Collaborate for Positivity
Big Potential

Collaborate for Positivity

Bestselling happiness expert Shawn Achor urges you to find the joy in collaboration, dispel negativity and take the lead, whatever your formal position.

Bestselling happiness expert Shawn Achor argues that you can achieve more when you collaborate. Going alone leads to being isolated and unhappy, and to achieving only your “Small Potential.” When you lift others up and work in a team, you can achieve your major goals – your “Big Potential.”

Achor – who teaches in the Advanced Management Program at the Wharton Business School and collaborates on research with Yale and Columbia Universities – provides a blueprint for making minor changes that can have a major impact on your life and help you become a significant leader no matter what your position is in your organization’s hierarchy. He advises building your career by establishing a community of positive influencers around you. Learn to give praise and recognition. Create a defense system against negativity. Then, sustain this foundation to support you as you realize your maximum potential.

Do More Together

Laszlo Bock, the head of People Operations at Google, was an architect of Project Aristotle, Google’s initiative to build the perfect team based on data. Its research evaluated 180 teams according to thousands of parameters to find top-performing workers.

We succeed together or fail alone. This philosophy is at the heart of Big Potential, and it’s one we desperately need to adopt in our schools and companies.  Shawn Achor

You might think a perfect team would feature people who all have high intelligence, fluency in foreign languages, certain personality traits or mathematical abilities. Instead, Google discovered that the best performers are team members with “high social sensitivity” who work in a safe environment. Team members who can stay aware of other people’s feelings and who believe their workplace encourages fairness and equality perform best as a group.

Positive Influencers

Achor urges you to recognize the power of positive peer pressure, find balance through a variety of relationships and foster reciprocity. Surround yourself with people who radiate creativity, engagement and motivation. He notes that IBM changed its telecommuting policies because it found that its employees were more creative, upbeat and productive when they collaborated in person.

The more diverse your social circle is, the more resilient you’ll become. Diversity of thinking also matters. Many corporate leaders avoid diversity initiatives because they fear conflict and friction. They think that having vastly different people work together won’t succeed. Achor underscores that the opposite is true.

Anyone Can Lead

Achor quotes Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, who urges you to learn to “lead from the 11th chair.” In his popular TED Talk, Zander mentions a discouraged cellist who sat in the 11th chair of the cello section. Instead of basking in the thrill of securing such a plum job over thousands of other candidates, all she thought about were the 10 other cellists in chairs that outranked hers.

Praise is actually a renewable resource. Praise creates a Virtuous Cycle – the more you give, the more you enhance your own supply.Shawn Achor

One week, Zander asked the cellist how he should conduct a challenging section of an upcoming symphony. He followed her suggestions and received great reviews. Her playing rose to a new level because being consulted and listened to made her feel empowered as a leader. The lesson is to encourage leadership from all your employees. Find meaning in your work regardless of your title or official responsibilities. Create your own path to leadership.

Recognize Others  

To increase your resources and spread success, take the time to praise and recognize other people. In a competitive business world, many employees become “misers of praise” rather than “praise prisms.” A prism absorbs different wavelengths of light and bends it to create a beautiful rainbow.

Highlight what others do right. If you’re a manager, praise employees for what they are doing correctly rather than focusing on their mistakes. If praising other people is hard for you, try this exercise: Take two minutes to write a text message or email thanking or praising someone in your life, such as a teacher, friend, co-worker or parent. You will inspire others to create their own praise prisms.

I am not saying to stop praising the high performers, or to praise only the low performers. I’m saying that we need to redirect more light to the player who made the assist, not just the player who scored the winning goal.  Shawn Achor

Too often, people recognize only high performers, but all leaders have average but sustaining supporters who deserve recognition. Don’t misconstrue this advice as suggesting you award participation trophies – praise supporting players for their real, measurable gains. Achor cites Nick Saban, championship head coach of the University of Alabama football team, who never praises individual players because, he believes, that wouldn’t elevate the team.

Defend Against Negativity

Negative emotions such as sadness, fear and anger are part of life, so work to build up your defenses against negativity for your sake and the sake of those around you. Negative feelings such as stress and apathy are contagious.

If your day can be ruined by an angry email from a client, a rude encounter with a neighbor or a bad interaction with your manager, why is the opposite not equally true?  Shawn Achor

Since everyone absorbs online stress easily, protect yourself by not reading the news, social media or emails when you’re first waking up and your blood sugar is low. Wait until after breakfast. Likewise, turn off electronic media 30 minutes before you want to sleep. Quiet your cellphone’s notifications for text messages and emails.

Build up your resilience by feeling gratitude, being optimistic, staying positive and trying to be mindful. Become more optimistic by thinking of three good things that happened during the last 24 hours or over the previous week. When you call friends or meet with co-workers, start your conversation with something positive. Say how happy you are to see them or to work together.

Regard failure as part of your learning process. Pick and choose your battles, and take your vacations. Rather than seeing your job as an obligation, find the purpose behind it. Celebrate small wins and major milestones. Don’t try to change your employees; celebrate their strengths.

Strategies for Delight

Though Shawn Achor wrote this encouraging book well before the pandemic and its enforced isolation, he provides a timely guide to emerging from your COVID seclusion and connecting with others – whether through conversations or professional collaboration – to regain and sustain your joy.

We can all find meaning in our work, no matter what seat we sit in.  Shawn Achor

Offering anecdotes from business and data discoveries, Achor illuminates the crucial link between personal happiness and success. Though some of his examples may seem shopworn, his sincerity and intelligence elevate this above typical self-help fare. He offers sound strategies for delight, which he regards as crucial for fulfillment.

Shawn Achor also wrote The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life; and Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change.

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