An old friend read a blog entry about positive leadership. He agreed in principle with the overall point, but he expressed a concern about the “rich-get-richer economic system.” He asked an important question: “As U.S. business school students around the country learn more about positive organizational science this fall, will they break out of the vicious cycle of self-interested economic systems or replicate them?”
This is an important question. A fundamental assumption of the social sciences is that “macro determines micro.” The culture determines what people do. With this assumption in mind, the answer is gloomy. If all the students do is learn about positive organizational science, they will replicate the self-interested economic systems.
The positive lens raises an unconventional question. When does micro determine macro? When do individuals consciously create culture?
The answer is when they engage in deep learning and ask fundamental questions of identity and destiny. When they do, they transform. The conventional, reactive, managerial mentality becomes a leadership mentality. A leader is still a manager who preserves culture but also has the capacity to create culture.
We go back to the original question. The answer remains: if all the students do is learn about positive organizational science, they will replicate the self-interested economic systems. If, on the other hand, they internalize the principles of positive organizational science, they will become critical thinkers practicing intelligent optimism. They will behave in new ways and they will begin to empower themselves and empower others. They will build systems where the self-interest and the common purpose are one.
This means that the students will not change the world if their professors believe that teaching is occupying a position of authority and distributing expertise. It will only happen if their teachers believe that teaching is a process of empowerment that requires reaching the head and heart by bring the head and heart to the task. This, of course, directly translates to organizations. Managers who are not leaders will have subordinates who are not leaders and they will create a culture of self-interest. Leaders will have subordinates who are transformational leaders.
- Do I replicate the self-interest that surrounds me?
- Am I creating a positive culture?
- Are my direct reports leaders?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?