An Elusive Key to Positive Change

Invited to do a webinar for professionals in positive psychology, I asked what their primary interest might be. The immediate response was “application.” They wanted to know more about how they could use positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship to make a difference in the world.

I introduced them to the notion of organizational culture. I explained that an effective change agent has to be able to transform individual and collective mindsets. An expert may bring a scientifically valid concept or tool to an organization. The senior most people may even accept it. Yet the “rational” presentation and “rational” acceptance does not mean that the concept or tool will penetrate the culture. I then shared many examples of helping organizations make cultural change.

At the end a particularly astute person raised a question. He, in essence, said, “In many of your examples you described emotions. You emphasize feeling the emotions of the people. You described your own deep emotions. You spoke of emotionally connecting to the people and gave illustrations. You even spoke of spiritual feelings. What should we understand about emotions and change?

I found the question was so important that I was flooded with insights and did not know where to start. One of the great discoveries in science of positive psychology is that positive emotions play a crucial role in human flourishing. This suggests they play a crucial role in the process of changing human systems.

In the conventional literature on leadership, teaching and consulting, the emphasis is on expertise (knowledge and skills). The most important variable is entirely ignored. As a change agent my most fundamental assumption is the assumption of Gandhi, “I need to be the change I want to see in the world.”

If I want people to collaborate with each other in relationships, purpose, authenticity, trust and co-creation, I have to be in a positive emotional state and model each of these same characteristics. I have to bring what social scientists call idealized influence to the relationship. This idea is both foreign to conventional thought and threatening to conventional expectations. It is therefore hard to contemplate.

This notion suggests that I have to have the discipline to lift myself out of laziness, hypocrisy, self-interest and the fear of intimacy. I have to choose to live in positive emotions so I can create positive relationships. For the leader, teacher, or consultant who seeks to perform at a level that exceeds conventional expectations, this is a key lesson.

Reflection

How many of my colleagues have been trained to be experts?

How many of my colleagues have been trained to be the change they want to see in the world?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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