Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Hope: Wishful thinking or Goal planning?

MSNBC article titled
Reagan redux Like the Gipper, Obama offers hope — and wishful thinking compares President Obama with Ronald Reagan, the author went as far as coining a word for it “Reaganesque”. The concept of hope pervaded the analysis of President Obama's speech. The analysis questioned the feasibility of some of Obama's reform strategies, but likens this era to that of Ronald Reagan's reign. Reagan's optimism contributed to the improvement of the economy. Thus, even though the author questioned, he recognized the importance of hope and optimism in a crisis like this:

"Hope is who we are and what we do. We need to believe – indeed, the world needs to believe – that “We will emerge stronger than before.”

Hope and Optimism are two of several constructs of Positive Organizational Behavior that positive psychologist have studied. This school of thought believes that even though these constructs can be closely linked to a person's personality they can also be developed and can significantly improve performance.

What is hope?

According to psychologist C. Rick Synder hope is more than wishful thinking. It's about the will and the way. Hope involves the belief that goals can be set, ways of achieving them can be devised and one can motivate themselves to follow through. Thus, the truth in the adage: Where there is a will there is a way.' Research shows that hope has a positive impact on coping with challenges and illness, academic achievement and emotional health.

This is definitely a construct that managers should pay attention to with employees especially in this time. Synder offers some strategies that may help to develop hope such as:
  • Include employees in goal setting
  • Clarify goals, break down complex strategies in small steps
  • Develop action plans and pathways for achieving goals
  • Develop skill of regulating goals, so adjustments can be made where necessary in case of obstacles: thus avoiding false hope
President Obama has clearly done some of these things. It is important to note that a leader's level of hope is significantly related to the success and viability of their unit and satisfaction of employees. President Obama's hope surely has the potential of diffusing to the rest of the population and I have noted informally the positive results of this through daily conversations with people. It is also a good thing that he's hopeful as research as shown that people with hope in stressful professions become less burnt out and survive better.

My emphasis is on hope, but since optimism was also mentioned let me note that this also affects health and performance positively. Optimism can be developed as well by:
  • Identifying self defeating beliefs in challenges
  • Evaluate accuracy of belief
  • Replace with more accurate belief
How are your hope and optimism levels as an individual and within the organizations you are affiliated with?

What are your thoughts on the importance of hope and optimism?

What other constructs do you think are important?

: Luthans, F. (2002). Positive organization behavior: Developing and managing psychological strengths. Academy of Management Executive, 16, 57 -72.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Leadership trait or skill?

We’ve often heard astounding leaders being described as ‘born leaders’ or gifted. This topic is quiet relevant in light of the fairly recent inauguration of President Obama. In my Analysis of Educational Issues: Socio-cultural Perspectives class Obama came up in one of our class discussions; we were asked to discuss the predominant factors that led to his victory. The pro Obama students gave responses like: He is a gifted communicator; He involves the people in the decision making; He acknowledges that he is human and gauges the expectations of the public accordingly; his policies are sound. These responses highlight some important skills that a leader must have, the ability to communicate the vision; ability to motivate people; ability to analyze problems, look ahead and devise effective strategies. The big question is do these things come naturally or are there a set of skills that can be learned?

One of the required text for my class “Leadership Theory and Practice” by examines the Skills Approach in Chapter 3. (Yeh, I can tell that I am back at school...referencing all these books and classes )

What does the skill’s approach purport?
  • Leadership involves skills and knowledge that can be learned and is not just based on inherent gifts and attribute.
  • They define Leadership Skills as “The ability to use one’s knowledge and competencies to accomplish a set of goals or objectives.”

Robert Katz is one of the early adopters of the Skills approach to leadership and he proposed a 3 skill approach model, outlined below.

Robert Katz 3 Skill Approach
  • 3 foundation skills are necessary for effective administration
  • The three skills can be summed up as Technical skills: Competence in the skills and knowledge of the content area of the job, Human Skills: knowledge and ability to work with people and Conceptual Skill: Ability to work with ideas, conceptualize the vision of an organization.
  • The type of skill and intensity that is needed varies according to Management level (Top, Middle and Supervisory management) (See Fig 2 below).
  • More information on Katz model

(Fig. 1 Summary of 3 skill approach double click to see larger image)

(Fig 2: Katz 3 Skill Approach based on management level)

Is leadership as clear cut as this approach puts it? How does this approach stand when you think of the Gallup strengths-based findings, which emphasize that we all have strengths and we perform better in capacities that utilize our strengths? In addition, they assert that our time is better spent building on our strengths than our weaknesses. I say this to question if some of these traits that can be learned as proposed by Katz aren’t based on individual inherent strengths. Can everyone be a leader if trained? What are your views and experiences?

In my next blog post I will discuss five components that some other psychologists (Mumford et al) of the Skills Approach school of thought proposed.