Did you know that positive thinking can make people less successful?

February 20, 2017 | posted in: Business Issues | by

Recently, I attended a fascinating presentation by Ellen Galinsky, President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute (FWI), and Chief Science Officer and Executive Director of Mind in the Making at the Bezos Family Foundation. She spoke at the inaugural NYC Family Enterprise Center Family Enterprise Culture (NYCFEC) and Diversity Forum on the topic of “Making Work and Life Work for You and Others.”

Despite all the hype these days about positive thinking, Galinsky pointed out that according to a recent study, positive thinking alone actually made people less successful. The successful people, she explained, are those who see potential obstacles, account for them and develop plans to address the obstacles and even develop a Plan B strategy just in case.

Obviously, looking only at the obstacles won’t get you very far either. Her point was that we need a balanced outlook in order to succeed.
So how is this relevant to family enterprises? From my own experience, I’ve often noticed a dynamic in which an established leader dismisses obstacles perceived by other members of the family or management. It’s true that there’s no substitute for a successful leader’s experience and wisdom, but when this person is overly dismissive, it can thwart the family and the enterprise’s ability to reach goals and deal with adversity.

As Ellen Galinsky pointed out in her talk, this explains why it’s better for leaders to accept the possibility of the obstacle, rather than just seeing it as a threat to his or her vision. A possible response from the leader could be, “It sounds like you see an obstacle. How do you suggest we tackle that and surpass it?”
This approach remains positive while accepting the reality of obstacles, and in this way, it can engage all stakeholders, account for the obstacles, build a good contingency plan, and correct the direction of the family and the business. Even if the obstacle turns out not to be a problem in the end, nothing has been lost; there is only gain through empowerment, creativity, and constructive thinking.

This private forum was organized by the NYCFEC and FBN-North America and chaired by Warner King Babcock and Andrew Keyt. The hosting family enterprise was Pitcairn. The NYCFEC is a non-profit organization that provides educational programs for family businesses and their families, board members, management, and trustees throughout the greater NYC area.

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