Given its effects on human behaviour and motivation, there is strong reason to believe that positive psychology is a key to improving managerial performance.
Still a relatively new area of psychology – and certainly one that is yet to gain recognition in all circles – positive psychology is nonetheless growing in credibility as organisations around the world explore its merits. In an age where employee engagement at all levels is so crucial, the theory of positive psychology could hold the key to providing workplace feedback in a constructive way.
What does positive psychology achieve?
Pioneered by the University of Pennsylvania’s Martin Seligman, positive psychology does exactly what it says on the cover – espouse the notion that a positive approach focusing on strengths is most beneficial to the human psyche. In this light, employee feedback surveys that point out and draw attention to a manager’s flaws may actually be more harmful than beneficial, whereas a more positive way of providing feedback builds performance and morale.
Positive psychology isn’t just about papering over the cracks and making sure everyone is happy, however – rather, it’s about striking a more healthy balance between the good and the not-so-good. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center – of which Martin Seligman is director – psychology from World War II onwards has focused on identifying and remedying psychological problems. While this worked in addressing issues on the surface and has progressed psychological research, it has focused far too little on “what makes life most worth living”.
Ensure strengths are highlighted
The purpose of positive psychology is to make sure strengths as well as weaknesses are highlighted, and constructive feedback is provided for improvement. Note that it doesn’t just brush away one’s weaknesses, as these are also crucial to development – instead, it focuses on the strengths and uses them as a springboard for personal improvement.
Adopting a positive psychology approach to 360 degree feedback
360 degree surveys that are based on the Leader/Manager model have positive psychology at its core, pinpointing a manager’s key strengths and using these to guide performance improvement. Instead of criticising their flaws, managers are informed on what to do more of and less of in order to develop into a better leader.