Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Kathryn D. Cramer, a licensed psychologist, executive consultant, and author of the book Change the Way You See Everything, which was a New York Times bestseller and landed her two spots on The Oprah Winfrey Show. In her latest book Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do she shows how leaders can produce better results by shifting what they see, say, and do toward assets and possibilities. We discussed the benefit to maintaining a positive outlook as a leader, some techniques for people to become more positive, and she shares how we can maintain a healthy outlook even during moments of incredible stress.
What led to your new book, Lead Positive?
My mission as an author and as founder of The Cramer Institute has been to help leaders become consummate Asset-Based Thinkers who are skilled at solving problems and capitalizing on opportunities. Asset-Based Thinking (ABT) can be defined as a focus on what is working within yourself, others, and the situation you find yourself in (i.e. the assets).
Leaders today are faced with enormous external challenges in the marketplace and the internal imperative to keep people engaged and motivated. I wrote Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do to offer them an Asset-Based Thinking framework for leveraging their strengths, making the best out of any situation, and creating an inspired workforce.
What are the benefits to having a positive outlook as a leader?
Once you can see the assets in yourself–your strengths–it starts a positive chain reaction. By shifting your view of yourself toward the positive, you are better able to own your strengths and present yourself authentically in your words and actions. You receive an immediate boost in your own resilience, optimism, and confidence. This emergence of the confident, authentic self is inspiring. You will find that that those around you are more willing to jump on board and follow your lead. They become more committed to your vision, because they see and believe in your commitment.
A positive outlook is contagious. When you start using the ABT strategies in Lead Positive, you will see palpable positive differences in the culture of your organization and significant gains in employee engagement and empowerment. It’s the Lead Positive ripple effect.
For people who are predisposed to a negative mentality, what are some techniques to use that can shift to a more positive one?
It’s so much more natural for us humans to be negative than positive. It’s the way our brains are wired. Everyone has to work at shifting to a more positive mentality. The good thing is that with practice, you can actually rewire your brain to be more apt at seeing the positive in any situation. It’s called neuroplasticity. These are a couple quick, one-minute brain exercises from Lead Positive to help anyone begin the rewiring process.
See-Think-Feel Awareness Tool
Stop for a moment at any point in your day. Assess how you are feeling about whatever situation is at hand using the See-Think-Feel framework. What are you seeing, thinking, and feeling? For every negative response, try to think of the positive corollary. Are you seeing a “problem” or a “possibility”? Are you thinking, “I am stressed out” or “I am being challenged so I can grow”? Are you feeling “overwhelmed” or “exhilarated”? It’s the same situation, but how you see, think and feel about it depends entirely on your mindset.
If you are seeing a “problem,” then you will inevitably think “stress” and feel “overwhelmed.” But if you see “possibility,” you will naturally think “growth” and feel “exhilarated.” Think of it as a self-reinforcing process–a virtuous cycle that spawns solutions or a downward spiral that only makes matters worse. The See-Think-Feel Awareness Tool helps you to spot and break the downward spiral of negativity.
The ASA Shift
The ASA shift is a mental process that builds on the See-Think-Feel Awareness Tool. Think of a situation you are facing right now that fits into the category of challenging or stressful, like having to give a difficult performance review to an employee.
Acknowledge: Use the See-Think-Feel Awareness Tool to identify your negative emotions. Acknowledge that the negative that you see, think, and feel are probably true, but they are not helpful.
Scan: Look for the positive side of the ledger. Ask yourself, “How can my team or I benefit from tackling this situation head on?” Scan for one–just one–potential gain or upside.
Act: Take one–just one–step toward realizing the gain you now see is possible. Notice how that small act makes the negative thoughts and feelings recede and puts you on the path to more positive and rewarding action.
The ASA shift is not about denying that bad things are happening. Rather, it is a tool to interrupt the negative downward spiral before it gets out of hand (acknowledge), to reshape your awareness toward the positive (scan), and to begin a virtuous upward spiral aimed at productive action (act).
How does a positive outlook as a leader translate to other areas of your life?
Using the ABT strategies in Lead Positive to shift toward the positive is a fluid process. It is about being genuinely positive in what you see, say, and do in every moment to create multiple, multi-directional virtuous cycles. In that sense, Lead Positive is about how you operate in the world, not just in the office or the boardroom. The practice field is everywhere.
Lead Positive is about giving you the language and the strategies you need to be confident in your own abilities. If you practice lead positive at home, your relationships with your family members will grow stronger and they will become more trusting and supportive of you in whatever you take on. They will push you farther toward your goals. If you practice lead positive on the phone with a customer service agent you will find he or she is way more willing to collaborate with you and find innovative ways to resolve your issues.
When moments of incredible stress or enormous obstacles inevitably arise, how can you remain positive to make the best of your situation?
The first thing I would say is to step outside of the present moment. The easiest thing to do is to take 10 deep breaths. One of my favorite sayings is, “The only difference between fear and excitement is breathing.” The act of intentional breathing interrupts the downward spiral of negative thought and opens you up to the possibility of Asset-Based Thinking.
The next step would be to “go meta.” Rise above the difficult situation to observe the dynamics at hand. From that meta perspective, you can ask yourself questions like: What am I doing? How are others behaving? What is really going on here? Remember, the wider the lens, the better the view.
Then, use the See-Think-Feel Awareness Tool and the ASA shift to start taking action toward a specific positive outcome. Once you achieve even just one small success, it will be that much easier to remain positive and find more ways to make the best of your situation.
Dr. Kathryn (Kathy) D. Cramer is passionate about possibilities and potential. She created and has dedicated her life to Asset-Based Thinking (ABT), a way of looking at the world that helps leaders, influencers, and their teams make small shifts in thinking to produce extraordinary impact.