By TA News Bureau:

Being the son of a well-known psychologist, Dr Robert Biswas-Diener might have been influenced by his father to study positive psychology. Over the years of academic work, research, corporate consultancy and CEO coaching, He has discovered many trends that can enhance business competitiveness. Today, his advice is being sought by professionals from 22 countries on six continents. He encourages his clients to turn the practical application of positive psychology to the workplace and to professional development. He is called the “Indiana Jones of positive psychology.” He has counselled corporate honchos, turned procrastinators into dynamic engines of positive power who could metamorphosis companies into profit centres. Among his books are New York Times bestsellers The Upside of Your Dark Side, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth and The Courage Quotient. Besides being a speaker, trainer and coach, he sits on the editorial boards of the Journal of Happiness Studies and Journal of Positive Psychology. He is also co-founder of The Strengths Project, a charity whose mission is to help underprivileged individuals and groups realise their strengths to improve the quality of life and build on their life circumstances. In the following interview to Tyre Asia, he speaks on discovering people’s inherent potential by developing their strengths. There is more mileage to be had in developing positive qualities than trying to overcome weaknesses. Excerpts from the interview

What is positive psychology and how it can be leveraged by CEOs to run successful companies?

Positive psychology is the study of positive topics such as effective teamwork, meaningful work, resilience, and optimism. Some sceptics worry that positive psychology is naive. Sophisticated scientists and practitioners, however, never argue for an exclusive focus on the positive. Rather, we encourage looking at the positive in addition to problems and weaknesses. There is mounting research evidence suggesting that managing strengths increases engagement and productivity. In addition, happy workers are healthier, and less likely to take sick days. Creating on-boarding and performance management practices that emphasise strengths can benefit the organisation.

In a hyper competitive global business environment, where cut-throat competition often breaches publically and legally accepted corporate ethical norms and practices, how can CEOs re-engineer their organisations into socially responsible entities that evoke popular respect and admiration and enhance their product brand values?

Corporations have long attended to a set of values. Unfortunately, leadership does not always take the time to test these values among employees or to help employees anchor their personal values. When workers worry more about quotas and deadlines than they do about quality work and impact it can be problematic. I believe an authentic investment in meaningful work and a focus on the true contribution of the worker and of the organisation must come from leadership.

How can CEOs address negativism among employees and turn it into positivism without using the ‘opiate’ of monetary/material incentive that may not be a long lasting solution to the enterprise’s problems?

Employees have the right to feel negatively. In fact, negative feelings can provide critical information about policies and procedures that are sub-optimal. That said organisations need to be wary of creating cultures of complaint. Corporate culture is difficult to establish but it is worth investing in. Creating trusting and supportive environments where workers feel valued, autonomous, and have opportunities to grow can lead to better retention. Interestingly, this is not industry-specific. Companies from industries such as mining, power, and reception services have all implemented happiness at work programmes. Many of these include small policies such as “promote from within” or providing coaching to people at all levels of the organisation. Others include mechanisms for employees to thank one another for moments of special support.

Actionable strategies

At a time when talent hunting is a global problem among HR professionals, what kind of advice will you give them based on your extensive research in spotting, recruiting and retaining talent in a company?

I think leaders need to consider their own private view of talent. Is it something innate, like Mozart’s musical ability? Or is it something that can be developed? Perhaps not in everyone, but in many people. Increasingly, research on strengths suggests that people can develop their strengths, and that there is more mileage to be had in developing positive qualities than trying to overcome weaknesses. There are a number of case studies that suggest that companies who focus on strengths rather than competencies do well. However, companies which hire on the basis of strength must also manage performance-based on strength. Workers hate it when they are promised a strength focus in interviews but it never materialises at the office or on the factory floor.

Your research and publications are admired for their actionable and practical values. You have dwelt with corporate values, positive diagnosis, reappraisal of policies and re-framing of strategies for personal happiness and building better company bottom lines. However, how can board-supervised CEOs execute plans successfully as they want?

Boards are just a source of oversight. At their best, they are a sounding board and at their worst they can hobble leaders. If a leader feels that she or he needs to get board approval for a new set of policies, I think this can be beneficial. It is incumbent upon that leader to marshal the best possible case for their proposed changes. Where happiness programmes are concerned this would mean turning to expert research literature and case studies rather than trying to sell the board on inspiration or emotion.

Your research reveals that courage is more about managing fear than not feeling it, and that courage can be learned. Please explain how this concept could be adopted by CEOs to run firms where employees will be a happy lot working cohesively?

People are often surprised to hear that in one study executives were more courageous than were first responders such as police officers or fire fighters. On reflection, this makes sense. An INSEAD survey of executives reveals that making decisions under conditions of uncertainty is widely seen as a core leadership competency. The ability to act even in intimidating circumstances is exactly what courage is all about. Many leaders privately wrestle with the confidence to face risk in this way. Working with a coach to develop this capacity— to accept the fact that they are, in fact, courageous— can help leaders make tough decisions.

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