Listening and Leadership

This month is a topic of great interest to me and relevant to my work. Listening is something I’m always practising and trying to improve, so when I saw “The Executive’s Guide to Good Listening” in February’s McKinsey Quarterly I immediately took a look at it to see what I could learn.

From my interpretation of the McKinsey Quarterly article, I observed that good listening is marked by a range of characteristics and behaviours.

The characteristics include:
– Being open-minded and non-judgmental
– Having a possibility mindset
– Being quiet and bringing quietness to the mind, using silence, relaxing
– Being patient
– Being conscious and building perspective
– Being humble (controlling that pesky ego)

The suggested behaviours include:
– Encourage healthy and honest debate.
– Engage with interest and curiosity.
– Show respect.
– Acknowledge others’ unique skills, abilities, knowledge, and contributions.
– Let go of ego.
– Let go of fear (of not knowing, of not having the best idea).
– Slow down.
– Don’t put down or belittle others’ opinions.
– Question courageously.
– Pay attention: notice when your moods impede the flow of the conversation.
– Focus conversations on a bigger purpose and meaning, not on self-interest.

It struck me that if people practised some of these tips they would also experience greater strength, well-being and resilience…some great unintended by-products. For example, being courageous, patient, respectful, open-minded and non-judgemental enhances our positive emotions, which have an impact on both the listener and the speaker. On the converse, practising one of the best well-being ‘interventions’, mindfulness, improves a person’s ability to listen well. If you’d like to read more about my thoughts on the connections between well-being and listening, see this article, “Listening and Health”.

Reference: McKinsey article “The executive’s guide to better listening” by Bernard T. Ferrari

Do You Have a High Performing Workplace?

At the Australian Financial Review’s (AFR) Leadership Conference in August this year the audience was provided a taste of results from research which identified the leadership, culture and management practices that characterise high performing workplaces. The project was also featured in the October 2011 issue of AFR’s Boss Magazine. The 65-page research report is available online from SKE, Society for Knowledge Economics. Links are at the end of this article.
What follows are some of the key points, extracts, quotes and highlights from the report.

The Leadership, Culture and Management Practices of High Performing Workplaces in Australia: The High Performing Workplaces Index

This 2.5 year project was funded by the Workplace Innovation Fund within the Federal Government’s Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) in December 2009 and project managed by the Society for Knowledge Economics (SKE). The research began in March 2010 and was undertaken by a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from the University of New South Wales, Australian National University (ANU), Macquarie University and Copenhagen Business School (CBS).
The researchers worked with 78 Australian organisations from the services sector to identify and analyse what constitutes a high performing workplace. 5,661 employees participated in the research (senior executives, middle management, frontline management and non-managerial employees).
16% of the sample (12 organisations) are rated in the HPW category and 17% (13 organisations) are in Lower Performing Workplace (LPW) category.

The HPW (High Performing Workplaces) Index

Organisational performance was assessed using 18 performance measures in six categories:
1. Innovation
2. Employee Experience
3. Fairness
4. Leadership
5. Customer
6. Profitability and Productivity

Highlights / excerpts from the report

Productivity: HPWs are more productive and are nearly three times more profitable than LPWs
Innovation: HPWs have higher levels of innovation outputs, generate more new ideas, have in place more mechanisms for capturing ideas from employees, have more formal processes for assessing and responding to ideas from employees, are more successful at transforming ideas into new products/services, processes and dedicate significantly more resources to fund new strategic initiatives.

Employee Experience: HPWs have lower levels of employee turnover, higher levels of job satisfaction and employee commitment; employees are more involved with their organisation, exert extra effort in their jobs, and are more likely to tell their friends that their organisation is a great place to work. Employees have lower levels of anxiety, worry, fear, depression and feelings of inadequacy and higher levels of positive emotions, such as feeling valued, proud, cheerful, optimistic and loved.

Fairness: HPWs have higher levels of fairness. These include distribution of rewards and fair implementation of company procedures and policies by managers.

Leadership: Supervisors and managers in HPWs spend more time and effort managing their people, have clear values and ‘practice what they preach’, give employees opportunities to lead work assignments and activities, encourage employee development and learning, welcome criticism and feedback as learning opportunities, give increased recognition and acknowledgement to employees, foster involvement and cooperation amongst employees, have a clear vision and goals for the future, and are innovative and encourage employees to think about problems in new ways.

Customer Experience: HPWs are better at understanding customer needs and are curious to learn new things from customers. They act on customers’ suggestions and feedback; do whatever it takes to create value for customers, and are better at achieving their customer satisfaction goals.
“This suggests that any organisation wishing to transition to a HPW would have to improve the management, development and measurement of its intangible assets.” (page 9 of the report)


The report details questions/statements used for all six categories. For example, Employee Experience and Leadership are listed below.

