The Art of Strengths Coaching

P is for The Positive Modelling Approach To Delivering Positive Results    

Imagine that you lead an organisation. How can you encourage people to do great work?

One method is to use the positive modelling approach towards delivering positive results. This article explores several steps you can take towards making this happen.

Being a
positive model

Good leaders believe in the power of leading by example. They recognise that they are always on stage. People will focus on what they do as a leader, not just what they say.

Such leaders aim to model the principles they would like other people in the organisation to follow. If they want people to be professional, they act in a professional way. If they want people to be kind, they demonstrate kindness in their daily lives.

Several years ago I saw the power of modelling when working with an organisation. Leader A wanted to create a positive culture in which motivated people could achieve peak performance. Moving on after two years, he was replaced by Leader B who aimed to rule by fear.

Leader A made people feel important. Arriving at the office, he spent time with the reception people, talked with the cleaners and was open to people stopping him to have a chat. He made people feel the centre of his world.

Leader A knew how to manage knowledge workers. Gathering people together, he explained the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success. He then gave people the chance to reflect and decide if they wanted to work towards these goals.

If so, he made clear contracts with people about how they could make their best contributions. He then enabled people to do superb work on the way towards achieving the picture of success.

Leader A managed by outcomes rather than tasks. If people came with a problem to solve, he would say: “Let’s focus on the outcomes we want to achieve. How can we do our best to achieve those results?” He built an organisation in which people became more self-managing and delivered success.

Leader B tried to make himself feel important. His first instruction to the PA he inherited was: “I want a glass of water waiting for me on my desk at 8.30 each morning.” This sounds unbelievable in today’s world, but those were his actual instructions.

Gathering people together, Leader B started by describing the prizes he had won in his career and then announced: “Things are going to change around here.” He immediately replaced two well respected senior managers with two acolytes who bullied people.

Leader B tried to make himself look big by making other people feel small. Looking for scapegoats, he publicly criticised several employees who had previously done good work. He created a climate of fear that led to many fine people leaving the organisation.

Leader B had been hired by the Board and at first they refused to believe the reports about his behaviour. They said that: “People are just afraid of change.” The reports of his bullying became so persistent, however, that eventually he was asked to leave the organisation.

Looking to the future, can you think of situation in which you want to act as a positive model? You may aim to do this as parent, teacher, friend, colleague, leader, trusted advisor or in some other role.

Bearing in mind the situation, what are the kinds of behaviours you would like to model for other people? You may aim to be positive, encouraging, kind, calm, professional or whatever. What can you do to be a good model and demonstrate these behaviours in your daily life or work?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to act as a positive model. 

Describe the specific kinds of behaviour you want to model in the situation.

Describe the specific things you can do to demonstrate these behaviours and act as a positive model in the situation.

positive models

People buy success rather than the theory of success. They are more likely to adopt an idea if they see how it will help them to succeed. Bearing this in mind, it can be useful to show what works by building positive models.

Imagine you are a leader and want to shift the culture in an organisation. You have several options for making this happen. These include the following.

You can urge everybody to change and put them through a conventional change programme.

You can fire everybody and start again with a blank piece of paper.

You can create the desired future culture by building successful prototypes. You can then invite people to choose whether or not they want to join this culture.

Savvy leaders often go for the latter option. Why? They understand systems theory.

Systems follow the law of homeostasis – they keep returning back to their present state. It can be exhausting to try to change the system. You can create a new system with new rules.

Good leaders also recognise the importance of language. It is good to stress that you are aiming to Build the New rather than trying to Change the Old. The language is pioneering. This provides more positive energy than urging people to change.

How to make this happen? One model that works is the Three Waves approach. This calls for going through the following stages.

Stage 1: You can build
successful prototypes

Start by clarifying the principles that you want people in the organisation to follow in the future. You may, for example, want them launch a new approach to providing customer service or to embody a new way of working that delivers success.

You can begin by building successful prototypes that demonstrate this approach. Here are some steps towards making this happen.

You can set up the
prototypes to succeed

Looking around the different departments, rate the chances of success of running such a pilot. Go with the positive energy. Clarify where the chances are at least 8/10 and then choose where you will build the prototypes.

Another option is to go for a Green Field site. This may be a new site with new people who will adopt a new approach.

You can appoint the right people, make clear contracts
and give them the support they need to succeed 

Get the right people in place – especially the right leaders – otherwise you are sunk. Agree with the leaders on the following things.

The What:  The specific results to be delivered. 

The Why: The benefits – for all the stakeholders – of delivering these results.

The How: The key strategies – the principles – people can follow to deliver the results. It will be important, however, to give the leaders freedom, within parameters, regarding how they implement these principles.

The Who: The responsibilities of the various people on the road towards delivering the results. 

The When: The specific things that must be delivered – and by When – on the road to achieving the results.

Make clear working contracts with people who are going to build the prototypes. Give them the support they need to achieve success.

You can ring-fence the prototypes
in order to help them to succeed

Why? Sometimes old systems try to stop new ones from succeeding, so it is vital to provide protection. Organisations sometimes give double messages, such as:

We want you to be creative and deliver results in the new world. We also want you to follow the old rules to achieve these results.

You can encourage people
to get some quick successes

Encourage people to get some early wins, build positive momentum and publicise these wins. Set a date for an event in 6 months time where they will present their success stories. Sounds challenging, but people respond to deadlines.

