Positive Mental Health at Work (March 2016)

Eleven years ago I was nearing the end of participating in a 22-week virtual Authentic Happiness Coaching Program (AHC). From March 2003 to May 2005 Dr Martin Seligman and a host of other leading positive psychologists trained 1,000 professionals from 19 nations in the theory, assessments, interventions, and exercises of Positive Psychology. It was soon after AHC finished that the first Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program was created, and as many readers know, Positive Psychology News (PPND) was brought to life by MAPP graduates.

toxic-emotions-at-work-and-what-you-can-do-about-them_121354I discovered AHC in early 2004 after attending a “Toxic Emotions at Work” workshop run by Professor Peter Frost (who sadly passed away in late 2004). We were introduced to Appreciative Inquiry and Positive Organizational Scholarship. Exploring these fields led me Positive Psychology, and then AHC. Having worked for a large international organisation for 20 years I was excited about the potential for all three fields to be applied in the workplace.

Positive Psychology’s aim is to build strength, well-being, and optimal functioning. This focus gained momentum in the late 1990s and resulted from a reaction to psychology’s then predominant attention to what is wrong, how to fix it, and how to remove damage and weaknesses. A number of psychologists noticed that removing weakness did not build flourishing.

“Psychology has, since World War II, become a science largely about healing. It concentrates on repairing damage within a disease model of human functioning. This almost exclusive attention to pathology neglects the fulfilled individual and the thriving community. The aim of positive psychology is to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities.” (Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

This expanded attention to building strength and well-being has important implications for organizations.


Well-being at Work Strategies

Here in Australia, happiness and well-being strategies in the workplace were almost unheard of 11 years ago. The predominant focus back then included cultural imperatives such as employee engagement.

Mental illness and mental health are now at the forefront of attention. Organisations are implementing strategies to reduce mental illness at work and to support employees who suffer from mental illness. Do you notice the focus here on weakness correction? However, some organisations are also promoting positive mental health at work and are implementing strategies to strengthen well-being and flourishing (not just minimising ill-health).


Examples of Workplace Well-being Strategies

What resources are available to design an organisational well-being strategy? To become informed you could read countless articles and books that are available on this subject and you could find the threads that you could weave into your strategy.

Or you could kick start your work by referring to the strategies that others have designed. To get the ball rolling, here are some Australian examples of reusable strategies.


Example 1: SuperFriend

In 2015 SuperFriend published guidelines for organisations, Promoting Positive Mental Health in the Workplace. (I participated in one of their reference groups)

“Positive mental health refers to positive emotional, psychological and social wellbeing that can enhance functioning in life.”SuperFriend-Workplace-Programs-Delphi-Final_Page_01

“An approach that focuses solely on the dysfunctional elements of work in order to prevent illness does not adequately capture the elements of the workplace that engage employees; nor does it explain why some organisations develop environments where employees can flourish and reach their optimal potential”.

“Keeping in mind the distinction between positive mental health and mental illness, organisations should develop an integrated and holistic approach to mental health. An integrated approach will: protect employees from mental illness to the extent feasible …. promote positive mental health …. and address mental illness regardless of cause.”

The guidelines are laid out in a clear and readable format, making it easy for organisations to kick-start the process of developing their own strategies.


Example 2: Heads Up

Heads Up is an organisation developed by beyondblue and the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, which was established by the National Mental Health Commission. The website has a wealth of tools, templates, resources, information, tips, and advice to help individuals and businesses to create more mentally healthy workplaces.

“Taking a proactive approach to mental health helps to build your reputation as an employer of choice, helping you recruit and retain the best and brightest people.”


Example 3: Australian Public Service Commission (APSC)

In 2013 the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), in conjunction with Comcare, an Australian Government Agency, published a 128-page document Working Together: Promoting mental health and wellbeing at work.

“This guide recognises the World Health Organisation’s approach that good mental health is much more than the absence of a diagnosed condition.”

The guide provides good practices, practical information, advice, information sheets, and resources. It is organised around four principles:

  1. Effective people management and leadership
  2. Fostering workplaces and cultures that promote health and well-being and minimise the development of mental ill health.
  3. Early recognition and support
  4. Rehabilitation and return to work


Example 4. Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

CSIRO “is a place where all our people are healthy, flourish and want to work. Our strategy is explicitly focused on the effect of our culture and operating conditions on the psychological wellbeing of our people, and its interplay with their physical wellbeing.”