Employee Experience – the HPW Index comprises these areas:

Effort: I am willing to put a great deal of effort beyond that normally expected to help this organisation be successful
Effort: I would accept almost any type of job assignment in order to keep working for this organisation
Effort: This organisation really inspires the very best in me in the way of job performance
Membership: I tell my friends that this organisation is a great place to work
Membership: I am proud to tell others that I am part of this organisation
Membership: For me this is the best of all possible organisations to work for
Values and Purpose: My personal values and the organisation’s values are very similar
Values and Purpose: I really care about the fate of this organisation
Values and Purpose: I believe in the overall purpose of this organisation
Turnover Intention: I do not plan on leaving this organisation soon
Job Satisfaction: Overall, how satisfied are you with your current job?

Also measured were positive emotions (optimistic, proud, valued, loved, cheerful) and negative emotions (anxious, worried, depressed, inadequate, fearful). Positive emotions are much more prevalent in HPWs whereas negative emotions are more prevalent in LPWs.

The most prevalent emotions in HPWs are feeling proud, followed by feeling valued, optimistic and cheerful.

The greatest difference between HPWs and LPWs is in feeling proud, followed by feeling valued. Employees in HPWs are proud of their organisations and feel valued by their colleagues and, importantly, by their immediate supervisor.

Leadership – the HPW Index comprises these areas:
Authenticity: My immediate supervisor has a clear vision or goal for the future of this organisation
Authenticity: My immediate supervisor is clear about his/her values and demonstrates the values
Authenticity: My immediate supervisor is highly competent in his/her role as a leader of the organisation
Authenticity: My immediate supervisor responds well to feedback and criticism
Developmental: My immediate supervisor supports and encourages staff development and learning
Developmental: My immediate supervisor gives recognition and acknowledgement to staff
Developmental: My immediate supervisor fosters involvement and cooperation among staff
Developmental: My immediate supervisor is innovative and encourages thinking about problems in new ways
Developmental: My immediate supervisor gives people opportunities to lead work assignments and activities
People Management: My immediate supervisor prioritises people management as a number one priority

“High performing organisations are not just much more profitable and productive, they also perform better in many important “intangible attributes”, such as encouraging innovation, leadership of their people, and creating a fair workplace environment.” (Steve Vamoz, SKE President, from the report’s foreword)

“SKE president Steve Vamos says the report is a call to action. “It provides clear evidence that improving Australia’s productivity – or effectiveness at work and performance of our workplaces – is and will be largely a function of our commitment to developing leadership and management capabilities across organisations in our economy.” ” (AFR Boss Magazine, October 2011)

SKE, Society for Knowledge Economics
SKE media release and link to report
AFR Boss Magazine  – Boss Magazine is published on the second Friday of each month and provided free with the Australian Financial Review

Acknowledgement: Thank you AFR!

Job satisfaction is not enough

You would expect that if employees have high job satisfaction then organisations would experience high job performance and staff retention.  This is only part of the story.  Thomas A. Wright (Professor of Management at Kansas State University) and his colleagues reveal through their research that psychological wellbeing is the critical factor.

In reviewing the history of research on this topic, Wright found that early organisational theorists found inconsistent results between the ‘job satisfaction leads to job performance / staff retention’ theory. Yet years before that, in the 1920s and 1930s, a rare few researchers noted that employee wellbeing was a greater contributor to labour turnover than was commonly realised.

It’s only lately that researchers such as Wright and his colleagues are again interested in the relationship between employee wellbeing and job performance. Their recent findings support the early theories that there is a significant relationship between employee wellbeing, psychological wellbeing and job performance and staff retention. That is, job satisfaction alone is not enough to predict performance and retention.

Wright points out that the positive states which characterise psychological wellbeing also help people to “thrive, to mentally flourish and psychologically grow.” He suggests that employees with high levels of psychological wellbeing and who are satisfied with their job are “more easily able to ‘broaden and build’ themselves…and as a result these satisfied and psychologically well individuals will reap such additional benefits as being more creative, resilient, socially connected, physically healthy and derive more meaning from their work”. Such people also have the resources to “initiate, foster, facilitate and sustain high levels of job performance”. In summary:

  • Job performance is highest when employees have high levels of psychological wellbeing and job satisfaction
  • Job satisfaction predicts job performance but only if the employee also has high psychological wellbeing
  • The relationship between job satisfaction and retention is also stronger when employees have high levels of psychological wellbeing

“The promotion of employee psychological wellbeing is an intrinsic good for both individuals and organizations; one toward which we should all work” (Wright)

“Happiness is a broad and subjective word, but a person’s well-being includes the presence of positive emotions, like joy and interest, and the absence of negative emotions, like apathy and sadness, Wright said.  An excessive negative focus in the workplace could be harmful, such as in performance evaluations where negatives like what an employee failed to do are the focus of concentration, he said. When properly implemented in the workplace environment, positive emotions can enhance employee perceptions of finding meaning in their work. Happiness is not only a responsibility to ourselves, but also to our co-workers, who often rely on us to be steadfast and supportive.” (K-State media release)

Employee Engagement and Wellbeing

The Gallup Organisation recently reported similar findings to Wright’s.  They undertook a global study of 47,361 employees.  Gallup notes that employee engagement is significantly impacted by employees’ personal wellbeing. Wellbeing is measured by reference to how people rate the quality of their lives overall, and how they rate their emotional states.
Among the workers studied, the wellbeing component shows up in these statistics:

  • 95% of the engaged workers said they were treated with respect
  • 88% said they experienced enjoyment for much of the day
  • Actively disengaged employees are more likely that engaged employees to say they felt stressed for much of the day (this impacts physical and emotional health)
  • Actively disengaged employees are twice as likely as engaged employees to say they experienced anger in their day.

