Blog: Don’t be a leader who encourages positive thinking

Many leaders encourage their team to think positively about their current circumstances. While they may have the right intent, most employees are unable to sustain the state of 'being positive', writes Chris Helder.

Many leaders encourage their team to think positively about their current circumstances. While they may have the right intent, most employees are unable to sustain the state of 'being positive', writes Chris Helder.

Positive thinking doesn’t work. In fact, if you walked up to someone who was struggling or who had the worst year of their life and tried to encourage them by saying, "Come on, just be positive!" What would be the result? Deep down, they would probably want to punch you in the face. 

Not only that, but there are numerous studies that show that if people lay in bed in the morning and say to themselves, "Come on, try to be positive today. You can do it,"  when 10am rolls around and they don’t feel positive anymore, they actually feel worse than when they started! They feel that they can’t even do 'being positive' right!

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. When those events take place, being positive is not going to solve those problems. Instead, let me introduce you to the ideas of 'useful actions' and 'useful beliefs'. These are ideas that will help you lead from a place of action, rather than a place of emotion.

Useful actions

It works like this. If you had an employee that had the worst year of their life, they would need clarity about how to pull themselves out of the rut. You would need to help them identify what actions they need to take to keep moving, rather than ask them to tap into a fleeting feeling. 

The question may follow: "What is the most useful thing for you to do to get from ground zero to two? What is the most useful thing for you to do to get from two to five?"

If this employee had a great year and wanted to take themselves to the next level, the question might be: "What is the most useful thing for you to do to get from seven to nine?"

Instantly, they will begin to identify the actions and behaviours that need to take place to increase their results.

Positive thinking is a feeling. It can be a fleeting thought. This is better because it is about taking action and having a strategy to solve the problem.

Useful belief
The next level is useful belief. To demonstrate this, I want to use an example of parents that I hear all the time.

They say things like: “I can’t believe these kids today. With their video games and computers, they are not doing the things that I did when I was a kid. I played outside. I had a stick and a ball and I was happy!”

We’ve all heard them. People ask me: “Chris, what do you think about kids today?”

"I believe this is the greatest generation of kids ever," I say. 

"I believe this is the best time to be a parent in the history of the world.” 

Is that true? I’m not really sure if it’s true or not. You know what, though? When I believe that, I am a better dad. I am more present and will come up with more ideas about how to be a good father. 

Truth doesn’t matter as much as having a useful perception about your individual reality. It is no different in business.

If you believe times are tough, your brain will find tough times. If you believe there are opportunities everywhere, your brain will also find those opportunities. How does this work? 

Red Toyota theory
Your brain has something called the Reticular Activating System. It is often referred to as the RAS. Successful people notice things that other people don’t because their RAS is looking for those opportunities because they have a Useful Belief about their business.

Let me ask you a question: How many red Toyotas did you see on your way into work today? The answer is probably zero. That is because you were not looking for red Toyotas.

However, if you decided to buy a red Toyota, you would start to see red Toyotas everywhere. That is because your RAS would be dialled in to these cars. 

It is no different with success. If your team has a useful belief about the business, their RAS is set to look everywhere for potential opportunities.  This is the best time to be in this business. This is the best time in history to be working in this industry. There is money to be made! Those are useful beliefs. 

As a leader, it is critical to help people identify that there are opportunities everywhere and it is important to have a useful belief about the market and the possibility of the results they can achieve.

It is simply useful to believe there are business opportunities everywhere and your brain will go about finding them. 

Of course, the opposite is also true. If you believe the markets are not going to let you make money, then you won’t. If your team believes the sales environment is terrible, they won’t see ways to make sales. If someone believes 'kids today' are no good, they won’t connect with them as well as they might. 

We all know a lot of people who miss the opportunity in front of them, simply because they fail to see the gold that is right there. Of course, it is much easier for people to have beliefs that do not serve them. That is why they are victims.

Making the change
Great leaders help their team on this journey. The most important words you say all day are the words that you say to yourself, about yourself when you are alone by yourself. 

Most people do not have useful language about their reality. I see so many people frustrated with the things that they cannot change. 

Decide to have a useful belief about those things you cannot change. Then dial up your red Toyota theory to believe in all of the opportunity that stares you in the face every day. 

Believe there is opportunity out there and send your team on a mission of discovery to find it all. 

Chris Helder is a renowned speaker on the topic of communication, leadership and influence. He is the author of the newly released book Useful Belief: Because it’s better than positive thinking and the best-selling book The Ultimate Book of Influence.

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