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The Positive Approach to Change

The Positive Approach to Change

When people are in a positive mind-set, they are confident, resilient, creative, optimistic and focused on what’s possible – and best performance follows.  However, during times of organisational change, negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger and sadness can be all pervasive. 

Employees go into fight/flight/freeze mode.  They focus on what is immediately ahead of them, on only what’s necessary.  It is impossible for people to do their best work when in a negative mind-set. Positivity is essential to exceptional performance – and often in short supply during times of change.

What does this mean in practice?

It is not difficult to see the benefits of creating a positive climate in times of organisational change.  But how can business leaders actually do this in practice?  In our experience, the most effective way of doing this is to use a strengths-based approach.

People find it easy to reflect on their weaknesses and the things that drain them.  Human beings have a bias towards negativity and overcoming threats and danger, and these are all too present when things are shifting and changing at work. 

But how well do we know our strengths and the things that energise us?  How skilled are we at tuning into these when times are tough?  The biggest impact on performance comes from building a strength rather than trying to fix a weakness. 

So, the most effective leaders in complex, fast-changing and uncertain environments are the ones that know how to identify and develop the innate talents, strengths and core motivators of their people and teams and ensure these are aligned with the new direction of travel. They balance high expectations with high levels of support.  They encourage people to do more of what they excel at by building on what is already strong. 

Effective leaders also know that, when under pressure, people often over-use their strengths meaning that they become draining and have a negative impact on themselves and those around them.  These leaders know how to ensure that these strengths remain productive and do not get turned up too high.  They coach people to recognise the triggers and dial back their strengths appropriately.

It’s not a Pollyanna way of leading though – it doesn’t mean ignoring weaker areas of performance as these can slow you down and maybe even sink you.  But it does mean helping people to reduce or manage these risks in a positive and empowering way.  It’s all about balance; instead of focusing all the development on fixing the gaps in performance, we believe it is more like 80:20.  That means 80% of the time is spent on developing strengths and 20% of time on managing weaker areas.

Implementing a positive leadership strategy – three key components

Having worked with organisations to develop a culture of positive leadership, in our experience there are three key components to implementing this approach:

  1. Less than a third of people have a meaningful understanding of their strengths - it is important to have a language around strengths so that you can shine a light on them and talk about them in a consistent way across the business.  So, adopting a strengths profiling tool to identify people’s strengths is the first step. Having looked a several different strengths tools, we use Strengthscope as it is user friendly and accessible and has a suite of products including a 360 version, a team report and a leadership version.
  2. The next step is to embed the strengths approach into all your coaching activities.  Whether it is your line mangers, internal coaches or external coaches who provide coaching support, all coaching conversations need to be anchored by an understanding of each person’s strengths.  It is important to focus the coaching on how to harness and stretch strengths to drive performance success.
  3. The third element is embedding strengths-based team working.  Whether you have new teams coming together for the first time, new members joining existing teams or existing teams working in a different way, it is critical that team members very quickly learn how to work effectively together in the new landscape.  The most successful teams have a thorough understanding of each other’s strengths and what makes them tick.  They know how to utilise the team’s strengths to achieve the team’s goals and they agree ways of working together to create a positive climate in the team.

Strengths-based leadership is a very practical approach to optimising the energy, confidence and performance of people and teams in times of challenge and change.  As James Brook says in The Energizing Leader, "it will be a force multiplier to accelerate strategy execution, competitive advantage and innovation of the organization".

Get in touch with me here if you would like to hear more about implementing a strengths based approach in your organisation.


Clifton and Harter (2003) Investing in Strengths. In K.S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton and R.R. Quinn (Eds.). Positive organisational scholarship (pp. 111-121). San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

Linley, A. (2008). Average to A+: Realising strengths in yourself and others. Coventry, UK: CAPP Press

The Energizing Leader, A practical guide to releasing the energy of your people. James Brook, Strengths Partnership Ltd Publication

Written by Dynami Associate Catherine Dudmesh

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