“Happy workers are not magic, but they can give a workplace that extra boost” (Ed Diener, quoted in Gallup Management Journal)


Wright makes a number of recommendations which can help enhance psychological wellbeing:

  • Put people into appropriate work situations which maximize psychological wellbeing
  • Train people to help improve job fit
  • Adapt the work conditions as best as possible to help employees maximize psychological wellbeing
  • Put people who are psychologically well, socially responsible and ethically strong into leadership positions; in turn they contribute to creating healthy organizations
  • Provide stress management training
  • Emphasise social support at work
  • Implement family friendly policies
  • Provide training and implement policies which emphasize the broaden and build theory

Gallup points out “Ideally, high employee wellbeing creates a virtuous cycle: workers who are happier and more content with their lives make for a more productive workplace, and that greater productivity leads to successes that boost their wellbeing even further. Too often, the reverse seem to be a vicious cycle: low worker productivity is accompanied by high levels of pessimism and physical health problems, which, in turn, lower productivity.
In environments like these, employers must be concerned with doing whatever they can to help workers avoid ‘negativity traps’.”

Like Wright, Gallup suggests that employees are placed in the right job and they feel supported and appreciated.


Wright, T.A. (2010). More than Meets the Eye: The Role of Employee Well-Being in Organizational Research, In Linley, P. A., Harrington, S. & Garcea, N (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology and work (pp. 143-154). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

“K-State researcher says happy employees are critical for an organization’s success” (February 2009)

“A Good Job Means a Good Life” (Gallup Management Journal, May 2011):

Managing Positive Change

I wrote the article below earlier this month for Positive Psychology News Daily.

Leaders and managers often face the task of implementing organisational change, a complex process which is frequently experienced as difficult to get right and which requires sophisticated and flexible management styles. What insights can leaders gain from Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry to help them lead successful change? This question is addressed in two chapters in the Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work edited by Alex Linley, Susan Harrington, and Nicola Garcea:

  • Chapter 6: “Change and Its Leadership: The Role of Positive Emotions” by Malcolm Higgs
  • Chapter 7: “Working Positively Toward Transformative Cooperation” by Leslie Sekerka and Barbara Fredrickson.

These chapters reinforce the idea that leaders can influence the environment in which transformation efforts can succeed. Below are some of the key points from these chapters.

Change Doesn’t Have to be Viewed as a Problem

“Managers are trained to view change as a problem which can be analysed and solved in a linear or sequential manner.” (Higgs)

“Scientific management-based programs….which tend to employ functional and structural solutions… are unlikely to improve organisational performance over time. In part this is because they are not intended to be transformational, but are reactions to dysfunction.”  (Serkerka & Fredrickson)

In these quotations, the authors refer to the complexity of change and the limitations of linear processes. However, their main focus is on how leaders influence their own and others’ orientations towards a change initiative. Are they solving a problem, or are they creating transformation? Are they creating fear or enthusiasm? The leader’s mindset is critical.

One View: Resistors are Bad People

For example, leaders might perceive that people are the problem, and resistors to change are bad people to be coerced. Another example is the use of the famous burning platform image popularised by John Kotter. Leaders can also deplete energy by engaging in conversations about change which rest too much on the organisation’s limitations, focusing on what’s wrong with its people, systems, and processes. This can lead to a collective sense of “We are not good enough.” Overall, more negativity can be created than is needed to generate the positive energy required for sustained change.

A Shift in Perspective

In helping leaders to create an alternative context and mindset, both chapters suggest that a shift in perspective can be achieved by:

  1. Understanding Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory of positive emotions and how a climate of positivity (a ratio of considerably more positive than negative) can be the foundation for sustainable organisational change. The benefits of positive emotions include: creativity, connectivity, resilience, cooperation, collaborative inquiry, enthusiasm, energy, meaning, appreciation, psychological health, growth, flexibility, respectfulness, empathy, motivation, willingness, openness, less fear, less narrowed thinking.
    “Positive emotions coupled with collaborative values can help an organisation thrive, in that its members are motivated to create new organisational forms.”
    (Serkerka and Fredrickson).
  2. Shifting the emphasis so there is a greater understanding of the individual and organisational strengths, in addition to an understanding of the key problems. Analyse what is being done well and how to leverage this for future change.
  3. Seeing the change as an opportunity to energise people so they feel they are a part of the change, rather than feeling they are the subjects of the change.
  4. Expecting that when people are energised and enthusiastic, the behaviours required in the post-change context will emerge and can be learned.
  5. Having a mindset that change is not bad. Change is natural, is part of organisational growth, and offers new potential.
  6. Incorporating Appreciative Inquiry as a way to “find elements in the organisational system which are well and find ways to deploy these strengths in a way which supports the goals of the change,” according to Higgs.

