Only passions, great passions by Marvin Faure

by Didier Marlier on Friday May 19th, 2017

Didier caught the mood of the moment last week in one of those inspirational blogs to which only he has the secret: What makes populist leaders successful?

He suggested that the reason for the rise of people such as Trump, Le Pen, Wilders, Duterte and the success of Brexit is the extraordinary ability of populist leaders to inspire their followers. They do this by tapping into powerful negative emotions and getting their followers to bond together against a common enemy. The reaction they create is so high that a minority can seize power over a much larger number of people who are not inspired by their own leaders.

Didier’s observations – well backed up by research – are that Emotion (Pathos) is stronger than Logic (Logos); Bad is stronger than Good; and Bonding with similar people prevents Bridging to others. All these are as true in business as they are in politics.

To enable our positive vision to prevail against the naysayers, we as business leaders need to become smarter and find a different approach.

The challenges for many of you in senior positions in large, established organisations are immense:

  • How do you change the culture of your organisation to embrace a positive vision and bridge naturally to others in the quest to create value?
  • How did you and your senior colleagues align yourselves and your behaviour to set the right example (Ethos)?
  • How do you inspire your organisation with the hope and desire to take you to greater heights (Pathos)?

In the words of Denis Diderot, the French Enlightenment philosopher: “Only passions, great passions can elevate the soul to great things “.

Unfortunately, we don’t encounter a lot of passion in many places (or at least, not much that is related to the firm’s business objectives). Where start-ups abound in passion, established firms seem to have stifled it. Start-ups are filled with the boundless sense of the possible, the excitement of creation, the passion of innovation, the spirit of “the impossible we do at once, miracles take a little longer”. Change is constant. Established firms are more often constrained by limits and boundaries, by bureaucracy and control, by conservatism and the desire for stability. Change is hard.

To quote another 17th century philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard: “If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential. What wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating, as possibility?”

Is there any way to recreate the spirit of a start-up in an established firm, as we discuss in another recent post? Is it possible to inspire people at all levels to commit their energy to great things? To see the opportunity in every situation?

The answer is yes. The approach is called Appreciative Inquiry. Putting it in practice is both exciting and highly rewarding. There’s a significant cost, however, which some leaders find too high: you must let go.

You must let go of your need to control everything and learn to give your followers their head.

You must let go of your need to criticise, and learn to praise instead.

You must stop problem-solving and learn to seek out and nurture what gives life.

You must stop judging people and give them your trust: they will astonish you.

I am reminded of the choice that Steve Jobs put to John Sculley to lure him to Apple: “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to change the world?”

Appreciative Inquiry holds within it the power to change the world. Barbara Fredrickson explains why in her influential Broaden and Build theory, first published in 2001. She demonstrates how negative emotions (anxiety, fear, sadness, anger, shame, despair) narrow our vision to just three options: fight, flight or reject. Positive emotions, on the other hand, (curiosity, hope, joy, desire, enthusiasm, love) broaden our vision to embrace a much wider range of options: play, create, explore, push the boundaries, go further, … Beyond the immediate benefits, such actions further build capability by increasing physical, social, intellectual and psychological resources.

What would be the performance of your organisation if it spent more time creating, exploring and pushing the boundaries and less time fighting, avoiding and rejecting?

The starting point is in your attitude as a leader. You are the most important factor in the climate of your team or organisation. Whichever emotions predominate in your people are determined by the questions you ask and your own emotions as you address day-to-day challenges.

Instead of asking, “what are the problems here, what are you doing to fix them?”, ask: “what is working well, and what can we do to get more of it?”

Instead of criticising someone for the 10% of their work that needs improvement, praise them for the 90% of their work that is good.

Instead of cancelling travel to save cost, invest in travel to build bridges.

We have been privileged to design and facilitate a number of quite large Appreciative Inquiry projects in many different forms and across several different industries. Each time, we marvelled anew at the positive energy released by the simple device of looking for the positives and sustaining what gives life. If you would like to explore the possibilities of using Appreciative Inquiry to transform your organisation, contact marvin@enablersnetwork.com

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3 Responses to “Only passions, great passions by Marvin Faure”

  1. Thank you Didier and Marvin for your blog post.
    It triggered in me quite a strong inqiry that I have been sitting with: is there such as think as a “negative” emtotion? Or a “positive” one?

    My feeling is that this disctincton and division can actually be harmful. The way I see it, there are helpful emotions, and there are unhelpful ones. Joy and calm can be unhelpful, anger and anxiety can be helpful.

    I’m concerned that by dividing emotions into positive and negative, we quickly make these emotions good and bad. And thus we put more pressure on ourselves to be a certain way, rather than accept what is and who we are as we are (acceptance is not resignation). It’s ok to feel fear, depression, rage and despair. These are natural emotions. It may not feel good, but that doesn’t make them bad or negative. Of course, if we attach ourselves to them and see them as the only reality, then that is not helpful probably. And conversely, feeling joy, creativity and peace may feel good, but attaching oneself to them as the only reality is not helpful either.

    I fear that pitting positive vs negative can produce and kind of internal war, and I fear the implicit tyranny of the “positive”. It can make us feel “bad” for not being positive. (It made me think twice or three times about posting this, as I got thinking that I am displaying being critical and not being complimentary enough of your post etc.)

    And just to be clear, I really appreciate what you Didier and Marvin are putting out there and it’s great that you are having such great results with your clients. 🙂

    I have more to say, of course, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Thanks for stimulating debate in us all. Olivier

    Reply
    • Thank you Olivier for your thoughtful response. You are of course right that positive emotions are not always good and negative emotions are not always bad, and every healthy human being regularly experiences emotions on both sides of the divide. Indeed there’s plenty of research that shows the value of negative emotions, which arise from a fear of being harmed. Emotions such as anxiety, dislike, anger, and hostility tend to be warning signs that we feel threatened in some way and must therefore defend ourselves. They motivate us to move away from something we don’t want and are essential to our survival.

      As I understand it, psychologists label emotions as positive or negative not as a value judgment, but because of their effect, in terms of repelling (negative) or attracting (positive).

      As practitioners, we have to be careful not to “forbid” negative emotions. Equally important, we must not forbid the discussion of anything that can be labelled as negative (problems, obstacles, difficulties, whether real or imagined). The key, in my experience, is to turn the conversation from what we don’t want (problems) to what we do want (something that works well). This tends to spark curiosity, hope, desire and enthusiasm, and these emotions (defined as “positive”) then enable people to envisage more constructive options than fight, flight or reject.

      Martin Seligman found in his ground-breaking research on positive psychology that the most happy, healthy and successful people are “reasoned optimists”. These people are on the optimistic (“positive”) side of the continuum but certainly not at the extreme.

      The same is likely to be true in organisations: the most successful are probably on the optimistic, constructive side, without being at the extreme where any negativity or pessimism is rejected or punished. I’m going to look for the research that backs this up.

      Thanks – Marvin

      Reply
  2. Hi Marvin
    Great distinctions, thanks.
    And I totally agree that one of the worst things would be if we suddenly don’t label anything “negative”…that’s not helpful either.
    One of the main things for me is just to stop the dichotomy and ensuing “warfare” between negative and positive. That battle serves no one really.
    What does help is looking at emotions for what they are, the messages they bring, without labelling them morally or as values, as you clearly pointed out.
    I like the term of “reasoned optimists”…I shall go and experiment with that today. 🙂
    Thanks Marvin.
    Olivier

    Reply

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