It feels as if cynicism has been elevated to an art of living in Flanders. Constantly expressing criticism and raising potential problems are not unfamiliar to us. Nevertheless, this widespread attitude is not completely harmless. Individuals, society and organisations are under permanent pressure and approaching situations with a cynical attitude just doesn’t do the trick anymore. We have to focus on the positive side. This article investigates the importance of a positive focus and how to bring it about sustainably.
People and organisations: the challenge
Once again savings in education’, ‘Hundreds of pharmacies threatened by bankruptcy’, ‘Europe threatens to reject Belgium’s budget’, ‘China warns Trump for a trade war’…headlines on a sombreday suggest dark times1.
Nevertheless, this is certainly not the first time we have beenconfronted with such problems. History shows that often we have been able to tackle many, if not most, of the very important difficulties2.
Unfortunately this time we do not seem to be able to keep our positive focus and, the ability to translate problems into opportunities3 so Increasingly so both at work and at home people have a hard time trying to avoid a downward spiral.
It is hardly surprising that a growing group of professionals are affected by burn-out. The main symptoms being exhaustion, cynicism, indifference and ineffectiveness4. Almost two out of three Belgian employees experience more stress at work and for 25 percent of employees this stress results in physical and psychological health problems5. This represents a huge challenge to any organisation. Firstly this situation is diametrically opposed to asking employees for more engagement, more agility and a longer service life. Secondly we want to solve everything quickly and treat the symptoms, instead of practicing the necessary prevention.
Looking at it from that perspective, the popular assumption that happy people at work are healthy people seems debatable, even though organisations put a lot of emphasis on seminars on ‘happiness at work’. It’s precisely for that reason that ‘Evidence Based Management’ calls for a more funded and varied approach of these complex challenges. This can be done by integrating science and best practices6. Unfortunately the distribution of this information remains somewhat limited.
A similar challenge transcends the professional environment and concerns our entire society. No less than 350 million people worldwide7 suffer from some kind of depression. Therefore, depression is the main cause of personal barriers worldwide. At the same time society expects every single individual to contribute actively to today’s socio-economical challenges. Sadly, preventive treatments such as cultivating a positive mindset and boosting mental capacities8 receive less attention than the treatment of symptoms, even though prevention is more effective than cure This conclusion was one of the most important reasons for creating positive psychology, working scientifically on factors enabling people to handle the challenges they face9. In spite of the good results, translation of these evidence based insights to our education, our families and society is still missing in this field.
It is high time indeed to answer the demand for more positive focus with an integrated and fundamental approach (1), one that starts from the opportunity (prevention), more than just the problem or the treatment of symptoms (2).
More positive focus: a two-level approach
If we want to hit the streets with positive focus, we first have to deal with the artificial distinction between a person in private and that same person as a professional. We have to accept the fact that there cannot be an artificial distinction, neither between professional and private life, nor between the challenges arising from these two worlds10. An interdependence exists between who we are, what we want and what we need as human beings11. We all aim for well-being, both personally and professionally. We want to have a feeling of contribution, of undertaking autonomous action, of being able to realise things and have positive relationships with others. That’s what is called psychological well-being12. Additionally, we wish to combine this with social well-being. We want to contribute to and be a part of a greater picture. This is called social well-being13.
In the first StreetwiZe book, the logic that got us to the ‘street skills’ was based on a combination of both social and psychological well-being. We defined positive focus as the capacity to consciously choose an opportunity focus, by using universally deployable competencies14. As such, choosing a positive focus means opting for an integrated approach, based on the vision that each individual claims personal and social well-being. This pursuit is not limited to either professional or private life.
The second challenge we will have to deal with in aiming for more positive focus is the ‘wait and see’-attitude of a lot of organisations and society. Research shows that a proactive implementation of corporate governance leads to better results. This system not only influences the way organisations are managed, but also determines how they initiate healthy relationships with stakeholders. Unfortunately, many organisations realise too late just how important corporate governance actually is15.
It is now clear that a climate of social and individual well-being creates the possibility to prevent problems and take full advantage of opportunities16. The demand for more pro-active employees became a popular research subject17, resulting in measurable characteristics18. Even for organisations a proactive approach is still a must; appropriate prerequisites should be created for employees. The same can be observed in society: there is a high demand for more creativity, but we only start thinking about it when confronted with a lack of it. At the basis, in education, too little attention is paid to developing essential creative competencies (such as experimenting) and the system holds on to a blind belief in cognitive knowledge transfer19.
If we look at positive focus as aiming for psychological and social well-being, it seems hardly desirable, or even possible, to expect organisations and governments alone to resolve current issues. It is a shared responsibility for each of us, and we should start right now.
Conclusion: more positive focus equals more leadership
Summary: a positive focus is essential to collectively tackle the problems individuals, organisations and society face. In doing so, it is important to consider these different worlds as a whole; one cannot exist without the other. This arises from the finding that a positive focus goes hand in hand with reaching for more social and psychological well-being. That’s why we should pro-actively aim for positivism and create the necessary prerequisites in an integrated manner, on an individual level but also on the level of organisations and society.
It is crystal clear that we urgently need people to initiate and feed social and psychological well-being, to make positive focus come true. The latter can be called responsible management or citizenship. At StreetwiZe, we call it good leadership20!
1In Volgorde op 16-112016, De Morgen, Het Laatste Nieuws, De Standaard, De Tijd
2Anseel, F. (2016). De verdoemde generatie. De Tijd, 04-06-2016.
3Raskin A. (2016), StreetwiZe: Lessen van straatkinderen voor de manager van vandaag, LannooCampus, 124-125.
4Valcour M. (2016). Beating Burnout, Harvard Business Review, November, p. 98-101
5Securex (2015). Whitepaper Stress & Burnout, p. 14.
6Barends, E., Rousseau, O.M., & Briner, R.B. (2014). Evidence-Based Management: The Basic Principles. ISBN 9789462285057. Amsterdam
8Snyder, C. R., Feldman, D. B., Taylor, J. D., Schroeder, L. L., &Adams, V. (2000). The roles of hopeful thinking in preventing problems and enhancing strengths. Applied & Preventive Psychology: Current Scientiﬁc Perspectives, 15, 262–295.
9Seligman, M., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14.
10Begley, T. A., & Czajka, J. M. (1993). Panel analysis of the moderating effects of commitment on job satisfaction, intent to quit, and health following organizational change. Journal of Applied Psychology, 78, 552–556.
11Hart, P. M. (1999). Predicting employee life satisfaction: A coherent model of personality, work and non-work experiences, and domain satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, 564–584.
12Bryant, F. B., & Veroff, J. (1982). The structure of psychological well-being: A sociohistorical analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 653–673
13Keyes, C. (1998). Social Well-Being, Social Psychology Quarterly. Vol. 61, 2, 121-140
14Raskin A. (2016), infra
15Todorovic, I. (2013). The impact of corporate governance on performance of companies, Montenegrin Journal of Economics, Vol. 9, 2, 47-53.
16Seppala, E., Cameron, D. (2015). Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive, Harvard Business Review, Digital Article.
17Bateman, T. S., &Crant, J. M. (1993). The proactive component of organizational behavior: A measure and correlates. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 14, 103–118.
18Grant, J.M. (1995). The Proactive Personality Scale and objective job performance among real estate agents. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 80, 4, 532-537.
19DeHaan, R.L.. (2009). Teaching Creativity and Inventive Problem Solving in Science. CBE Life Sci Educ, Vol. 8, 3, 172–181.
20In a following article we will elaborate practical translation of StreetwiZe leadership.