Films, and islands, and drones! Oh my! Leading amid chaos

Over the last week protests and riots have erupted in a swath across the globe from Tunisia to China. The two flash points have been the display of an Arabic version of a trailer for the movie Innocence of Muslims and the sale of the disputed Senkaku islands in the East China Sea.

Senkaku Islands

The Innocence of Muslims is an overdubbed, poorly crafted film which sadly portrays the prophet Muhammad as a fool, a fake, and a womanizer. While individuals in the western world may find the film repugnant, they also understand the value of freedom of expression. Those of us raised in a culture where freedom of expression is appreciated can easily shrug off such poor attempts at inciting strong religious emotions.

However, in cultures where the Muslim faith is regarded more seriously—and freedom of expression is not necessarily so highly valued, at least on religious topics—it may be felt that protests are in order. Unfortunately, for individuals waiting for an excuse to protest and riot, faster than a speeding drone, they’ll be on the bandwagon.

The Senkaku islands (Diaoyudao in Chinese) have been in dispute between China and Japan ever since oil was discovered in 1968 under their surrounding seas. The government of Japan recently purchased the islands from a private Japanese family and this action has inflamed both the Chinese government and citizens. Two factors are likely in play, the desire for the oil resources and a continued resentment against the Japanese for the atrocities committed in China between 1931 and 1945.

So let’s bring this back into the world of leadership we live in every day. I find an analog for these global events to be situations where the entire team or organization is working from a morale deficit. These may be situations where massive layoffs or a traumatic incident has taken place. In such cases there are three things you can do—allow a period of grief and bring closure to the past, motivate the team toward the common goal, and keep the focus moving forward.

As humans we find it comforting to acknowledge our grief and to apply ritual to bring closure to unfortunate events. All cultures I know of, including primitive cultures, perform a ritual for the loss of a tribe or family member. And so it should be for your situation. Acknowledge the loss, discuss it and decide what you need to do to put it to rest. Then move on.

Focusing on a common goal can work to motivate the team as well as bring the focus away from internal pain. The parallel to this is the way savvy and despotic leaders of countries have used the ploy of attacking an outside enemy in order to deflect the spotlight. Working toward the common goal is a motivational tool all leaders should utilize.

Lastly, the universe is a forward-moving energy which never slows or ceases. Feel that energy and use your creativity to make it palpable to all team members. Work to get them on the bus and for the bus to move relentlessly forward.

There is no time to wallow in the past. Moments may arise where we as leaders must encourage a team member or two to make a decision—remain stuck in the past or move forward with the team. In my view it’s an easy decision. Let’s hop on the bus and get moving!


  • Acknowledge the loss or trauma and bring it to closure
  • Focus on the common goal
  • Keep the energy and focus on moving forward

Keywords: leadership, trauma, grief, protests, riots, Innocence of Muslims, Senkaku islands, Diaoyudao islands, ritual, energy

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Just Say No to Negativity

I frequently encounter leaders who simply tell their team members what to do and then expect them to do it and be happy. These aren’t always older folks, either, and their comments are generally more negative than positive.

Positivity Ratio

Research has shown that the ratio of your positive versus negative comments has a profound effect on your team’s performance. It’s called the positivity ratio. Marcial Losada and Emily Heaphy reviewed data from comments made during meetings among 60 strategic business unit management teams in a major corporation. The comments were coded as either negative or positive. The high performing teams had a positivity ratio over ten times higher than the low performing teams.

Positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson continued the work with Dr. Losada and reviewed additional data from other sources. Their conclusion was that a ratio of positive to negative comments of 2.9 was a tipping point, above which teams would flourish. Below this they may languish. Granted this isn’t the only factor in a successful team, but I believe that it is a powerful indicator of team climate and leadership style.

If you think about positive comments for a moment, I believe that you will discover how open and expansive a climate they create. When you tell someone you like what they’ve done, they will think they should do more of it. A positive comment is forward-moving energy.

Likewise, a negative comment stops the flow of energy and can stifle creativity, innovation, and forward movement. Negative comments also create a poor work environment, leading to high turnover and low team performance.

As you would expect, there can be too much of a good thing. Fredrickson and Losada found that when the positivity ratio began to exceed about 11 the benefits began to disintegrate. This is to be expected, of course, since appropriate negativity is sometimes required to guide your team.

Sometimes leaders have a team member who can’t seem to do anything right. Take it as a challenge to catch them doing something right and provide positive praise at that moment.

An excellent exercise is to observe yourself during your work day and make a list of tick marks for positive and negative comments you make. This will also help you become more mindful.

When you are in meetings observe people’s reactions when positive and negative comments are made. Observe how the dynamics of the group change with positive and negative comments. All of these tools will help you become more mindful, and as a result a better leader.


  • Observe your comments each day. Keep a small notebook or piece of paper with you and make a small tick mark when you find yourself making a positive or negative comment
  • Observe your team member’s reactions to positive and negative comments
  • Observe your team dynamics when positive and negative comments are made

Keywords: leadership, positive psychology, mindfulness, Losada line, positivity ratio


  • Cameron, K., Mora, C., Leutscher, T., & Calarco, M. (2011). Effects of positive practices on organizational effectiveness. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 47(3), 266-308.
  • Fredrickson, B. L., & Losada, M. F. (2005). Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7), 678–686.
  • Losada, M. (1999). The complex dynamics of high performance teams. Mathematical and Computer Modelling, 30(9), 179-192.
  • Losada, M., & Heaphy, E. (2004). The role of positivity and connectivity in the performance of business teams. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 740-765.
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Is Your Leadership Energy in Balance?

One of the angles from which I approach leadership and team development is that of energy. Viewing all interactions with others in an energetic sense is merely one of many views available. It is similar to wearing polarized sunglasses. When wearing glasses with polarized lenses, unless you turn your head at the right angle you cannot always see the electronic display on some instruments.

In an analogous fashion, if you work to attune your awareness you can begin to follow the flow of energy between you and your team members. I believe that it is important to balance the flow of energy in both directions—away from you and toward you.

It is clearly important that, as a leader, you are able to communicate your vision and provide guidance. This is energy flowing away from you. Similarly, it is important for you to listen and gather information and ideas from your team members as well as your superiors. This is energy flowing toward you.

Body language is an important part of our communication. You might consider trying to observe your body language as you interact with your team members. Do you appear open, or overbearing? Is your body language congruent with what you speak? When your body language indicates strength or force you are sending energy out, when your body appears open you are saying, in effect, that it is OK for the other person to speak and send energy your way.

Finally, where do your exchanges take place? Always in your office or a conference room? How often do you go to your team member’s desk? In general, your office will be perceived as a place of power, a place where the energy will flow from you. When you go to your team member’s office it is more a signal of energy flowing to you, although any actions on your part may thwart that flow and reverse it.

Balancing this flow of energy is difficult to maintain, particularly when leading virtual teams. As with most things, practice helps. Observe yourself as you interact with team members and superiors. After a while it will likely become second nature.

Observe energy flow:

  • During verbal exchanges
  • With team members and superiors
  • In different locations
  • With body language
  • Of information and ideas

Keywords: leadership, balance, energy, flow, trust


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