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3 Factors That Prevent Leaders From Creating Workplace Optimism


The following is a guest piece by Shawn Murphy.

For too long people have been taken for granted in the workplace. Leaders attempt to control, manage, dictate, coerce people to do what is needed. A people-centric approach to running a business is celebrated as an accomplishment in foreword-thinking organizations.

We need more leaders who motivate people to mobilize them to achieve great things for the company. It’s the latter scenario that best positions a leader to create workplace optimism.

Workplace optimism is a description for a climate that gives employees hope that good things will come from hard work. Optimistic workplaces emerge when leaders purposefully highlight what’s right with the environment and what’s possible when finding solutions to problems.

Employees don’t need to be optimists to appreciate workplace optimism. What makes such a positive environment effective is that it’s rooted in what unites us as humans: relatedness, purpose, goals, and even meaning.

Yet, many leaders are unaware of how the work environment influences employees’ perceptions of the workplace. And when relatedness, purpose and meaning are absent, workplace optimism struggles to emerge.

So, what snags leaders from creating workplace optimism? Below are a few symptoms, and their antidote, that you need to avoid if you want to create a positive work experience for your team.

Symptom 1: Blind Impact
You have the greatest influence and impact on your employees. It’s not the CEO or the senior leadership team. It’s you, the person with whom your team interacts with daily. So, to be unaware of how your actions, attitude, and words impact your team damages any chance for workplace optimism to surface.

Antidote to Symptom 1
First action you can take to mitigate blind impact, is to notice how people respond to your presence in meetings, when you walk into the room, and when having one-on-ones. Make note of the positive and the ineffective impacts.

Next, share your observations with a trusted colleague. Ask for their input. This may be difficult for your colleague. You will need to reassure your colleague that you are interested in all feedback and will not hold against him anything negative he shares. Spend time exploring what you can shift to have a (more) positive impact on your team.

Symptom 2: Constipated Inspiration
Like blind impact, constipated inspiration results from a lack of awareness. Leadership is about mobilizing people to want to achieve extraordinary results. From time to time, this requires inspiration. A leader who is unaware of when to be inspirational will struggle to motivate others during demanding times.

At the core of constipated inspiration is ignorance of personal values. When a leader knows what she stands for, she will have more awareness of who she is. Consequently, she has greater capacity for learning about what people on her team need to be inspired.

Antidote to Symptom 2
Take time to identify and define your values. Luck Companies has a great online tool and app that automates the process of identifying values. Spend time with the tool to learn what your values are. Most of us intuitively know our values. However, most of us haven’t listed them and defined them.

Symptom 3: Silo Syndrome
This syndrome affects a leader when he cannot see beyond his immediate responsibilities. Furthermore, silo syndrome blinds a leader to understanding how his actions impact others outside the silo.

Symptomatic with this syndrome is seeing employees as a role rather than individuals. When this happens, the leader sees the person as an analyst, for example, rather than the whole person. Seeing a person only as a role reinforces the silo: What you do helps me accomplish what I need. The leader’s perspective and understanding of what’s needed is limited to the silo and doesn’t expand beyond it.

Antidote to Symptom 3
Relationships have been and always will be the backbone to a business. So it’s key for leaders to network within their own department and outside. Furthermore, leaders need to establish relationships with others outside the company. Out-site, the art of bringing outside information into the team or organization, is a skill for today’s social leader.

In short, you need to network internally and externally. Develop relationships with people in your discipline and outside it.

Help your team understand how their work aligns to the bigger picture influencing their work. Don’t limit the ties to those within your team. Help them connect how their work impacts other teams or departments.

Creating workplace optimism is people-centric work. Your leadership shifts, in part, to learning how others perceive the work environment. This requires that you connect more with people and discuss how they experience work. While this is great for creating an energizing workplace, it’s also great for the company in terms of engagement, retention, creativity and innovation, and ultimately increased profits.

The three symptoms are curable. You need to merely decide to do something about them.

Shawn Murphy is a leadership writer, speaker, and CEO/Founder of Switch & Shift. Switch & Shift is a popular site advancing leaders’ understanding of human-centered leadership and business practices and a consultancy helping organizations transform to be more human. He has a weekly column at and has authored his first book, “The Optimistic Workplace” which is being released this week.

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