You can do everything possible to
ensure the prototypes deliver success

You can provide an inspiring vision, but it is up to the prototype builders to do the work. Keep in touch with them, but in a supportive way. Ask: “What do you want from me to help you to be successful?” Then, wherever possible, provide that support.

Encourage them to communicate their achievements along the road and also celebrate success. If things go wrong, however, make the tough decisions early rather than late.

You can get people to present the
lessons from the successful prototypes

Success provides its own arguments, so publicise the success stories. People can do this through articles, internal television or whatever. Later we will be looking at the importance of continuing to produce success stories.

Stage 2: You can invite volunteers to
implement the successful principles
in their parts of the organisation

Imagine you have backed several prototypes that have delivered the goods. Arrange an event – or use other communication vehicles – where the prototype builders present their success stories.

You can then announce the next phase by asking for volunteers who want to follow similar principles in their part of the organisation. One approach is to position this by saying something along the following lines.

The prototypes have shown how we can deliver success.

We are looking for volunteers who want to follow these principles in their parts of the organisation. Get back to me within one week if you want to make this happen.

Let me know ‘What’ you want to deliver and ‘How’, within broad terms, you aim to deliver it. Also let me know the support you would like to do the job.

This obviously means a shift in culture – changing the way we do things around here. We can succeed with this new approach. So let me know if you want to be part of making it happen.

You can provide the volunteers with the support they need to deliver success. The people who set up the original prototypes can, if appropriate, act as coaches to the volunteers.

Set a date, such as the next conference, when the volunteers will present their success stories. Do whatever is required to ensure their parts of the organisation implement the principles and deliver success.

Stage 3: You can make the
principles mandatory and
guide the organisation to success

You have backed successful prototypes that embody the future culture. Now it is the time for people to make a decision. So you may give them the following message.

The prototypes have shown the principles we must follow to be successful.  

The pluses are that we will improve our services and stay in business. The minuses are that it will be challenging, especially at first. But it is the way to build a successful future.  

What I am saying to you is also challenging. I am asking you to decide whether or not you want to follow those principles.  If so, get back to your manager within the next week and we will agree on how you want to contribute.

If we do not hear from you, we will assume you do not want to follow these principles. We will then try to work out, as far as possible, a win-win.

This sounds tough, but we must follow these principles to achieve success. Let your manager know if you want to contribute to the journey.

Sounds challenging, but frequently there are few other options. People must decide whether or not they want to be part of the future culture.

Expect some rocky times, but eventually things will work out. You will then have laid the foundations by building a positive model.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a situation in which you may want to show what works by building a positive model? This could be in your personal or professional life.

You may want to educate students, help people find satisfying work or create software. You may want to solve conflicts, build an organisation that scores highly on employee wellbeing or deliver a specific stimulating project.

How can you build such a model? What are the specific things you can do to increase the chances of delivering success?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in which you may want to show what works by building a positive model.

Describe the specific things you can do to show what works by building the positive model.

Describe the specific things you can do to increase the chances of success when building the positive model.

Being an educator by
sharing success stories
about positive models

Good educators study success. They study what works, simplify what works – in a profound way – and share what works. They then offer people practical tools they can use to follow these principles in their own ways.

Good leaders take a similar approach. They set the scene by sharing the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success. They then bring these themes to life by sharing success stories.

Imagine you want to take this approach. Building on real life examples, you can keep showing what good looks like. You can focus on the following themes.

“But the old adage says that you learn more from your mistakes than from your successes,” somebody may say.

Certainly there are many lessons to gather from people doing the wrong thing, working in the wrong place or adopting the wrong strategy. But that approach is based on the assumption that people already know the key principles for doing great work. This is not always the case.

Imagine you want to produce success stories that provide positive models for people in your organisation. Here are some steps you can take to make this happen.

Clarify who will be the mission holder

Appoint a mission holder who is accountable for ensuring the stories are collected, written and published. Do not leave it to a committee. The mission holder does not have to do the writing. They can hire an internal or external writer to collect and produce the stories.

Clarify how many stories you want
and the timetable for publication

One company I worked with translated this approach into action by quickly producing six success stories. The material was already there. It was just a question of collecting it and producing the stories.

 Clarify the framework
for producing the stories

Different people use different frameworks for sharing success stories and showing what good looks like. Here is one framework.

Choose a title for the story and describe the specific situation that people encountered. They could be helping a client, solving a problem, improving internal processes or whatever. You can then describe the following things.

The specific situation that people faced – including the specific challenges and the desired picture of success.

The specific things people did – the principles they followed and how they translated these into action – to tackle the challenges and achieve the picture of success. 

The specific results that were delivered in terms of tackling the challenges and achieving the picture of success.

Conclude by summarising what was learned from the experience. For example:

The specific things that worked and how people can follow these principles more in the future. 

The specific things that maybe could be done better – and how – in similar situations in the future. 

The specific other things of interest that emerged.

There are many models for producing success stories. This is one approach.

Communicate the success stories

There are many methods you can use to share the success stories. You may choose:

To publish the stories on the internal and external websites.

To publish the stories in the Induction Pack for new joiners and use these to show what good looks like.

To continually produce and publish new stories that show how people can follow the organisation’s principles to deliver success.

Good leaders continually communicate the organisation’s purpose, principles and picture of success. Some then use the positive modelling approach to encourage people to deliver positive results.

If you wish, try tackling the final exercise on the theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in which you may want to educate people by sharing success stories.

Describe the specific things you can do to find and share the success stories.

Describe the specific benefits of sharing the success stories.


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