A positive psychology solution
If your future employer were to ask you: “Are
you a great worker?” What would your answer be? Chances are,
you would say something like: “Well, I think I am, because
I am very good in what I do and I am passionate about my work.”
But that sounds like the stock answer in a formal
job interview. The real great workers possess some special qualities
that set them apart from the merely good ones. The challenge is
how to identify these illusive attributes.
In today’s knowledge economy, human resources
are the most important assets, because great
people make great companies. Employers and human resources
are always looking for great employees to gain a competitive advantage.
Unfortunately, most bosses may not even recognize such valuable
workers in their employ, because they are misguided by myths.
Three common myths
The management literature perpetuates three
The talent myth
– Talent is overrated. Most employers look for talents, but
the best employees may not be the brightest or the most talented
ones. Genius often fails! The
highest scoring player in a sports team may be a liability rather
than an asset, if he destroys the team spirit in his quest for personal
glory. Similarly, the best sales manager may be so consumed by personal
ambition to the point of poisoning the entire sales team.
Talent alone does not make one a great employee.
The best workers have heart and character, even though they may
not have an abundance of talents; they flourish through team work
To evaluate employees, one needs to look at
not only their performance records, but also their impact on the
organization. From this broader view, even a journeyman can become
a great employee by improving the production process and the morale
of other workers.
The happiness myth
– Happiness is also overrated. The “dairy farm”
hypothesis posits that just as happy cows produce better milk, happy
workers produce better work. But this analogy can only go so far.
No company can survive, if it consistently yields to workers’
demands in order to keep them happy.
Csikszentmihaly’s “flow” theory
also has limited applications in the real world of work, because
there are always some uninteresting aspects to any kind of job.
What will happen to an organization, if all employees refuse to
do anything they don’t enjoy, so that they can maximize the
state of “flow”?
Generally, employees are hired for two reasons:
to get the job done for which they are hired and to help the company
succeed. Rarely are people hired so
that they can find happiness at work. Good managers are able
to strike a balance between task demands and job satisfaction.
The great workers are responsible, conscientious
and committed to the mission of the organization. They are willing
to make the personal sacrifices. They do not make the pursuit of
personal happiness their primary reason for working, but they derive
satisfaction from serving a higher purpose and fulfilling a calling.
The systems myth – Management
science tends to emphasize the importance of systems and processes.
Many experts, such as Edward Deming and Toyota, believe that great
systems will produce great workers and deliver excellent results.
Systems and processes are important, because
they can either motivate or de-motivate workers. A system of authoritarian
control spawns a culture of fear and compliance, while a system
of cultivating engagement creates a culture of confidence and commitment.
Ultimately human factor remains the key to success
and productivity. The best systems in the hands of bad manager will
not work, while the worst systems may still function adequately
when managed by great leaders. The Deming Management System, Toyota
Production System or any other management system will work only
when great managers hire the best people.
Systems per se do not produce great employees,
people do. All the important innovations and all the great ideas
for productivity are accomplished by people working together. Only
an elite work force can produce superior products and services.
The positive psychology solution
Contemporary research on positive psychology
and positive management has identified three essential components
for productivity and organizational success. More specifically,
Powerful performance = Positive leaders
+ Positive organizations + Positive workers. All three elements
need to be present in order to achieve optimal productivity. This
winning formula works anywhere, regardless of the nature or configuration
of the organization.
The positive psychology of leadership and management
originates from the deepest aspirations locked inside the human
soul. Many experts have recognized that people are wired to seek
meaning, community, responsibility and personal growth; managers
need to tap into these innate positive motivations (e.g., Alderfer,
Frankl, Herzberg, Maslow, McGregor, Pattakos, & Wong)*.
As a relatively young science, positive psychology
has much to offer to the business world. Recently, many psychologists
emphasize the need to develop social/ psychological capitals. More
specifically, they stress the positive psychology of meaning, spirituality,
strengths and virtues (e.g., Buckingham, Clifton, Dutton, Luthan,
Peterson, Rath, Seligman, & Wong)*
Positive leaders – What
makes a great leader will be the topic of my next essay. Suffice
to say that they are optimistic, inspirational, and competent. They
work with whatever they have to get the job done. They accentuate
the positive rather than the negative. They recognize and reward
their best workers rather than spend all their time putting out
fires. They firmly believe that the best way to grow a company is
through developing human resources. Therefore, they develop organizational
systems and practices that produce a great work force.
Positive systems – Positive
organizations provide an environment that attract, develop and retain
great workers. They focus on strengths and are free from toxic elements,
so that workers are motivated by love rather than fear. All hindrances
to productivity are removed from the systems in order to motivate
workers and unleash their creative potentials. Such systems are
characterized by transparency, accountability, cooperation and benevolence.