“If transformative cooperation is desired, the power to create deep and sustainable change resides in the emotional dimension of the workplace enterprise.” (Sekerka and Fredrickson)

Doing Change To or With People?

In his chapter, Higgs refers to research which he and colleague undertook in 2005 to 2008. In successful change programs they 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.

A more integrated approach

The information above by no means provides the silver bullet for successful change. However it does provide change leaders with questions for productive reflection:

  • Are they creating climates in which there is energy and enthusiasm for the change?
  • Do they tend towards the fear and deficit mindset that can underpin some change programs?
  • How can they bring strengths-based and deficit-based theories together to create a more balance approach?
  • What are the foundations they can create and on which they to build their change and transformation programs?

A culture of appreciation at work

In 2006 I wrote an article about the importance of creating a culture of appreciation in the workplace.

I raise this topic again in 2011 because over the past few months, friends and clients have shared stories about how feeling appreciated and valued at work impacts their job satisfaction:

  • After moving to a new company my friend commented, “This new company really looks after its people – unlike where I previously worked.”
  • A boss missed an opportunity to retain a valuable employee by not properly valuing their staff
  • A number of clients have lost some of their enthusiasm at work because they don’t feel appreciated or supported by their managers

In January this year the Australian Institute of Management (Victoria & Tasmania) released the results of their employee engagement survey. It revealed that 40% of the 3,368 respondents felt unappreciated in their roles at work: “the survey shows that negativity and apathy are present in the ranks of too many Australian organisations.”  In an article in The Australian newspaper, Susan Heron (Chief Executive of AIM (Vic & Tasmania)) emphasised the importance of creating a good workplace culture. She commented, “You’ve got to have employees feeling valued, that they are listened to and understood. You need to make sure that employees know that what they do makes a difference and what they do matters.”

“The #1 reason people leave their jobs: they don’t feel appreciated.” (Tom Rath and Donald Clifton)

What can you do?

It’s more than simply saying “thank you, great job”. It requires a mindset of appreciating what it is that people do well:

  • Notice their strengths, their values, and what’s important to them
  • Pay attention to them, show respect, value their work and their contribution, and build their efficacy, strengths, and their confidence
  • Be curious, open and interested in other people; get to know them and understand them without judgment; know what makes them tick. Listen to them
  • Care about them, notice what makes them unique, find something of interest in each person
  • Treat them fairly
  • Accepting them for who they are – genuinely and without judgment
  • Be authentic in your appreciation for those around you

We all have a role in appreciating the people around us (it’s not just up to the managers and leaders).
What else can you add to the list above? What have you noticed or done that works well?

Stirling, J. (29 January 2011) . Workers in search of the exit.  The Australian.
(With thanks to my friend Bert van Halen for sending me this article)
Linley, P. A., Willars, J. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). The Strengths Book: Be Confident, Be Successful, and Enjoy Better Relationships by Realising the Best of You.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Rath, T. (2004). How Full Is Your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life, New York: Gallup Press.

Stomping on Humanity

1. Stomping on humanity

Let’s start this great quote from a McKinsey article by Bob Sutton, ‘Why good bosses tune in to their people’ (Aug 2010): “Bosses who ignore and stomp on their subordinates’ humanity sometimes generate quick gains. But in the long run, such short-sightedness usually undermines their followers’ creativity, efficiency, and commitment.”

2. Can teams be depressed?

Over the years I’ve sent a few emails about mindfulness and meditation, the earliest being in July 2004 where I quoted: “According to Chin-Ning Chu, in her 1998 book, ‘Work Less, Do More’ both Harvard Business School and the leading European business school INSEAD have concluded from research that the two most effective new business tools for 21st century executives are meditation and intuition.”   (

Meditation and mindfulness are clearly topics which are capturing broader and broader attention, not just 21st century executives but everyone. I recently read “The Mindful Way Through Depression” (2007) by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindal Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I became interested in this because I’d heard from many people that the book is one of their recommended reads.  I was curious about this:

“Thus we find ourselves compulsively trying over and over to get to the bottom of what is wrong with us as people, or with the way we live our lives, and fix it. Caught up in this way, how on earth could we possibly contemplate switching our attention away from these pressing and understandable concerns to focus on other topics or approaches, even if doing so might contribute to a lightening of our mood? Sorting things out and forcing a solution will always seem like the most compelling thing to do – figuring out what it is that is not good enough about us, sorting out what we need to do to minimize the havoc that our unhappiness will wreak in our lives if it persists.  But in fact focusing on these issues in this way is using exactly the wrong tools for the job. It simply fuels further unhappiness and keeps us fixated on the very thoughts and memories that are making us unhappy. It is as if a horror story were being enacted in from of us: we hate looking, but, at the same time, we can’t turn away.” (pg 39)

This is written for the individual, yet I couldn’t help but read those words again, this time imagining it’s written about teams of people in organisations, working on day-to-day organisational problems. Can team discussions become too fixated to the point that they are detrimental to the health and well-being of the collective team and its individual participants?

