Positive Leadership and SustainabilityMay 12, 2011 Leave a comment
A couple of weeks ago I was an enthusiastic participant in our sister organization Interaction Associate’s most recent offering in their LeaderLens webinar series. The featured presenter was Erik Gregory, a specialist in positive psychology. With roots in the theories and practices of Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Erich Fromm, positive psychology focuses on the study of human strength and virtue, rather than pathology. This includes looking at what explains resiliency, courage, optimism, and hope, even in the most daunting of circumstances.
Erik was asked by the host to talk more about the application of positive leadership to the life of organizations. This spurred some mention of what he sees as the qualities of a healthy organization, towards which positive leadership aspires:
- Abundant opportunities for feedback based on performance, not personality
- Matching challenges and skills
- Space created for concentration/focus
- Clear and shared organizational goals
I then asked a follow up question about the connection between positive leadership and sustainability, to which Erik responded that the qualities of a healthy organization are also those that encourage more adaptive responses. This resonated with me. Something I’ve come to understand through my own gleanings of positive psychology, mainly through the writings of Jonathan Haidt, is that deep contentment is predicated upon some combination of connection to/intimacy with others, a feeling of purpose that stems from being a part of something larger than one’s self, and generativity. It strikes me that these three elements, if fleshed out in certain ways, do align nicely with sound “ecological” practice.
For example, systems ecology talks about the process of “co-evolution” as being critical to species adaptation/ survival and ultimate thriving through coordinated cooperation once different species have found their respective niches. Leadership that focuses on helping individual elements find a purpose/niche and sense of connection to a larger whole are on their way to creating solid ground for sustainability. The missing link is around “generativity” or what I might more appropriately call “re-generativity.” It is not enough to simply be creative, to churn out “stuff,” but to have a larger sense of how that stuff connects to and coordinates with the larger whole. This is in line with William McDonough’s “cradle to cradle” concept, or Permaculture.
What I find particularly exciting is that this aligns with what my colleague Ashley Welch and I have been positing as the foundation of a leadership model for sustainability that combines focus on personal awareness, collaborative skill, and systems thinking, with a grounding in eco-literacy. My intention is to continue to flesh out this model, and I am very interested to hear readers’ reactions to this link between positivity and sustainability.