University of Oxford

The Heliotropic Effect and Positive Leadership – Are You Leaning Toward the Light?

Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others…he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance. -Robert F. Kennedy

Are you living the “heliotropic effect?” Do you remember what it is? As you may recall from a long ago science class, this effect is defined as the tendency of all living systems toward that which is life giving -toward positive energy rather than negative energy. Plants lean toward the light; people remember better and learn faster in a positive environment; all languages have more positive words in their vocabularies than negative words. All forms of life, from the tiniest bacteria to mammals, including humans possess an inclination toward the positive. According to Kim Cameron, Professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, “Strategies that capitalize on the positive tend to produce life-giving, flourishing outcomes in individuals and organizations.”

What leadership roles do you have, both formal and informal in the workplace, your family and other social communities? How can you apply the concept of positive leadership to these roles? What is positive leadership any way? According to the literature, positive leadership has three connotations:

1) The facilitation of extraordinarily positive performance-that is performance that is dramatically better than typical or expected. For instance, Cameron studied organizations that went through extensive downsizing, yet were “positively deviant” by performing exceptionally well throughout and after the process.

2) Focuses on strengths and capabilities and affirming human potential, (an “affirmative bias”) the emphasis is on enabling growing and thriving rather than fixing problems.

3) Fostering the best in people and systems-that which is “good.” While there are some cultural differences, all societies and cultures possess a catalog of traits which they consider virtuous or good. (Peterson and Seligman ,2004)

One area of development related to this is the intentional creation of a positive organizational climate. Here are some examples of questions to consider:

– How often am I expressing gratitude and appreciation each day to those around me?

– How often and how consistently am I encouraging others to do the same?

– How can I more effectively build an environment where blunders and mistakes are forgiven and grudges are not held?

– How can I model positive energy toward others, and find and support other energy networks within my organization and communities?

– How can I demonstrate and encourage the public expression of compassion?

– How can I encourage more acknowledgment and celebration of successes, both large and small?

Coaching Tips:

– Jot some ideas down next to each of these questions regarding how you can improve the positive climate around you, and plan to begin to implement one of your strategies each week for the next three weeks.

– Observe any changes in yourself and those around you. What do you notice? What would you like to do more of?

– Set aside 20 minutes, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea, and listen to a recent interview available on-line with Dr. Kim Cameron, world renowned leader in positive organizational leadership, and co-founder of the Center for Organizational Leadership at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

– Consider getting Cameron’s latest book, “Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance”; read it; share it and put it to good use.

References:

Cameron.K.S. (2008) Positive Leadership: Strategies for extraordinary performance, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Cameron.K.S. (2003) Organizational virtuousness and performance. In K.S.Cameron, J.E. Dutton, and R.E. Quinn (Eds.) Positive organizational scholarship (pp.48-65) San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004) Character strengths and virtues. New York: Oxford University Press

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