I’ve been around IT pros long enough to know that being in such a high-stress profession can tax a leader’s ability to stay positive and optimistic, which can only have a negative impact on the IT team. Fortunately, there’s a new book out that can help even the most pessimistic IT leader turn things around.
The book, released just last month, is “The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World,” by leadership consultant Jon Gordon. He has come up with what I found to be excellent advice and guidance on how to lead in a way that inspires positivity and optimism. Here are some of his tips:
Stop complaining and blaming. If you're complaining, you're not leading. Leaders don't complain. They focus on solutions. They identify problems and look to solve them in order to create a better future for all. Positive leaders don't attack people. They attack problems.
Don't focus on where you are; focus on where you're going. Lead your team with optimism and vision. Regardless of the circumstances, keep pointing others toward a positive future. Even when Clemson football lost the national championship in 2015, head coach Dabo Swinney believed they would return the following year, and kept pointing his team toward a positive future. He didn't see the loss as a challenge. He saw an opportunity to come back and win it the following year — and that's what they did.
Lead with love instead of fear. Fear is draining; love is sustaining. Fear divides; love unites. The key to leading without fear is to provide both love and accountability. Negative leaders provide a lot of fear and accountability, but no love. If your team knows you love them, they will allow you to challenge them. But love must come first. Former CEO Alan Mulally turned Ford around with both love and accountability. He said you have to “love 'em up,” and you have to hold them accountable to the process, principles, and plan. He was able to save Ford and help the economy with a lot of love and a lot of accountability.
Be demanding without being demeaning. Many people think positive leaders are Pollyanna positive people who just smile all the time and don't care about results. This couldn't be further from the truth. Positive leaders pursue excellence. They believe in a brighter future, so they take the necessary actions with excellence to create it. Positive leaders are demanding, but aren't demeaning. They lift others up in order to accomplish their goals, rather than tear them down. They don't talk at you — they walk and run with you.
Create positive change inside-out. Don't let your circumstances and outside events define you. You define your circumstances with your vision, beliefs, and action. Many leaders believe they are victims of circumstance. They have an external locus of control. But positive leaders believe they can influence events and outcomes by the way they think and act. Coach Donna Orender is a great example. When she served as commissioner of the WNBA, she saw a lot of negativity amongst those in the corporate offices. There was a feeling that no one cared about women's basketball, and a lack of belief that the organization could be successful. But Orender saw the passion and optimism in the coaches and players, and she believed in them and in the future of the WNBA. She began building an optimistic belief system and inspired her colleagues to believe in the WNBA's future as well. By focusing on one success at a time, she helped create a new reality for herself, and changed the organization from the inside-out.
Encourage instead of discourage. Positive leaders are also positive communicators, in that they make people around them better and feel encouraged, instead of hopeless or discouraged. They also spread positive gossip, listen to and welcome new ideas, and give genuine smiles when they speak. Finally, they are great encouragers who uplift the people around them and instill the belief that success is possible. Detroit Pistons coaches Chuck Daly and Brendan Suhr say, “Shout praise, whisper criticism.” Shout praise means recognizing someone in front of their peers. Whisper criticism means coaching them to get better. Both build better people, and better teams.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.