One of the inputs into its 32-page Wellbeing At Work Strategy 2014-2018 was report from the APSC (see above). CSIRO was guided by the APSC’s emphasis on the influence that organisational culture has on well-being.

“The APSC recommends that organisations: take more responsibility for employee wellbeing at work; don’t assume it’s an employee’s responsibility alone; and place more focus on optimising conditions to enhance employee wellbeing and reducing factors that cause stress. This is the approach that CSIRO is taking with this Strategy.”


Example 5. Ernst & Young (EY)

“Putting Our Minds To It” is a guide published by international professional services firm EY (happy memories, I worked with EY for 20 years). Six actions are suggested which organisations can take to improve mental health and well-being:

  1. Address mental health as an economic and business improvement driver.
  2. Redesign work to establish a mentally healthy environment.
  3. Set a longer term strategy: there is no magic bullet or short term fix.
  4. Have courage to remove barriers to change.
  5. Act on unique organisational demographics and mental health risk profiles.
  6. Introduce meaningful measures for mental health risk.


Just the Tip of the Iceberg

These examples are a drop in the ocean of resources that organisations can use to develop their well-being strategies. Do you know of resources and examples that you can share? I’d love to hear from you.



Cameron, K. & Spreitzer, G. (2011). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press.

Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive Psychology: An Introduction. American Psychologist, 55(1), 5-14.

Frost, P. J. (2003). Toxic emotions at work: How compassionate managers handle pain and conflict. Boston: Harvard Business School Press


This article was originally posted on Positive Psychology News Daily (PPND) in February 2016.


Motivational Focus (April 2015)

What is your motivational focus? What is the motivational focus of the people around you?

Take, for example, an executive manager who is responsible for developing a growth strategy for her division. She is inspired by the possibilities and opportunities which could result from implementing the strategy. Refining the strategy through creative brainstorming with others fuels her energy and enthusiasm. She has what is known as “promotion-focused motivation”.

Promotion-focused people

  • Want to fill their life with advancement and growth and gains
  • Are more likely to take chances, seize opportunities, seek many alternatives
  • Are interested in satisfying their needs for nurturance: receiving positive things
  • Are more likely to excel at creativity and innovation
  • Display high energy when they succeed
  • Respond to optimism and praise
  • Make decisions by considering what could go right. They will do what it takes to make things go right even if some things go wrong along the way
  • Think more about the pros than the cons
  • Are discouraged by setbacks because these indicate that they are not gaining, not winning. Lack of success leads to low energy. Failures indicate an absence of a positive

How might our executive manager gain the support of the key stakeholders who are involved in contributing to and approving the strategy? She could use her promotion-focus to describe the benefits, possibilities, and growth opportunities for the organisation. However, there will be a number of prevention-focused people who bring with them the ability to protect the company’s gains by avoiding risk.

Prevention-focused people

  • Practice vigilance and caution which requires thinking about all that has to be done in order for something to not go wrong
  • Prefer stability (non-loss) over change (potential loss)
  • Focus on stopping losses and obstacles that derail goals and growth
  • Are conservative, thorough, accurate, reliable, steadfast and plan carefully
  • Display a quiet energy when they succeed and achieve their goals. Then they feel peaceful and calm.
  • Wish to avoid loss and want to feel secure, to stay safe. This is where they achieve well-being and satisfaction in life
  • Do not risk taking chances which might be a threat to their security and safety
  • See goals as opportunities to meet their responsibilities
  • Are driven by criticism and the possibility of failure to work even harder to succeed
  • Stick to realistic plans
  • Do not want to risk making mistakes
  • Think more about the cons than the pros
  • Are not averse to growth, it’s how they attain it

Prevention or Promotion – which is better?

Neither focus is better.

Heidi Grant Halvorson and Tory Higgins are authors of Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence. Their work draws from 20 years of research by the Motivation Science Center at University of Columbia. People can be predominantly prevention-focused or promotion-focused but people can also use either focus depending on the context. For example, a promotion-focused person would be in prevention-focused mode when getting a flu shot to prevent future ill-health.

Every organisation needs the strength of both kinds of focus.

In our executive’s case she could craft her communication to adapt to both kinds of focus. Promotion-focused people think “Why will implementing this strategy be a good idea and what will we miss out if we don’t implement it?” They are seeking opportunity and gain. Prevention-focused people think “Why would implementing this strategy reduce organisational risk and what kind of trouble could we avoid if we don’t implement it?” Both groups might reach the same conclusion to implement the strategy, but will have achieved this with a different focus.