3. Multipliers or Diminishers…. Dream Converters or Dream Killers

At the recent TEDx Canberra event (October 2010), we heard from creative artist and founder of Kulture Break, Francis Owusu, who talked about whether we are dream converters or dream killers.  In Harvard Business Review, May 2010, the article ‘Bringing Out The Best In Your People’ uses different language, but a similar sentiment. Are we a multiplier or a diminisher?

Diminishers drain people, they stifle their intelligence, ideas, energy and capability. Diminishers like to be the smartest person in the room, they hoard resources, create a tense environment, make decisions without collaboration, and micromanage.

Multipliers like to enhance the ‘smarts and capabilities of the people around them’. People feel engaged, energised, inspired, respected and have a desire to stretch themselves. Multipliers use the strengths of their people, create a safe environment where people can flourish, challenge people so they are inspired to stretch, engage in collaborative debate, and give people ownership and responsibility.

4. A reminder for your diaries…..

Put 15, 22 and 29 November 2010 in your diaries, and settle down at 8.30pm to watch a new series on ABC TV: Making Australia Happy.

It’s about the role of mindfulness, physical well-being and positive psychology in enhancing happiness: “In a groundbreaking experiment, the science of positive psychology is put to the test – what does it take to make Australia happy. Eight unhappy people offer themselves up to science – their brains are scanned, their lives examined, their saliva swabbed and their blood tested. Can they improve their happiness and wellbeing in eight weeks? This is not self-help TV. There’s no tree hugging, stargazing or standing in circles singing kumbaya. It’s an opportunity for 8 ordinary Australians to road test the new science of happiness. And to prove that it works.”

This series was created by Heiress Films, the organisation behind the award winning “Life Series” about child development. Some of you might recall the ABC TV series Life at 1, Life at 3.

The Good Life according to JK Rowling

Below is an article I wrote for PPND earlier this month (see reference at end).

Two weeks ago a very good friend wrote to me, “This is wonderful – perhaps some grist for your newsletter?” She included a link to J. K. Rowling’s June 2008 Commencement Address, “The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination” delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association. Although over two years old, the speech continues to inspire. My friend stumbled across the link in an article written just last month by a respected journalist, Leigh Sales, who responded to a question: “What would you read if you only had three months to live?” J. K. Rowling’s speech made it into Sales’ top 10. The Harvard Magazine has posted both a video and the transcript of the speech.

Looking for grist for this month’s article I noticed how much of J. K. Rowling’s real-life experiences are mirrored in recent positive psychology research. It then occurred to me that a speech such as this must have already caught the attention of other PPND writers. Sure enough Caroline Adams Miller wrote a PPND article here in June 2008, having attended the speech in person. She said, “Although I knew she’d be entertaining, I had no idea how profound Rowling’s talk would be, nor how tightly entwined her speech would be with the themes and message of Positive Psychology.” I recommend Caroline’s article, which summarizes the key themes in Rowling’s speech.

In this month’s article below, instead of repeating what Caroline observed in 2008, I share with you what inspired me.


J. K. Rowling’s speech was about sharing lessons learned. She had two key themes: the benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination in finding empathy. I wanted to discover what else we could learn from Rowling, so I engaged in bit of strengths-spotting and found that there are far more than just the two lessons. From Rowling’s experience we learn that a good life involves many things including the following:

  • Determination
  • Humor
  • Humility
  • Grit, determination, discipline (Persistence)
  • Drive and passion
  • A deep sense of meaning, purpose, being intrinsically-driven
  • Intuition
  • Forgiveness
  • Perspective
  • A clear sense of personal responsibility
  • Hope and optimism
  • Faith
  • Friendships and relationships
  • Openness to learning and curiosity
  • Wisdom and strength
  • Creativity and imagination
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Gratitude
  • Courage
  • Love
  • Finding flow
  • Having a growth mindset

In J. K. Rowling’s Own Words

To give you a sense of some of what she writes, here are some of my favorite quotations from the speech about living well and wisely. (The subheadings are my interpretation.)

Reach for a growth mindset: “Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.”

Living life fully includes failure: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

Empathy: “The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives and frees prisoners.”

Finding one’s own path: “I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.” “I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.”

Hope: “Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the Press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.”

Humility contributes to happiness: “… personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.”

Courage and imagination: “Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.”

From the inside out: “Quoting Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.”

Having an impact: “We touch other people’s lives simply by existing…that is your privilege, and your burden.”

Failure is not always failure: Rowling explains how she ‘failed on an epic scale’ before her life turned around yet perhaps it’s not failure at all “… rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

“I wish you all very good lives. Thank you very much.” (J. K. Rowling’s closing words)


J. K. Rowling speech, available in transcript and video form

For more about mindsets, see Dweck, C. (2007). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books.

