Positive Thought, Positive Talk
It isn’t often that you hear a Super Bowl-winning coach quoted before the game as saying, “Well, I don’t think we can win. What a long shot. If we do, no one will be more surprised than me.” Sports teams have made a science of practicing positive thought and positive talk. You’re more likely to hear that Super Bowl-winning coach say, “We know it’s going to be hard, but we know we can do it. We’re a first-class organization, and this year the players have really honed their skills. It shows in their play.”
Positive thought and positive talk are integral to thinking and functioning as a leader. You must learn to face head-on your fears about competition, your abilities, and the abilities of your team or group. Only then can you begin to win and to raise the quality of your team’s work to a higher level.
Just like the coach of that Super Bowl-winning team, you’ve got to visualize yourself winning. Visualizing the win will help you to take the right actions to achieve the outcome you want. For example, Steve’s group was assigned the high-profile project of redesigning a large part of his company’s Web site. Steve had no experience in Web site design. He privately told a trusted friend outside the company that he wasn’t sure he could accomplish this task because he had no idea where to begin. Steve’s friend, a practitioner of positive thought, told Steve to think again. He reminded Steve that he had five staff members who were skilled in HTML and Web design. He also reminded Steve that his background was in designing magazine layouts, at which he had been extremely successful. Steve agreed, completed the project successfully, and ended up winning an award for the site’s design.
Here are some key steps in thinking positively:
- Break a given problem down to its most basic components and deal with each separately.
- If you deem something as a negative, figure out why: Lack of experience? Past failure?
- Figure out what you can do to increase your chance of success. For example, if your concern is lack of experience, could you take a class or ask a colleague to help you learn about a particular topic or procedure?
- View each challenge thrown your way as a chance to lengthen your list of successes.
- Visualize yourself winning. In the example above, Steve could have thought, “I need to redesign this Web site. I’ve never done this before, but I’ve had similar experience and I’m eager to learn. I’ve got a talented staff, and I know we can do a great job.”
Tip: Visualizing yourself winning does not have to apply to a specific situation. If you’re new to leadership or striving for a leadership position, concentrate on your assets. You might think positively by saying to yourself, “I know that I am capable of being in a position of greater responsibility. I’m smart, have the right experience, and have great people skills.”
Positive thought will help you visualize successes and increase your chance of success. To project that same confidence in your own abilities and the abilities of your group, however, you must also engage in positive talk. To refer again to the example of the Super Bowl-winning coach: Not only did the coach feel that his team could win, but he was also quoted in the press as saying his team was going to win, and saying exactly why they were going to win. Besides the obviously positive effect his words will have on his own coaching and his players’ morale, he also inspired confidence in the team’s owners and, the most important bosses of all, the fans. As a leader of a team, group, or organization, you must learn to develop and regularly use positive talk. Positive talk is key to helping your group visualize a win.
When Steve’s team heard they were going to redesign a high-profile area on the company’s Web site, Steve wasn’t the only person who was initially doubtful about their chances for success. The team members themselves were unhappy at having a different kind of work introduced into their routine. Although the team was skilled in HTML, they felt they had enough to do with merely updating the site content daily. One team member even said to the others, “I don’t know why they asked us to do this. This is really going to be awful.”
After Steve began thinking positively, he addressed his team’s misgivings by saying, “I know this is a new challenge for us, but we’re going to do this project and we’re going to do it on schedule and make it the best site redesign this company has ever seen. This team has more combined Web experience than any other group in this company. We’ve been given the chance to set the pace, not just keep up. Let’s get to work.” Steve’s confidence in his team’s abilities not only flattered his group, but it made them realize they could do more than they previously thought. Steve made it sound as if it was a given that the redesign would be successful and that it would be because of their contributions.
Steve also inspired the same confidence in his superiors when they asked how he felt the project was progressing. Instead of saying that his team was trying to figure out the redesign, Steve said, “I have to admit this project was a new challenge for my group, but my team loves a new challenge and thrives under pressure. Thanks for the opportunity to showcase my group’s abilities.”
Caution: Beware of negativity. Negative thoughts will undermine your leadership qualities. Minimizing negative thoughts and talk will help you to think and appear more like a leader. For example, avoid deprecating yourself in thought and talk with negative statements like, “I know nothing about this,” “I’m so stupid,” or “My opinion probably doesn’t count for much, but ….” Such negativity will only erode your confidence and the confidence your superiors and subordinates have in you.
Another important leadership trait is vision. An argument could be made that it is impossible to be a true leader of a group, organization, company, or industry without having vision.
Vision is closely allied with positive thought and positive talk, but involves taking that positivity to the next level.
Plain English: A vision, for our purposes, is a leader’s ideas and plans for an organization’s future. Idealistic in nature, a vision gives a sense of the differences between the present and future states of an organization.
Visionary leaders are often noted for innovations within an organization or industry. For example, Bill Gates is considered a visionary for anticipating that the personal computer could be an indispensable part of every household and then developing the products to make it so.
A leader’s vision is extremely important because it gives people something to strive toward: a view beyond the present, into the future of the organization.
To develop your own vision, try the following exercises:
- Start with your aspirations.
- What are your aspirations? Is there some particular concept, process, or product that you want to develop?
- Do your research.
- Compare your ideas with others in your field by studying books, trade magazines, and Web sites.
- Spend some time thinking about your organization.
- What could you do to improve the organization? What is the single biggest hurdle to success in your unit or the organization as a whole?
- Think about possible and necessary improvements.
- What can you do to improve the organization or unit? Think about both the short term and the long term. This will enable you to set short-term and long-term goals to take steps toward realizing your vision.
- Think about do-ability.
- Are your goals realistic? If your vision points to goals that seem unattainable, is there a way to break down the vision into a simpler form?
- Use your intuition.
- Does your vision make sense?
Communicating Your Vision
Sharing your vision with others, be it your team or your superiors, is an important aspect of leadership. By sharing your vision with your team, you’ll let them know they have a manager who is thinking of the organization’s future, as well as theirs. By sharing your vision with your superiors, you’ll let them know you are an innovative thinker who is not content with the status quo.
Confidence in yourself will be bolstered by both positive thinking and by the process of formulating your vision. Self-confidence, however, tends to be the result of measurable success. To build your self-confidence, you might make a list of your assets and past successes, no matter how small they were. Some assets you might list are education or specialized training, the ability to communicate well with others, or a great sense of humor.
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