Once a finance officer told me, “My job is supposed to be negative. I have to look for what is wrong. My job is to say ‘no.’ I expect people to hate me. I do not expect to be friends with the people who work for me, either. I find my friendships outside of work.”
The image is dismal but prevalent. I have talked to hundreds of professionals—just like the woman I’ve quoted—who make similar assumptions. They accept their fate because they believe that what they experience is a reflection of the reality of business and of organizational life. They live in the reality of constraint; an invitation to a better future is met with great suspicion.
Beneath that suspicion, though, there is often is a hidden orientation to possibility, a hope that things might be better. I was impressed by the authenticity of this seemingly “negative” woman. She made her statement after asking me what my keynote address was on. I indicated that the topic was creating positive organizations. It was then that she expressed her negative assumptions. The interesting thing, however, is what happened after the keynote. She cared enough to attend the follow-up workshop. This meant, despite what she had said, that there was a small germ of belief in possibility and a small spark of hope—enough to motivate her to be present.
During the next hour, we reviewed some concepts, and then I exposed her and the other workshop attendees to the Positive Organization Generator. The tool contains 100 unusual, positive practices used by real companies. These concrete practices tend to capture the interest of even skeptical people. I ask participants to examine the practices with an eye toward customizing them to their own needs.
At the end, I challenged several of the participants to convince me that they had at least three positive practices they were ready to go home and try. I made it a point to include the “negative” woman, and she shared the three practices she wanted to try. She was going to go home to make a first attempt at creating a more positive organization.
Even in the greatest skeptic, there is a spark of hope, a desire for a more positive experience. The job of a leader is to light that spark in the people, by helping their teams to see the possibilities they cannot see.
What do I believe about the nature of work?
What do I believe about the skeptics?
How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?