For more about character strengths, see Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

This article was written for and posted on Positive Psychology News Daily on 3rd October 2010:

Letting Go – Part 2

Hello Everyone,

Almost two years ago, I emailed “Letting Go”. I then posted that article on Positive Psychology News Daily in June 2010.

To continue sharing information about forgiveness at work, Part 2 below highlights some key points from two recent articles about workplace forgiveness. This article also includes some practical tips from people who practice forgiveness at work. The article below was originally posted on Positive Psychology News Daily in July 2010.

Leadership and forgiveness

The two articles, one by Charles Kerns and the other by Susan Madsen and colleagues, emphasize that the benefits gained from practicing forgiveness at work are so compelling and persuasive that all good leaders and managers could benefit from creating cultures of forgiveness.

“Forgiving requires the manager to accept the responsibility and challenge in accepting others as human persons with and without their faults, and learning to live together without sustained anger and resentment.” (Madsen et al).

Thriving at work through forgiveness

The nature of work is such that perceived transgressions, annoyances, interpersonal conflict, arguments, disagreements, and mistakes are bound to occur. It can be hard work to find ways to move beyond these situations in order to work productively together. When employees practice forgiveness, the benefits at work include:

  • productive interpersonal relationships
  • thriving teamwork
  • job satisfaction, high morale, and employee retention
  • innovative problem solving
  • flexibility when facing change
  • productivity
  • resilience
  • physical, mental, and emotional health

“Forgiveness has been shown to motivate employees to ‘extend acts of conciliation and goodwill toward the offender and to overcome social estrangement’, which makes the working relationship between individuals more effective and productive. Forgiveness is actually a type of ‘problem-solving coping strategy in that it reconciles conflicting parties and salvages the social relationship for future interactions’. When resentment and other negative feelings between co-workers exist, it is very difficult to maintain current levels of job performance let alone improve it.” (Madsen et al)

Forgiveness takes strength

Repeating a theme introduced last month, forgiveness is not a weakness. It is not about condoning poor behaviour or offences. According to Madsen and colleagues, it is not about “letting someone off the hook, forgetting, giving up or giving in, or being soft. Authentic forgiveness is none of these.” To forgive takes great power. Strengths we can use to help to be more forgiving include: self discipline and self-control, courage, compassion, empathy, creativity, open mindedness, perspective, kindness, and leadership. And humility….

Humility and forgiveness

“When people do not see beyond their own needs and desires, it becomes difficult for them to practice forgiveness. They are not disposed to forgiveness, and expect things to go their way in most organizational encounters. Egotistical people are more likely to perceive transgressions and transgressors in unforgiving ways.” Charles Kerns

I asked Kathryn Britton, who wrote a recent PPND article on Humility, for her views on how humility helps to build forgiveness:

“Humility means not setting yourself apart from others, not believing yourself specially deserving or endowed. It means being open to new information that contradicts previous opinions. Humble people are probably less intense about the perceptions of injury in the first place and more open to perceiving the other person’s point of view. They may also be more likely to think, “There but for the grace of God go I”.”

Real examples

How do people achieve forgiveness? A number of clients and friends shared their insights:

  1. Person 1 had some angst about an ex-colleague who broke his trust. They no longer work together nor see each other. Person 1 has a valuable item of stationery which was given to him by the ex-colleague during better days. Not wanting to be petty (he thought about throwing it away in anger), when he uses the object he thinks only of the good times he had at work with his ex-colleague.
  2. Person 2, in the face of another’s transgressions, stays focused on the future and works very hard on staying true to her values, strengths and integrity. This prevents her from falling into unhelpful thoughts and vengeful behaviours.
  3. Person 3 was the recipient of verbal abuse by a colleague who was jealous of Person 3’s success. Worthington’s REACH process was very powerful and effective in helping Person 3 to eliminate her own anger and to remain open and constructive to everyone, including the abuser.

    Recall the hurt
    Empathize with the one who hurt you
    Altruistic gift of forgiveness
    Commitment to forgive
    Hold on to the forgiveness“The reason I was able to get to this point was because I was humble enough to recognize that I could react in the same way. We’re all capable of unpleasant behaviours.”

  4. Person 4 uses breathing and mindfulness. The goal of this was to find calm in the storm, and he realised in hindsight that it also helped him to forgive and find empathy.
  5. Person 5 practices self-forgiveness. He re-judges, stands back, and accepts that it is ok to make a mistake. He asks, “Am I going to let this thought affect me?.” He practices being less judgmental of himself, and this lessens his guilt and regret. The outcome is greater self-confidence and learning.

Letting Be

The final perspective to leave with you is this one offered by Sue Hays at the Canberra Mindfulness Centre about the emotions we harbour when we hold a grudge. I explained that many discuss the notion of letting go of those emotions. Sue offered this alternative: “Forgiveness can be easier if you don’t try to let go of the emotions that arise when holding grudges. Instead, practice ‘letting be’. Notice, accept, and then turn your attention to growing something new. Growing the new means turning attention away from feeding the past. Let the old just wither away with non-attention”.


