How the best leaders inspire others to grow and excel

How the best leaders inspire others to grow and excel

Through his Stanford lectures and bestselling book ‘Positive Intelligence’, company CEO Shirzad Chamine uncovered that just 20% of teams perform at their best. On the face of it, this startling statistic is a call to action for those in charge.

For business leaders, imagining what a high-performing team might achieve, the question is: how can you empower your team to recognize and grow their own strengths?

Change Your Approach

Sometimes leaders focus on fixing areas of weakness rather than encouraging team members to play to their strengths. However, people often achieve their peak performance if you, as their leader, notice what they are doing well, communicate what you notice, and say how you feel about it.

Why does that work? It puts people in a positive mindset where they are open to possibilities and growth. It helps them to be more empathetic, curious, and creative, raising their productivity levels and enabling them to excel.

The best leaders (including parents) aim for a ratio of 3:1 positive to negative interactions with members of their team (or children). Studies show us that each time you have a negative interaction with someone, it takes at least 3 positive interactions to neutralize the negative impact.

Why that ratio? In the pursuit of survival, the human brain has evolved to amplify the power of negative interactions to keep us safe, causing someone to feel criticized, blamed, shameful, guilty, disappointed and so on.

The result? Humans do not grow when leaders constantly criticize and tell them how to ‘fix’ themselves.

Listen To The Sage Voice

It only takes ten seconds to insert a positive message into an interaction. But many leaders take their team’s positives for granted. They often assume that people are already aware that they have done a good job or that they are noticed and appreciated. But when someone’s self-esteem is empty or low, even before you make any sort of comment, they are already anticipating a negative response.

This mindset privileges the ‘saboteur voice’ in their brain, which seeks to undermine them, instead of the ‘sage voice’, which serves them and enables them to thrive. If you want your team to thrive, then you’ll need to increase the number of positive interactions that you have with them. In doing this, you’ll encourage them to privilege their ‘sage voice’, and with it a culture of empathy, curiosity, creativity, clarity, calmness, and focused action.

Sometimes it can be tricky to find something positive to say, particularly if you have to handle a difficult team member. So if you need some prompts, or positive interactions don’t come naturally to you, try one of these approaches:

  • Say something you like about them (something you’ve not said before).
  • Mention and praise of one of their strengths.
  • Acknowledge how they have helped or benefitted the business in some way.
  • Do a random act of kindness that shows you care.
  • Offer positive praise with a facial expression or gesture of approval. Say ‘Well done’.
  • Take time to be really present with them. Look at them and listen to their needs.

Final thoughts on inspiring growth and excellence

As a leader, it’s possible to help your team grow and excel by having more positive interactions. When you yourself have a positive (sage) mindset, you have access to empathy for others and yourself. You notice when others show the outcome you desire. You describe what you see and how it makes you feel. You realize that excellence is an outcome that looks different for everyone, influenced by their unique strengths.

Do you have an important relationship that you want to improve? Feeling like you could deposit more positive interactions into a professional or personal relationship? Then keep in mind that the end goal is a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. And also consider what Professor John Gottman’s research tells us: successful long-term partnerships require a 5:1 positive to negative ratio.

Love is a verb…

Further Reading

  • ‘The Essential Coaching Leader’ by Patricia Burgin
  • ‘Positive Intelligence’ by Shirzad Chamine
  • ‘The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work’ by John Gottman PhD