Motivational Fit

Our executive should pay attention to two things:

  1. What each person wants e.g. achieve growth; maintain steady state; reduce risk; avoid losses
  2. The motivational focus each uses in making decisions; the kinds of information they need; their strategy for achieving the goal

“Motivational fit happens when you create a match not only between what people want and what they get, but also between what they want and how they go about getting it – the way they reach their goals.” (p152)

Respect and gratitude

“We need to respect the perspectives and contributions of both our promotion colleagues and our prevention colleagues, and to be grateful that the strength of those with one focus can complement so effectively the strengths of those with the other focus” (p47).


Halvorson, H., & Higgins, T. (2013). Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence. Hudson Street Press.

Sansom, L. (2014). Prevention or Promotion? (Book Review). Positive Psychology News Daily

Horne, A. (2015). Motivational Focus. Positive Psychology News Daily

What’s My Motivation? A Q&A with E. Tory Higgins (12 August 2013). Article in Strategy + Business

MentorCoach Interview with Heidi Grant Halvorson, June 21, 2013


Shaping a Good Life

April 2014

Last week my husband, our friend and I walked for three days on the Great Ocean Walk track in Victoria, Australia. It was a wonderful time: walking in a beautiful part of the world (see photos below) with our backpacks, tents, food and water. On walks like this, life is good.

What makes a good life?

Long walks make for great conversations. What makes a ‘good life’ was one of our discussions. My friend and I talked about a particular aspect of the good life which often occupies our minds i.e. good work. That is, the kind of life where we strive to do meaningful work which makes a contribution to others. The kind of work that is energising, engaging, satisfying and fulfilling.

Our chat reminded me of social researcher and author Hugh Mackay’s recent book “The Good Life”. Here are some of his thoughts:

“The good life is a life lived for others.”

“A good life contributes to others’ wellbeing.”

In relation to busyness: “In the rush to live life to the full, it’s easy to lose sight of the point of all this activity, let alone know whether it’s contributing to the common good.”

“The whole idea of a good life will evaporate if we focus on ourselves and what we’re getting out of it. Self-absorption is not a recognised pathway to goodness.”

“The cardinal question is ‘is this a good thing to do?’ not ‘is this a good thing for my public image?’”

In relation to values: “Goodness is not a grand or mysterious concept. All we require are a few simple disciplines that, like compass settings, steer us in the right direction”.

Work, love, play and service

A good life comprises more than just meaningful work. Chris Peterson, Psychologist and one of the founders of Positive Psychology, wrote:

“What makes life worth living is not a psychological process. If someone participates in “work, love, play and service,” he or she has a full life. On the one hand, maybe most people have a full life. On the other hand, some qualifications may be in order if we want to zero in more exactly on the good life. Positive Psychologists would probably speak about good work, good love, good play and good service. Qualifications that move an activity from the typical to the notable include how well the activity is done; whether it is done with enthusiasm and joy; whether the activity is engaging; whether the activity has a larger meaning and purpose; and so on.”

Shaping a good life

The idea of a good life arises frequently in my client meetings. This leads to them wondering about the questions they can ask so they can turn work, love, play and service into good work, good love, good play and good service. Of the many questions to prompt reflection here are just a few:
1. What do I care about?
2. What are my values, and how do they guide my life?
3. Why am I here?
4. What result do I want to create?
5. Is what I do every day aligned with my intention and purpose?
6. What role do I need to take on to live with purpose and to be constructive?
7. What is called for in this context and situation?
8. How can I align my actions with my purpose? Where do I need to adapt my actions?
9. Why is it that I want to do what I do?
10. Where can I find time to pause for reflection and to find clarity?

Intentional work

I will end here with this thought from the work of Senge et. al. in their book “Presence”:

“When our work is informed by a larger intention [about what really matters], it’s infused with who we are and our purpose in being alive.”

What is your larger intention? What really matters to you? When are you alive?



“The Good Life: What Makes a Life Worth Living” by Hugh Mackay, 2013 (Special thanks to my friend Helen for this Christmas gift last year)

“Pursuing the Good Life” 100 Reflections on Positive Psychology” by Christopher Peterson, 2013

“Presence: Exploring Profound Change in People Organisations and Society” by Peter Senge, C. Otto Scharmer, Joseph Jaworski and Betty Sue Flowers (2002)

Taken by Amanda Horne. Location: Great Ocean Walk (Victoria, Australia) April 2014.   (You might be interested to know that the sunset photo was taken from the toilet block at the Devil’s Kitchen campsite. Perhaps one of the best located toilet blocks in the world!)