Kerns, Charles D. (2009). Forgiveness at Work: Managing the Dynamics and Reaping the Benefits,. Kravis Leadership Institute, Leadership Review, 9, 80-90.

Madsen, Susan R., Gygi, J., Plowman, S. F., & Hammond, S. C. (2009). Forgiveness as a workplace intervention: The literature and a proposed framework. Journal of Applied and Behavioral Management, 10(2), 246-262.

Stratton, S. P., Dean, J. B., Nonneman, A., Bode, R. A., & Worthington, E. (2009). Forgiveness interventions as spiritual development strategies: Comparing forgiveness workshop training, expressive writing about forgiveness, and retested controls. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 27(4), 347-357.

Information about Everett Worthington:

Keeping Us Grounded

Hi Everyone,

What keeps us grounded? Many things keep us grounded, for example, mindfulness, humility and meaning.

The main content in this email is about meaning and purpose. See further below. First, I want to draw your attention to mindfulness and humility.

1) Sue Hays has recently launched the Canberra Mindfulness Centre.  I recommend you take a look.

2) Kathryn Britton wrote a great article on the strength of humility.

3) Meaning and Purpose

Meaning and Purpose
“Work matters – serving the greater good”

In all the stories I have heard from people who describe their memorable and positive experiences at work, i.e. those in which they had high job satisfaction, at some point I hear such words as ‘passion’, ‘committed’, ‘drive’, ‘I believed in what I was doing’, ‘it’s just what I do’. They realise they derived great meaning from that work.

Having meaning in one’s life is important to the quality of our life satisfaction and subjective well-being. (Refer at end for two journal article references and see here for further information:

But what do we know about finding meaning at work?

This is the subject of a chapter in a newly published book, The Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work, edited by Linley, Harrington and Page.

In this chapter the authors, Michael Steger and Bryan Dik, review the literature on this topic, the historical background, the factors which could contribute to meaning at work, and the known and proposed benefits of meaningful work. They acknowledge that there is more research to be done in this area.

Below I present some of the highlights from the book chapter.

Historical context….

‘Vocation’ comes from the Latin word vocare, meaning ‘to call’. In religious history there was a belief that ‘people were called by God to engage in a religious vocation.’ A number of historical scholars noted that beyond a religious calling, anyone could be engaged in ‘good work’ which ‘served a greater purpose and a greater good’. Work could be a call to ‘love one’s neighbour through the duties that accompany their social place or station’. They note that there is a dignity that comes from such work which is directly or indirectly a social service. The authors note that in modern days, the complexity and variety of work roles can sometimes lead to people becoming disconnected from their sense of service and meaning.

…and now

Referring to current research and thinking, ‘calling’ often refers to how work contributes to one’s own sense of purpose and that it contributes to the greater good. ‘People have been summoned to meaningful, socially valued work by a transcendent call….the common core of these concepts includes both the sense that one’s work is meaningful and purposeful and that it serves a need beyond one’s self and one’s immediate concerns’.

The components of meaning

The authors suggest that meaningful work comes from:

(1)   Comprehension – people develop a sense of identity which comes from knowing ‘who they are, how their world works and how they fit in with and related to the life around them’. Forming social connections with co-workers and understanding their organisation and its role in society adds to a person’s comprehension.

(2)   Purpose – ‘people’s identification of, and intention to pursue, particularly highly valued, over-arching life goals’.

Benefits of meaning

The authors draw on research and on their theoretical understanding of this area to propose benefits to suggest that engaging in meaningful work can result in enhanced:

  • motivation
  • work performance, effort, efficiency
  • self-efficacy
  • understanding of the organisation
  • psychological and physical well-being
  • satisfaction with work
  • happiness
  • faith in management
  • team functioning
  • attitudes at work
  • intrinsic motivation to work
  • mentoring and motivational skills
  • sense of self-transcendence

Implications and suggestions for leaders

Drawing from the commentary in the chapter, here are some suggestions for leaders and managers:

  • help people to understand how their role is important in contributing to the purpose of the organisation
  • help people to see how their individual purpose can be achieved by contributing to the organisation’s purpose, and thus use the organisation as an ‘instrument’ to find meaning at work
  • ensure the organisational purpose is clearly connected to the greater good, and that organisational goals align with that purpose
  • encourage social circles to thrive where workers see meaning as not just contributing to the work, but also to cultivating strong social connections
  • help workers to more deeply understand themselves and when they work at their best
  • get to know employees and what drives their meaning and purpose; put them in places where these needs can be met

“People and organisations prosper when they are engaged in meaningful work”.


Steger, M. F., & Dik, B. J. (2010). Work as meaning: Individual and organizational benefits of engaging in meaningful work. In Linley, P. A., Harrington, S. & Page, N (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology and work (pp. 131-142). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. (2005). Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 6, 25–41.

Vella-Brodrick, D. A., Park, N. A., & Peterson, C. (2008). Three ways to be happy: Pleasure, engagement and meaning – findings from Australian and US samples. Social Indicators Research, 90, 165-179.

