Monthly Archives: July 2012

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.
Share on Facebook

Lessons From the Culture of Penn State

This blog post has been difficult for me to write given the despicable nature of the crimes committed by Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky at Pennsylvania State University. Most of you know that he was convicted on June 22, 2012 on 45 counts of criminal charges for his sexual exploitation of young men at Penn State.

Levels of Culture

I feel there are valuable culture lessons for all leaders in the sordid action by Penn State administrators following each exposure of Sandusky’s activities. As the Freeh special investigation report states, “One of the most challenging of the tasks confronting the Penn State community is transforming the culture that permitted Sandusky’s behavior, as illustrated throughout this report, and which directly contributed to the failure of Penn State’s most powerful leaders to adequately report and respond to the actions of a serial sexual predator.”

The most poignant example of the role the Penn State culture played in the continued cover-up of Sandusky’s activities is that of two janitors who had witnessed Sandusky engaged in an act with a victim. They both felt that they would be fired if they reported this activity given the untouchable status of the Penn State football program. Assumptions such as this are at the core of organizational culture.

I’ve been working with several organizations on their culture recently and find the model developed by Edgar Schein to be very useful. This model looks at organizational cultures from three levels: artifacts, values, and basic underlying assumptions. In the case of the Penn State example I highlighted above, we can easily identify the elements. The janitors assumed they would be fired because the university valued the football program above all else, stating, “football runs this University.” Artifacts supporting this were previous incidents where football players were treated leniently when involved in altercations which would have otherwise suspended them from the football program.

So I think this is an excellent example to learn from so that you can become more aware of the culture you have created for your team. If you wish to assess your team’s culture you can begin by asking the values they perceive and why they have that perception. Sometimes it is difficult to get a true reading from team members and it takes an independent third party for this analysis. An even more difficult task may be to pry out the underlying assumptions related to the values. One of the questions I like in order to determine assumptions is, “What are some actions which may affect your employment here over the short or long term?”

Cultural values are frequently communicated through stories of past actions and experiences. These stories are the artifacts present in all organizations. If you choose to change your culture, behave consistently with the new culture and continually communicate events, experiences, and behaviors by team members exemplifying the new values. These new artifacts will go a long way toward spotlighting the new direction you would like to head.


  • Look at the organizational artifacts you create each and every day
  • Find out from your team members the values they perceive
  • Dig deep to determine the underlying assumptions your team members believe
  • Create and communicate new artifacts to promote the culture changes you desire

Keywords: leadership, culture


  • Denison, D. R. (2000). Organizational culture: Can it be a key lever for driving organizational change? In S. Cartwright & C. Cooper (Eds.), The Handbook of Organizational Culture. London: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, LLP. (2012). Report of the special investigative counsel regarding the actions of the Pennsylvania State University related to the child sexual abuse committed by Gerald A. Sandusky. Retrieved from
  • Hofstede, G. (1983). The Cultural Relativity of Organizational Practices and Theories. Journal of International Business Studies, 14(2), 75–89.
  • Javidan, M., Dorfman, P. W., Luque, M. S., & House, R. J. (2006). In the Eye of the Beholder: Cross Cultural Lessons in Leadership from Project GLOBE. The Academy of Management Perspectives, 20(1), 67–90.
  • Quinn, R. E. (1984). Applying the competing values approach to leadership: Toward an integrative framework. In J. G. Hunt, D. M. Hosking, C. A. Schriesheim, & R. Stewart (Eds.), Leaders and managers: International perspectives on managerial behavior and leadership (pp. 10–27). New York: Pergamon Press.
  • Schein, E. H. (1990). Organizational culture. American Psychologist, 45(2), 109–119.
Share on Facebook

A Tale of Two Leaders: Authentic Leadership

Today I’d like to illustrate a few points with a story that plays out in many variations in countless organizations across the globe.

Brad is a hard-working, creative project leader at Vector Software. He and his team have identified a new method of discovering devices on their networks, called NU for Network Ubiquity. This will greatly simplify and shorten their installation process. Unfortunately the state of the economy prevents them from fully developing and integrating the technology in their software product.


The following year Andy, a peer project leader is able to make a case for a significant amount of funding for the next release of their software. He realizes the value of NU technology and instructs his team to develop and implement it.

While Andy and his group do not take credit for inventing the technology, nevertheless, Brad is furious. He feels that his group, as the inventors of the technology, should have been given the task of completing the development. He and his team take issue with the technology and begin to assert that it has many drawbacks and should not be implemented under any circumstances.

As we stand and view this scenario from a distance we can see two unfortunate behaviors Brad is exhibiting. First, he is allowing his ego to take control. He feels that he and his team deserve to bring the product to market since they were the inventors. Secondly, he turns away from what he believes deep down, that NU technology is beneficial to the product and organization.

How do you think others will view Brad at this point? When he speaks how will they know if he really believes in what he is saying? Will he change his tune again next week?

Alternatively, Brad and his team could have felt honored that their technology was being adopted and have offered to help in any way they could. While he may feel that Andy and his team end up looking like heros because they were the ones to implement the technology, those in the know would remember both where it came from and Brad’s response to the situation. In the long run Brad’s stature would rise along with Andy’s.

I understand that in many organizations where competitiveness is promoted that Andy could wear his achievement on his shirt sleeves and use it to move ahead of Brad. Such cultures breed leaders who work to promote themselves rather than build great products. The ultimate result is mediocrity and loss of true high performers who choose to work elsewhere. In such a case Brad should ensure his leaders remember who the inventors of NU technology were and allow Andy to gain points for bringing it to market. No matter how toxic the culture is, unless Brad remains true to his values, he will lose credibility and find it harder to recruit and lead high performing team members.


  • Observe yourself to see if your ego is controlling your actions
  • Remain true and authentic in your beliefs and actions

Keywords: leadership, authentic, collaboration

Share on Facebook