Adaptive Leadership


“There is a desperate hope that people in authority know what they’re doing” (Marty Linsky)

In my September blog, Bloated with Information, I commented that executives can feel ineffective when their organisation values having a ‘big brain’ (being the expert holder of information, facts and knowledge) more highly than it values other skills such as relationship management, influencing, visioning, innovation and teamwork.

Executives can also feel ineffective when they believe that being in a leadership role means they need to know how to do everything. This sense of ineffectiveness is heightened when the work is complex, when there is no clear, discernible path. This is when executives are faced with ‘adaptive challenges’.

In adaptive challenges there is “no known solution – the skills and answers are outside your repertoire. Adaptive challenges are those you have to grow into solving and require mobilizing people’s hearts and minds to operate differently.” (Cambridge Leadership Associates).

This contrasts with the comfort of being skilled in solving technical problems i.e. problems which have a known solution and can be solved by an authority or expert.

“The most common leadership mistake is treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems.” (Cambridge Leadership Associates)

Adaptive Challenges

Marty Linsky is a leading expert in Adaptive Leadership. He is an adjunct lecturer in public policy for the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School.

Earlier this month the team at the Australian Public Service Commission’s Strategic Centre for Leadership, Learning and Development brought Marty Linsky to Canberra to speak at a number of meetings and seminar sessions.

The session I attended on 15th November came at a perfect time. Two years ago I attended a 6-day “Leading Learning” program run by Social Leadership Australia. The program was based on Adaptive Leadership. Some of what I learnt has faded, so Marty Linsky’s session was an energising refresher.

The timing of the session was also perfect because the Australian Public Sector is facing a range of adaptive challenges around uncertainty, fiscal restraint, change, new government, loss, staffing reductions and so on. It’s an uncomfortable place for executives, many of whom are trying to navigate these adaptive challenges as if they are technical problems. Marty’s session reminded me to be more conscious of the issues clients raise when we work together. Which are the technical problems; which are the adaptive challenges? Are we too quick to fix the surface issues? Is there much more to this? Do we need to approach this differently?

Marty’s Thoughts

Here are just some of Marty’s thoughts from the session. They caused me to reflect, and I hope you too enjoy reflecting on them. Some are direct quotes, some are a distillation of Marty’s comments.

On risk

  • “Leadership is about taking risks on behalf of something you care about”
  • “What risks will you take on behalf of increasing the quality of leadership in Australia?”
  • “It’s about taking smart risks in the pursuit of a committed cause”
  • “To do our work well we have to be prepared to blow things up every now and then…it’s excruciatingly painful when this happens”

On leadership

  • “There is a desperate hope that people in authority know what they’re doing”
  • Leadership is not about having the big job, it is about behaviour.
  • “The work you do is an act of leadership.”
  • Is there a dependence on people who are in authority positions? Do we pass responsibility over to them; is the issue subordinated to them? When do we need to show personal leadership and take responsibility instead of transferring the problem to the authority figure?
  • When there is a diagnosis it’s the community and system that needs to work together to do the hard work.
  • How can we help people to face up to their most difficult problems?
  • You should not pretend to know what you’re doing.

On loss

  • People are looking for comfort, they want to conserve the status quo.
  • “Adaptation is a process of loss”, it will not be easy.
  • There will be pain and conflict: leadership is not about taking this away but helping people to work through it.

On shared values

  • Don’t expect people to share your values. Your job is to get everyone to work on the job despite differences in values. “Don’t be precious [about shared values] when mobilising people to get there”.

On optimism

  • “Leadership requires us to be relentlessly optimistic and at the same time brutally realistic about what it will take to achieve purpose. Optimism helps the realism from becoming cynical; realism helps the optimism from becoming naïve”
  • Don’t lose your heart and optimism because you’re beaten down.
  • Will you survive by keeping your head down? This means you’ve lost your heart.

Leaders Set the Tone

Finally, I’d like to end this last blog for 2013 with a repeat of part of my May 2011 blog. This is from the work of researcher Malcolm Higgs, and meshes nicely with the thoughts above.

