead a group of individuals in today’s world of work — but, can positivity play a central role in enhancing a team’s outlook and performance outcomes? A growing body of evidence says, yes.
We have previously discussed how the tenets of positive psychology could serve as a guide to achieve greater levels of workplace happiness and eventual success. The movement, which stresses the identification of what is “right” within our work lives, advises building on the aspects of our work lives that help us garner strength and flourish. (Emphasizing our strengths, the celebration of successes). Akin to this theory, researchers are actively examining the impact of the construct Psychological Capital (PsyCap) in the workplace. PsyCap is comprised of a number of key “state like” psychological resources. (The “HERO” resources; Hope, Efficacy, Resilience and Optimism).
The HERO resources:
- Hope. A belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find paths to reach them.
- Efficacy. The confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes.
- Resilience. The ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure.
- Optimism. A generally positive view of work and the potential of success.
It follows, that we should explore the potential impact of leader positivity and the associated behaviors on members of their team. Recent research has explored this dynamic, and has revealed that leader psychological capital can not only be significantly related to levels of follower psychological capital, but follower performance, as well. One explanation for these findings: positivity in the workplace can become somewhat “contagious”, through the process of modeling. An example of the classic research of Bandura (1977) (which posits social learning through role models) — leaders can help shape follower attitudes and behavior, by exhibiting strategies that reflect higher levels of key psychological resources (for example behaviors that reflect resilience and hopefulness.)
Going forward, it appears in our best interest to encourage leaders to not only strengthen their psychological resources, but outwardly express positivity — and provide model behaviors when interfacing with their employees. This in turn can enhance workplace well-being and the achievement of valued outcomes. Those leaders that “flex their positivity”, may indeed have the ability to change the tenor of the workplace.
- Leader selection & development. Organizations can readily assess the psychological resources possessed by candidates who will lead or manage the work of others. Furthermore, training opportunities for leaders can include the development of these resources (resilience and optimism, for example) and the expression of a positive mindset when interacting with their teams.
- Goal setting. Leaders with higher levels of psychological resources (such as hope), set more robust or challenging goals — and are highly motivated to accomplish such goals. These leaders are more likely to bend with adversity and deal with failure, in stride.
- Problem management. Exhibiting behaviors which express positivity when facing issues and obstacles can be critical. Leaders with stronger psychological resources are more likely to develop alternatives pathways to meet these obstacles — a skill that can be learned by followers.
- Performance feedback. Leaders can utilize the power of feedback to build needed resources. Pausing to note accomplishments, can build confidence, maintain energy and enhance self-efficacy.
- Psychological capital has universal benefits. The development of psychological capital within organizations should not exclusively focus upon leaders — but those in varying roles and levels. Employees at all levels, particularly those who interface with multiple employees, have the opportunity to serve as powerful role models.
Do you feel that more positive leaders can affect team performance? Share your opinion.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She also writes The Office Blend.