– Great workers are positive individuals. They are heroic,
resilient and resourceful. Even when the workplace is toxic and
oppressive, they refuse to adopt a victim mentality. They transcend
difficult situations and always find a way to achieve success. You
can always count on them to get the job done.
Great leaders and excellent systems can develop
positive workers into great workers, who exhibit the following attributes:
the right competencies, the right motivations, the right attitudes,
and added values
The four attributes of great workers
The right competencies
– Great workers have the right mix of strengths, aptitudes
and trainings for the position they hold. They constantly pursue
self-development in order to better adapt to technological or organizational
There are at least 9 important areas which are important for optimal
performance for most professions:
- Technical skills
directly required for your job
- Innate strengths
or natural endowment relevant to your profession
skills or a broad knowledge base related to your work
- Conceptual skills
or intellectual capacity necessary for analysis, synthesis or
- Relational skills
or emotional intelligence necessary for working with people
- Cultural competencies
and foreign language skills necessary for working with people
from other cultures
- Intuitive skills
important for making good decision in the absence of sufficient
or the ability for innovations necessary for improving the product
or the service
- Managerial or
leadership skills necessary for planning, decision making
and motivating others to get the job done
The right motivation
– People’s motivation for work is seldom pure. Many
people need to hold down a job they don’t really like because
they can’t find a better position to provide for their families.
Others consider each job as a stepping stone to advance their long-term
careers. For the fortunate few, work is fun, because they love what
they do and do what they love.
Great workers are passionate about their work
for the right reasons. They don’t work just for fun or money.
They align their personal interests and life goals with the mission
of their organization. They serve a higher purpose and fulfill a
They are psychologically engaged and committed
at work. The Gallup Organization has plenty of evidence to prove
that engaged workers make more money for the company, create loyal
customers, and make the work environment the best place to work.
The right attitude
– They have positive attitudes towards work, people and life
even when things are going tough. They accept the fact that something
always happens that is unexpected and unpleasant. They are flexible,
resourceful and optimistic to overcome whatever life throws at them.
They know how to turn every crisis into opportunity. They take an
optimistic and heroic stance when things are going badly.
– The great workers are great not only because of how well
they do their job, but also because of what they do beyond the call
of duty. They bring themselves – their love, faith, hope and
other virtues – to their work. They encourage and validate
others. They seek opportunities to help others succeed. Quietly
and behind the scene, they perform good deeds to enrich the lives
of other people. They make their bosses
look good and fellow workers feel good. They exude positive
energies and their joy is contagious. Their very presence uplifts
the spirit of others and attracts customers.
How to develop great workers
Many people began their careers aspiring to
achieve greatness, but become de-motivated and cynical because of
negative work experiences.
Great leaders and managers will provide the
necessary environment and training opportunities for workers to
acquire the above four attributes.
There is good news for you – all the above
attributes about great workers can be developed and acquired through
Many consultants and coaches provide trainings based on positive
psychology and positive management. Many universities, including
Tyndale University College, offer courses related to the development
of positive leaders, positive systems and positive workers.
The positive psychology solution can help revitalize
your organizations. You can be part of this positive evolution!
References availible here
Are You A Great
Here is a set of 21 questions to measure whether
you are a great worker, who provides added values to your organization.
Reflect on your answers and decide on how to improve yourself:
1. Do you consistently make the extra
effort to find better ways to improve your performance at work?
2. Do you dedicate some time to self improvement and self education?
3. Do you always do your best regardless of the circumstances?
4. In the last week, did you ever encourage someone at work, whether
it is your co-worker, supervisor or subordinate?
5. Do you often go beyond the call of duty to help someone in your
6. Have you ever used your power or position to make things difficult
for other workers?
7. Has anyone ever commented that you are such a positive person
or have a very positive influence at work?
8. Have you intentionally done something to make the work place
more pleasant and positive place to work?
9. Have you intentionally said something good about your co-worker
10. Have you take credits for the great ideas from others?
11. Have you ever used bureaucratic control to assert your power?
12. Do you accentuate the positive in every situation?
13. Are you generous in sharing information and other resources
14. Do you celebrate co-workers’ success?
15. Have you ever sabotaged co-workers to make sure that they do
not outshine you?
16. Do you love your work in spite of the negative sides?
17. Do you speak up with honesty and respect if senior management
plan to do something that may have a negative effect on morale and
18. Have you ever blamed others for your mistakes or poor performance?
19. Do you frequently provide suggestions to your superior on how
to improve the process and increase productivity?
20. Have you ever bad-mouthed your co-workers in order to make yourself
21. Do you do everything within your power to contribute to corporate
success, even when your efforts are not recognized or rewarded?