“In successful change programs Higgs and his colleagues found that change leaders set the tone and overall direction, yet they allowed people to become responsible for the change and to adjust the plan as the implementation unfolded. That is, leaders were doing change with people, not to people. Analysis revealed that these leaders had four change leadership behaviours:

  1. Attractor behaviours: connecting, tuning in, building the story, seeing patterns, serving the higher purpose, self awareness, sense-making.
  2. Edge and tension behaviours: establishing reality, constancy, and persistence, challenging assumptions, creating discomfort, setting a high bar.
  3. Container behaviours: setting boundaries, expectations, and values, expressing confidence, affirming, encouraging, showing empathy, creating trust and ownership, making it safe to have hard conversations and to take risks, creating alignment at the top.
  4. Movement behaviours: creating systems of possibility, learning, and difference, supporting creativity, freedom to be open and vulnerable, freedom to break established patterns, and powerful inquiry.
    Higgs points out that these four change leadership behaviours are supported by the use of Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry, for example, by collaborative, appreciative inquiry into what is working well, by an understanding of the Broaden and Build Theory of positive emotions, by a focus on strengths together with a balancing use of rules, by creating challenging goals, and by having hard conversations.”

All the best for the rest of 2013. Enjoy your Christmas, Holiday and New Year break.


Bloated with Information

At the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Leadership Conference in August 2011, one of the speakers referred to ‘information obesity’. It’s a term that has stuck with me since and brings to mind other terms such as overload, over-consumption, never enough.

Much has been written information overload over the years, it’s not a new topic. The topic continues to be of interest because information is so much more readily available, accessible and storable than it was years ago.

Making the right choice

While information is enormously helpful, stimulating and interesting it can also cause a kind of ‘illness’ for some people if not managed well.

People can feel guilty for not keeping up, not meeting other’s expectations. They can feel stressed with overwhelm. Sometimes the ‘illness’ can come from spending too much time with information, when it might be healthier spending time in other ways. Are we consuming the right kind of information? Too much, not enough? Can we to make the right choice for us? This is a question of personal values; what is a valued activity?

“I became increasingly aware that the relentless diet of information I ordinarily consume leaves me feeling the same way I do after eating a couple of slices of pizza or a hot dog and French fries — poorly nourished and still hungry.” Tony Schwartz, April 2013

In the workplace, do we expect others to know everything? Some of my clients who are most effective when they do what they do best, managing relationships, feel ‘little’ and ineffective in organisations where information and knowledge is the most valued badge of honour. If you love information and knowledge, do you expect the same of the people in your team? What pressure does that put on them?

What can be done

  • Use your own wisdom: when is enough enough? Take in only what you need.
  • Step back, find perspective: take a break from the need to read everything every day.
  • Create a healthy information habit: take in just enough every day to fuel your energy
  • Be comfortable with and accepting of the choices you make about how much information you choose to consume
  • At work, discuss expectations of information consumption and information sharing. Value everyone’s position about their choices.

I once heard someone say suggest that we could imagine the flow of information like a downpour, a rainstorm. Some of those drops of water stick with us. The rest washes away. We don’t need to save all the litres and gallons of water in huge personal reservoirs to access later. The wisdom is knowing that the few drops that stick with us are all we need at that moment.

I’m thinking about this, and trying to put it into practice (it’s hard!). I have an inbox folder titled ‘read later’, containing 190 items dating back to January 2011 with really interesting things I wanted to read, but had no time the day I filed it. The folder is a little larger each week. Oh, and I also have a folder on my hard drive with documents to read, probably much older than 2011 if I dared to peek inside. I’m considering the implications of deleting both folders. It feels kind of frightening, like the sky might fall in.

ABC Radio National, January 2013, Future Tense program: “The Information Bingers

Giving, Collaborating and Success

When you think about great teamwork, you’re likely to be thinking about collaboration, support, sharing, helping, co-operation and cohesiveness. But would you also be thinking givers, takers and matchers?

Dr Adam Grant, management professor at Wharton, has just released his book “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”. I don’t have his book (*yet ) but I have enjoyed reading a number of press articles, particularly the recent Harvard Business Review and McKinsey Quarterly articles. I think you too should read those articles, because although I provide some highlights below, it’s not possible to cover the depth of Grant’s work. And because I don’t have the book (yet) I’m definitely missing some depth. Nevertheless here is some food for thought and something to whet the appetite.

Cultures of Giving

Grant draws together many years of his and others’ research on reciprocity and pro-social motivation. He suggests that corporate cultures sit on a continuum with ‘giver cultures’ and ‘taker cultures’ at the extremes, and matcher cultures around the midpoint.

