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Positive Psychology, Strengths, and Leadership

Positive Psychology, Strengths, and LeadershipI first encountered Martin Seligman’s work on the power of optimism in the mid eighties. I’ve been an avid reader of his research and groundbreaking work ever since. When he was president of the American Psychology Association in 1998, he founded the Positive Psychology movement. Last July, I attended the first Canadian conference on Positive Psychology as a member of the Canadian association sponsoring it. Hundreds of us heard about the huge amount of powerful research now emerging for this rapidly growing field.

Almost ten years ago I reviewed Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. An opening quote I cited then resonates even more now:

“I do not believe that you should devote overly much effort to correcting your weaknesses. Rather; I believe that the highest success in living and the deepest emotional satisfaction comes from building and using your strengths.”

If you’ve been reading my blog posts or The Leader Letter  for the last few years, you know I’ve enthusiastically reviewed Martin’s latest book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well Being, as well as Barbara Frederickson’s Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. My newsletters and blogs have had dozens of citations and quotes from these and other Positive Psychology work grounded in deep empirical research.

Tomorrow we publish the November issue of The Leader Letter  compiling my last four weeks of blog posts. This issue is all about strengths-based leadership and using feedback to lead forward. Our last few months of partnering with Zenger Folkman in using their Strengths-Based Leadership Development System have been an overwhelming confirmation of this being one of the best moves we’ve made at The CLEMMER Group since we started in 1994.

Strengths-based leadership is the most radical and revolutionary new approach to leadership development of the past 50 years. We’re very excited to be part of this groundbreaking movement. The research in Positive Psychology, Emotional Intelligence, Appreciative Inquiry, and Strengths-Based Leadership is growing exponentially and converging on a few powerful points; very clearly and unequivocally building our strengths is much more effective than focusing on gaps, needs analysis, and weaknesses.

To many people a focus on building strengths in order to grow and develop is counterintuitive. It’s certainly not how most of us have traditionally thought about “improvement.” We often equate improvement with finding, facing, and fixing weaker areas.

The evidence clearly shows building strengths is 2 – 3 times more effective. Leading with strength by focusing on what’s right, strong, and positive — and how to get more of it from ourselves, teams, and organizations — is the pathway to peak performance. It’s also much healthier, more motivating — and a lot more fun!


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