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Sustaining ourselves through difficult times – get new energy here!

Recently I have noticed a range of conflicting feelings and emotions, as the cuts to our public services deepen and the future for them looks anything but bright.

On one side, I have been increasingly troubled by the continuing and brutalising effects of the resource cuts to public and voluntary services, along with the associated anti-public sector messaging that goes with them.

On the other hand, I read so many energising pieces about great leadership, well handled change and innovative organisational development in those services, that daily I find great ideas, succour and important sources of energy, the fund of which leaders in the public and voluntary sectors I’m sure find depleted yet capable of significant stretch.

As a leader I never took it to be the case, nor now assume it, that those funds of energy were or are inexhaustible however. They need to be refreshed and renewed. Yet how? I believe very strongly that there are numerous practical and straightforward ways of adding to those energy funds to ensure that leaders can lead others effectively at the times of greatest challenge.

So, where are some energy sources that might provide leaders with a  repertoire of responses to the challenges they face and enable their followers to see them as engaged, alert and committed – however brutal, dogmatic and oftentimes inequitable some of the challenges are? How about the following sources? The clarity and simplicity of the theories, ideas and actions means they are accessible, usable and effective.

First, I look to Barbara Fredrickson, who writes and speaks so wonderfully about the change to our mindsets brought about by positive emotions. In particular, she cites the evidence that positive emotions, e.g. joy, gratitude, interest, hope, love and so on, are not simply intrinsically good in and of themselves in the moment, but they also have the potential to broaden and build our repertoire of future responses to challenge.

Fredrickson suggests that the more we experience, demonstrate and encourage positive emotions, the broader our repertoire of behaviours and emotional tools becomes and I would add, the stronger we will be in confronting deep change and the better our potential as leaders to assist others to cope with change.

To concentrate on problems and negative emotions somehow reduces us, both in the moment and over the longer term. Negative emotions such as anger, guilt, hate and so on, are not only intrinsically enervating, they have been found to narrow our repertoire of future responses (hence my inner conflict mentioned above and my desire to avoid slipping into these negative emotional responses).

Hear more from Barbara Fredrickson about positivity here…

Second,  I’ve come across something called “encouraging leadership” on the Lead Change Linked-in Group. To put this into context, I heard recently from a colleague trustee on the Board of a charity providing support and homes for people with learning disabilities, that in her job as a consultant in the public sector commissioning field, she was observing the “brutalising” effects of the resource cuts on managers. She had observed that they were starting to lose compassion for their peers and their teams as the cuts have gone deep and seem to be of an almost irreversible nature. When I heard this, I was unsurprised yet also motivated to go and find ways that might offer leaders and managers methods to counter some of the brutalising effects of the cuts and changes to social and welfare policy.

Amongst several sources, I found the following short piece. It uses positive terms and suggests simple techniques that whilst many know of their efficacy, they at times fail to consistently apply, due perhaps to a leadership ‘blindness’ that organisational tension and resource pressures can bring.

The piece starts with a quote, “people go farther than they thought they could when someone else thinks they can” and goes on to tell us that by being encouraging, we can inspire others, providing them with courage and hope (one of the positivity emotions Barbara Fredrickson speaks to).

I recommend that we acquaint ourselves, or perhaps re-acquaint ourselves in these tough times, with these ‘encouraging’ techniques, adding them consistently to our leadership repertoires.

Read more here…

And finally, in this brief attempt to refresh your energy levels, I’d like to introduce you to ways to bring both positivity and encouraging leadership into your workplace through positive psychology.

Sarah Lewis, one of our UK appreciative inquiry network members and The Open Channel colleague, has written widely on this subject and the link below will take you to some of the highest leveraging and easy to implement ideas for your teams. In fact, these are some of the approaches that answer the question, “what’s the smallest thing you can do that will have the most impact”; a favourite question of mine to executive coachees looking to achieve positive change in their organisations.

Let Sarah be your guide…

Just re-reading these sources has altered my mindset already. I feel revived and a little more hopeful.

Whatever the iniquities of the changes being visited upon the public realm, and there are many, we need to support our public and voluntary service leaders. Leaders who need to refresh their energy levels; leaders who focus on their own strengths and on those of their colleagues and who lead in encouraging ways, using positivity and positive psychology.




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Steve Lorraine