Matchers help others but expect an equal amount of help in return. They give to people who they think will help them in return.

Takers ask for help and give little or nothing in return. They tend to claim personal credit for success for example saying ‘me’ and ‘I’, rather than ‘we’ and ‘us’. They tend to ‘kiss up and kick down’ and seek to come out ahead.

Givers are guided by pro-social motivation, “the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback”. Givers “add value without keeping score”, they do not expect immediate gain. The most successful givers care highly for others but also have some self-interest such as attending to their work and other needs. They give in ways that reinforce social ties. They set boundaries to ensure giving has maximum impact and joy, without burning out or compromising their work commitments. They are cautious about giving to takers. Givers are motivated by a sense of service and contribution and are more productive when they think of helping others. Grant found however that givers are not successful if they lack assertiveness, become a doormat, or burn out by excessively giving.

Reaping the Rewards

Dr Grant’s work reveals that businesses benefit from effective ‘giver’ behaviours. Improvements include:

  • Group effectiveness, cohesion, coordination
  • Interpersonal networks
  • Sales performance, revenues
  • Productivity
  • Client satisfaction
  • Creativity
  • Quality
  • Problem solving
  • Staff retention, job satisfaction, sense of belonging, pride
  • Personal success

“The greatest untapped source of motivation, Grant argues, is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves”

Creating a Giving Culture

Grant suggests that people in leadership positions can:

  1. Encourage reciprocity: it’s ok to seek help; it’s good to give; pay it forward
  2. Help givers to set boundaries. Guide them to be perspective takers if they are prone to lacking assertiveness or to being overwhelmed with excessive empathy which can cloud their judgement
  3. Guide giving behaviour in the direction of best impact: helping others whilst protecting one’s own work commitments
  4. Emphasise the intrinsic motivation which occurs when being a giver
  5. Help staff to match their own expertise and resources to others’ needs
  6. Implement reward and recognition systems which favour givers
  7. Role model giving behaviours
  8. Design jobs to connect the role directly to the recipient, client and to a sense of purpose
  9. Screen out takers; minimise the number of taker employees

“By putting these into action, it’s possible to transform win/lose scenarios into win/win gains”

“Organizations will always have a mix of these three basic styles. But there’s reason to believe that in the long run, the greatest success — and the richest meaning — will come to those who, instead of cutting other people down, pursue their personal ambitions in ways that lift others up. From a manager’s perspective, it would be wise to clear the path for more givers to succeed, so that they can bring others along as they climb to the top.”

(*) Note – A big thank you to K, who is one of my email readers and a colleague. K is sending (giving) me a copy of Adam Grant’s book.


Adam Grant is an award-winning teacher, researcher, and tenured management professor at Wharton. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Michigan in organizational psychology and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honours, Phi Beta Kappa honours, and the John Harvard Scholarship for highest academic achievement. Dr. Grant has been recognised as the single highest-rated professor in the Wharton MBA program, one of BusinessWeek’s favourite professors, and one of the world’s top 40 business professors under 40.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (Adam Grant, 2013)

Information about Adam Grant’s book

In the company of givers and takers. Harvard Business Review, April 2013

Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture. The McKinsey Quarterly, April 2013

Viewpoint: Good Guys Can Win at Work, Adam Grant, April 10, 2013

Fitting In and Standing Out: Shifting Mindsets from Taking to Giving

Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead? March 2013

Be a Giver Not a Taker to Succeed at Work. Forbes Magazine, April 2013

Civility and Respect at Work

With a fresh new year ahead of us, a recent article about incivility and respect offers timely information about workplace civility.
The Price of Incivility” by Christine Porath and Christine Pearson can be found in this month’s Harvard Business Review. You can also read the authors’ short HBR blog “You’re Rude Because Your Boss Is Rude” (January 18, 2013).

Because the topics of respect, civility and appreciation are often raised by my clients I found the articles relevant and interesting.

Here are some highlights:

  • Stress leads to rudeness (but stress a good excuse?)
  • Rudeness is infectious, we can subtly lose our good behaviours without knowing it
  • Some managers don’t care about creating a civil workplace
  • Just witnessing acts of incivility has detrimental effects on a person

Research shows that workplace incivility has detrimental effects on creativity, effort, quality of work, profits, productivity, relationships, commitment to the organisation, client satisfaction. Workplace incivility increases stress and ill health, anxiety

What can be done?