(This article also appeared on PPND, 3rd May 2010: )

Little Drops of Quiet

Hi Everyone,

“I was talking with a friend recently who asked me a question. I paused to think for a few moments, and my friend interrupted ‘are you ok? Is something wrong?’.” Told by Jenny Fox Eades, March 2010

Jenny (Note 1), my friend, colleague and fellow traveller in Positive Psychology, has been working in Canberra and Melbourne these past three weeks. She and I had an interesting discussion about pausing, taking time, and using silence to consider what to say or do next.

Jenny is a great supporter of little drops of quiet.

Our chat had particular resonance because I have attended Jenny’s Celebrating Strengths program and experienced first hand how she works with (and more importantly how she role models) pausing, quietness, silence and mindfulness.  Further, I have just returned from a fabulous retreat for executives and leaders: ‘Cultivating Leadership Presence through Mindfulness’ where the facilitators, Saki Santorelli and Janice Marturano (Note 2) helped us to learn the value of pausing and making space.

These ideas, which are not new, have also begun to be reported on in a number of positive psychology articles, books and other literature.  For example,

  1. Tal Ben-Shahar suggests that “We are, generally, too busy, trying to squeeze more and more activities into less and less time. Consequently, we fail to savor, to enjoy. To become a life connoisseur, to enjoy the richness that life has to offer, we need to take our time.”
  2. Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté offer a range of calming techniques to help build strength, health and resilience
  3. Barbara Fredrickson reports on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness to help build positivity
  4. Todd Kashdan writes about taking time to be open and curious: “The more we automatically and mindlessly categorize thoughts, feelings and other people, the more we suffer. Well-being stumbles when we go on auto-pilot.”
  5. Oberdan Marianetti and Jonathan Passmore argue that “only by slowing down, can one be at once more effective and more satisfied.  In fact, it is the engaging in moments of inner stillness that creates opportunities to step out of this overwhelming flow, regain composure, strength and clarity of thought, to rejoin the flow and follow it harmoniously.”

Decompressing Time

Back to my conversation with Jenny, I asked her talk more about her thoughts on pausing and taking time:

“Of all the strengths, I think it is gratitude that most requires us to pause.  We need to stop and think ‘this is good’.  Gratitude is the first casualty of stress.  If you don’t stop, you don’t have time to feel grateful. I am particularly struck by the work of David Steindl-Rast who wrote Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer and who is behind the wonderful website  He suggests that if you pause before and after actions it decompresses time. Interestingly, I find there’s a parallel here with an Alexander Technique concept known as inhibition, that before you take an action, you inhibit, you pause, and then take an action mindfully and consciously.  Alexander Technique helps us to embody pausing.

For parents and teachers, applying this with our children is the most important thing we can do: pausing, thinking before acting or speaking, asking and waiting patiently for them to respond.  Children need more time; we need to create space for them.  Pausing opens up that space and results in authentic communication. It shows respect and shows we know they have something worth saying and that it’s worth waiting for.

We can all find moments throughout the day to create little drops of quiet. It changes the quality of the day and it changes the quality of our relationships”.

Changing the quality of our relationships

Jenny’s final thought reminded me of a pleasing experience at the Cultivating Leadership Presence retreat.  A number of us found that it was in the silence and the moments of pausing that relationships deepened and strengthened.  We learnt we can connect deeply in our silence.

An invitation

How can we find moments to create little drops of quiet in our days? And, perhaps even more importantly, how can we help others to have their little drops of quiet?


Note 1:

Jenny Fox Eades is a UK education advisor, works in schools with students and staff and runs training days and master classes in colleges and schools. She trained as a special needs teacher, has qualifications in counselling, group therapy and a Masters in Psychoanalytic Observational Studies. She is a graduate of Ben Dean’s and Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness Coaching Program and is a founder member of Positive Workplace International.  Jenny was in Australia to run her Celebrating Strengths Program, a whole school and community coaching program.

Note 2:

Saki F. Santorelli is Executive Director, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Janice L. Marturano is Director of Leadership Education, Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.  She is also Vice President, Public Responsibility and Deputy General Counsel, General Mills, Inc.

Book references

Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the secrets to daily joy and lasting fulfillment. New York: McGraw Hill.

Fox Eades, J (2008). Celebrating Strengths: Building Strengths-based Schools. CAPP Press

Santorelli, S. (2000) Heal Thy Self: Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine. Three Rivers Press

Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. Three Rivers Press. Now out in paperback.

Kashdan, T. (2009). Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. New York: William Morrow.

Marianetti, O, & Passmore, J “Mindfulness at Work: Paying Attention to Enhance Well-being and Performance” (2010) in Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work edited by in Linley, P.A, Harrington, S, & Garcea. Oxford University Press

Reivich, K. & Shatte, A. (2002). The resilience factor: how changing the way you think will change your life for good. New York: Broadway Books.

Steindl-Rast, D & Nouwen, H.J.M. (1984) Gratefulness, The Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness. Paulist Press