New leaders make interesting mistakes. When I oversaw sales for the business I would eventually own, I annoyed the members of my team with a misguided attempt at motivation.
Any sales-centric work environment can be volatile. There is a constant state of pressure placed on employees to make pitches, close deals, and meet financial goals. And the randomness of buyers’ behavior makes it difficult to control outcomes no matter how hard someone works.
At some point, when I noticed that people on the team would express their frustration if a customer would cancel an order or not respond to follow-up calls, I started to say … “I love the rollercoaster.” Well, I didn’t just say it. I would yell it loudly enough for everyone in the office to hear.
If a teammate would complain about a customer – I shouted, “I love the rollercoaster!”
If she came to me with a question about how to handle a problem – I shouted, “I love the rollercoaster!”
If someone shared the fact that they weren’t feeling good about the day, or the job, or the answer – I shouted, “I love the rollercoaster!”
I even made a poster of the saying and stuck it on the wall behind my desk.
For me, this was simply a method to counter my own feelings of stress and frustration. By replacing the initial negative reaction with a positive affirmation, I hoped to change the focus from problem to excitement. But you know, it didn’t really make me feel good. And it likely made my teammates feel worse.
My mistake was refusing to acknowledge how the person in front of me was really feeling.
Rather than showing empathy, I forced them to smile through gritted teeth and affirm my shallow response. As I think back on this, there’s no doubt that people learned to suppress their personal views and hide their feelings from me to avoid my corny response to their challenges.
Now, I’m an optimistic person and I intentionally pursue happiness in my daily life. However, there’s a big difference between natural positivity and the type of inauthentic, forced enthusiasm that immature leaders tend to push on their teams (like I did).
Do any of these sayings sound familiar? “You killed it!” “ You’re a rock star!” “We’re awesomely awesome!” Do you think this is a new phenomenon born in the “like me!” social media landscape? Forced positivity probably occurred in the earliest human organizations. I can imagine some douchey tribal chief who made all his people jump and cheer when they lost their winter food stores to squirrels. You get where I’m going.
Natural positivity comes from recognizing the beneficial aspects of our world. Whether it’s seeing beauty in nature or design, appreciating the tastes and textures of our food, or even enjoying certain tasks; natural positivity doesn’t require slogans or faked excitement.
When I matured into my leadership roles, I began to recognize that everyone expresses positivity on a spectrum. Some people are preternaturally enthusiastic in their speech and body language while others show their happiness with quiet smiles.
It’s not the role of leadership to project positivity onto others. The role is to support a working environment that is safe and beneficial for all their team members. It simply starts (and ends) with compassion.
Stay positive … in your own way.