  • Make civility an organisational priority, set guidelines, teach civility, create group norms
  • Walk away, speak up, let go, act with dignity: choose the appropriate situational behaviour
  • Learn from rudeness: your own or others’. What would you do instead next time?
  • Leaders should set the tone
  • Model good behaviour
  • Reward good behaviour, penalise bad behaviour
  • Ask for feedback about your behaviours

For a workplace to retain its soul, health, productivity, quality work and strong team relationships, the building block is respect. Are you an active participant in generating and maintaining a civil and respectful workplace?


Further readings

Four related articles I’ve written in the past:

Appreciation #1 (2006)

Appreciation #2 (2011)

No Jerks Rule (2007): http://www.amandahorne.com.au/april-2007-the-no-jerks-rule/

Respect at Work (2009): http://www.amandahorne.com.au/respect-at-work/

Other references

Leadership lessons from the Royal Navy (January 2013, McKinsey Quarterly )
“This branch of the British armed services consciously fosters cheerfulness and nourishes its collective memory. Business executives should take note. ”

Christine Porath has also written a chapter on Civility for The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. I haven’t read it yet, but plan to soon. Porath, C.L. (2011). Civility. In K. Cameron & G. Spreitzer (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press.


Excellence, Values, Virtues and Strengths

One of the great pleasures of my work is seeing the effects on people of conversations which engage strength, possibility, openness and curiosity.

They point out that these reflections bring clarity, insight, renewed optimism and motivation. They are reminded about ‘what’s really important’ to them and they ‘discover new ways to lift their performance and to ‘solve seemingly intractable problems’. These ‘conversations of possibility’ occur in my one-on-one Executive Coaching meetings and in facilitated small group and project team workshops. Clients reflect deeply to explore the implications, possibilities and meanings of moments of professional and personal significance throughout their life. The work we do together using a strengths-based approach to developing enhanced leadership includes questions not normally attended to in a typical working day.

It could be said that clients are reflecting on their moments of ‘virtuousness’ or ‘positive deviance’. But I rarely use those words in practice, and those of you with whom I worked might never have heard me use those terms.

Virtuousness and Positive Deviance

The theorists, if they were with us and observing these conversations, would say that people are talking about their moments of ‘positive deviance’ i.e. displays of excellence and of virtuousness which involve acting from values, virtues and strengths. Academics and researchers have shown that when people behave in this way organisations perform better and are more successful, including in times of setbacks and difficulty. The people themselves are able to find better solutions to problems. New insights create generative change.

Organisational virtuousness refers to collective behaviours that extend beyond what is normally expected, and these are depicted in Kim Cameron’s Positive Deviance Continuum. For example negative relationships are ‘harmful, normal relationship behaviour is ‘helpful’, and at the positive extreme of the continuum relationships are noted as ‘honouring’. Cameron noted that (and I am paraphrasing here) most leaders pay almost exclusive attention to the gap between what is going wrong and the mid-point on the continuum, represented by an absence of problems. On the other hand, the gap between the mid-point and the far right (extraordinarily positive performance) receives far less attention. This is the area which motivates change in organisations based on the pursuit of a greater good, a condition of virtuousness, the best that human beings aspire to be.

For more about the academics’ work on virtuousness, positive deviance, and Kim Cameron’s continuum, see these three articles which I wrote over the recent months:

Virtuous Organisations (August 2012)

Positive Deviance (September 2012)

Kim Cameron’s Deviance Continuum (October 2012)

Cluttered Mind? Take a Breath

When we’re stressed, beyond busy and our minds are cluttered, it might seem a bit simplistic to take the good old-fashioned advice of stopping to catch our breath. Can this really take the busy-ness away?

My clients and I have had some interesting conversations recently about this. We discussed how helpful breathing can be especially when combined with gently observing what is going on around us. In light of the growing research into the benefits of integrating mindfulness practices and meditation practices into our daily routine, stepping back to pause and to take a breath has much going for it.

