Positive Influence Up and Across the Organization

At the Center for Positive Organizations we have a speaker series. I was asked to give the presentation at the 100th session. The audience was able to submit questions ahead of time. There were 11 questions submitted. I was surprised to see that 8 of the 11 questions were essentially the same question. Here is my edited integration: How do I introduce positive organizing to executives at higher levels, who are:

  • Oblivious
  • Embrace command and control
  • Have never communicated a vision
  • Have no consistent values
  • Have only a technical view of life
  • Are in public health care
  • Are in education,
  • Are in operations
  • Are in finance

This is a question of great importance and it requires an answer that is not conventional. Too influence upward and also across silos, one must be an unusually effective change leader. Most people do not exert much positive, upward or horizontal influence. A few do. There is a reason.

Effective change leaders understand a profound but elusive lesson:  Transformative change begins on the inside. If we want to positively influence our leaders or peers we need to do what they and others are afraid to do. We have to have the courage to put the collective good ahead of our ego needs. Doing so is the essence of leadership.

When we serve the good we transform the relationship, and the people in the relationship may find the virtue necessary to transform. Carl Rogers, the great psychologist, understood this, but not at the start of his career, it took him years to make the discovery. He claims that in his early years as a therapist he asked himself how he could change his clients. Most new managers do the same. As he matured, he came to a more effective question. He found himself asking how he could provide a relationship that the other person could use for his or her own personal growth. Few managers ever ask this question. It is far outside the conventional perspective.

Scott Peck, another noted psychologist, described growing into the second perspective. Like Carl Rogers, it took Peck years to discover that his clients tended to transform themselves when he cared enough about the relationship to model the self-change process. Only when he stepped outside the comfort of his defined role, only when he was willing to risk doing new things, did the client seem to change. When he cared enough to do the unconventional thing, the risky thing, he brought love to the relationship. It was then that the other person found the capacity to change.

As we yearn to bring positive organizing to those above us or across from us, we are yearning for others to have the courage to be positive deviants, to do good things that are outside the conventional culture. Like us, they are filled with fear. The fear is justified because deviance is risky. We have legions of managers who hold hierarchical positions, but we have very few leaders who wield transformative influence.

As we model increased virtue in our own zone of control, we create relationships in which increased virtue can become contagious. As we choose to sacrifice for the common good, our local community becomes enriched. The people put more value in the community and they begin to experiment with making sacrifices for the collective good. As they do, they enter an elevated or more positive life state. As they choose to change, it inspires us and we choose to evolve even further.

As we facilitate positive organizing, we become more empowered. Like Carl Rogers and like Scott Peck, we can mature and take the second, less conventional perspective. We can go outside our roles and take risks for the good of others. We can approach those above us in ways that are more purposeful, authentic, loving and humble. In such a state of positive deviance, we invite them into the world of positive organizing. The second perspective does not come from embracing conventional assumptions. It comes from personal evolution and the formation of new and more inclusive assumptions.



Why do I want those above me and across from me to create a more positive organization?

How could I help a child transform from a life of fear to a life of positive deviance, how could I help a boss or peer to do the same?

How can I use this passage to create a more positive organization?





2 thoughts on “Positive Influence Up and Across the Organization

  1. Great article! There truly is no other way to positively influence another to “join the club”. One of my mentors taught me that people don’t want to understand, they want to be understood. He said that if you are going to sell anyone on any thing you are peddling, this was mandatory. This only occurs when there is a real and honest relationship. Change “masters” have to be great relationship builders first. Most executives and people in general don’t have a clue what that even means.


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