A while ago, I met a senior executive client for the first time. In the course of our conversation. I mentioned that I liked to call out the gold in people. She asked me what I meant by that.
So I showed her. I said,
“I can already see that you are a strategic delegator with a confident sense of the value of your own team. With multiple initiatives, in your portfolio, you are able to make the biggest difference by building your team’s performance. This shows a high-order leadership.”
She was impressed that I saw this so quickly at our first meeting. What I had said was positive, discerning and true. I felt she began to trust me enough to bring her most positive self to the rest of the meeting where I explored together with her ways through the challenge she faced.
As I go on in practice, I’m discovering something quite surprising, something that others wiser than me have known for some time: that in human relationships, positives attract. When we look for the positives in others, there is an influencing dynamic that is very powerful. The other party feels affirmed and appreciated and is drawn towards us.
When the consultant approaches a client with positive regard for them, looking for the good or worthy in the client, the client tends to respond and opens themselves to courage.
The more common frame of reference, one I have subscribed to for years, is that I am paid to be a problem-solver, a critic. Well, clients do want me to help them solve problems, but I can’t do this as successfully if I treat my client as a problem to be solved, less so if I make them feel like they are the problem.
More and more I am exploring a strategy of finding the gold in people, their strengths, their better practice. It is making me more empathetic and thereby I appear to be more influential as a consequence. Surely this is a more honourable attitude? We look to honour those whom we serve.
Positive psychology has been making huge contributions in business. Martin Seligman has led the charge. Others have developed powerful consulting strategies such as Appreciative Inquiry. Something seems to happen when you treat others as unpunishable, discovering and declaring what might be uniquely positive about them. This is now happening in organisational cultures, and I’ve experienced it first hand. In one such organisation, I received people’s positive discernment of me initially as embarrassing flattery, but after a while, my false humility dropped. I began to believe them. It’s an incredibly powerful organisation, due in no small part for its adherence to this mindset.
I recommend Danny Silk’s work, both Culture of Honor (he’s American, so we’ll forgive him misspelling “honour”) and Keep Your Love On. Irony warning: Silk comes from a Christian pastoral perspective so his faith may offend those of a nervous spiritual disposition … Seriously, read Danny’s work with an open mind. He is a man who writes from the trenches, someone who has worked this out for real in some quite difficult situations and cares deeply about those he seeks to serve.
Why do we perform better in positive relationships, when so much of human behaviour seems to be about avoiding risk, blame or loss?
Let me know in the comments below.