This is not a ‘how to’ email. Instead I simply want to share some of the thoughts and reactions my clients and I have had when we stop to breathe and observe:

  • Even when we are at our busiest, 2-3 minutes of calm breathing helps us to gain clarity and perspective
  • I now observe what’s going on with ‘fascination’, it changes things
  • Just a few moments to step back and observe what’s happening gives me distance
  • It’s fantastic: these techniques can bring some clarity
  • What I like about this technique is that I can still be busy – I love being busy – yet I operate calmly
  • I found it interesting to observe objectively what I was doing when I interrupted an important meeting to answer a phone call
  • When I am objective about what is happening in and around me I am clearer about what to do next
  • Sometimes it might be about slowing down, but sometimes it’s not…I like that I can make conscious choices
  • I feel like I can handle so much more, even if the pace hasn’t changed
  • I regularly come back to this technique at many moments in the day. It’s like a mini-regrouping of my internal resources. I get clarity about what to do next

These are timely thoughts as we (here in the southern hemisphere) head into Spring. Let’s remember to stop often, to take a breath or two, and to regain our focus and perspective.

Quietness and Introversion

Hello everyone, and welcome to the end of the June.

It’s not unusual for me to hear from my coaching clients that one of their ‘problems’ is that they need to speak up more and to think on their feet. In some situations, clients have arrived at these coaching sessions with suggestions from their managers for areas to work on: ‘please learn to speak up more in meetings’, ‘please be more outgoing, network more, get out there’.

In these situations I have asked my clients how they benefit from being quiet in meetings and by not being outgoing. When they reply easily and with energy (and usually with a look of relief on their faces) it reveals that their quietness is their strength. The problem isn’t that they have a problem, the people around them have the problem.

Alert to the plight of some introverts, I noticed over the past few months a number of articles and book reviews about the work of Susan Cain, a former corporate attorney and an introvert, who recently published her book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” (2012). Here are some key points, not from her book, but from the articles about her book (links are at the end).


  • Introversion is a preference for lower stimulation environments, quiet, less noise, less action. Introverts are most alive and at their best when they are quieter.
  • Introverts are not anti-social, they are differently social. They enjoy being with others, but also prefer quieter places and times. They enjoy interacting with people but have limits. Introverts want company just as much as extroverts do, but they prefer it in either short doses or with people they know well. “Social skills and teamwork are not unimportant. But the more freedom we allow introverts to be themselves the more likely they are to come up with their own unique solutions to problems.” (Susan Cain)
  • Shyness is about a fear of negative social judgment. You can be introverted without having that fear, and you can be shy but also be an extrovert.
  • Extroverts are not criticised by Cain, rather it is the extroverted ideal that she is concerned about. Cain suggests we have moved from a culture of character to a culture of personality where what is admired is the magnetic and charismatic, a world where we have to sell ourselves.
  • According to research, one third to one half of Americans are introverts.
  • “Introverts are pretty excellent they way they are” (Susan Cain).


  • We all fall somewhere along the introversion / extroversion spectrum. There is no extreme. Ambiverts fall in the middle, they have the best of both worlds.

Our workplaces

  • Workplaces are increasingly set up for maximum group interaction, brainstorming and group work which results in immediate ideas, and less privacy.
  • Teamwork is still of value, but creativity can also come from quiet reflection. We should not stop collaborating. We should be aware that solitude matters and for some people it’s the air that they breathe.
  • The most creative people in many fields are usually introverts.
  • Research from Adam Grant (The Wharton School of business at the University of Pennsylvania) reveals that introverted leaders often deliver better results than extroverted leaders. When they are managing proactive employees they are much more likely to let employees run with those ideas. Whereas some extroverted leaders can unwittingly get so excited that they put their own stamp on things and other people’s ideas might not as easily bubble up to the surface.


  • Be aware of listening to the loudest voices.
  • Listen to the listeners.
  • Introverts thrive better in one type of circumstance, and extroverts thrive better in another. Put people in the right environment to suit their temperament.
  • Introverts can feel proud and comfortable of their strengths.
  • Think about how workplaces can better support introverts.
  • Value individuality.
  • Find time for solitude, to ‘unplug’. “Stop the madness for this constant group work (but it’s okay to have casual chatty cafe style time where there is a serendipitous exchange of ideas which is great for both introverts and extroverts). We need more autonomy, privacy and freedom at work” (Susan Cain, TED Talk).

Book reference
Cain, S. (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. New York: Crown

Susan Cain’s website
TED Talk video (19 minutes)
Video RSA interview (8 minutes)
NPR interview with Susan Cain  This link also includes Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet Quiz: Are You an Introvert or an Extrovert?’
Power of Introverts – Q&A with Susan Cain
Chris Peterson’s viewpoint
Book review by Jock Given 
Book review by Jon Ronson
Susan Cain’s blog
Scientific American – Interview with Susan Cain