Running scared or running positive?

This past week has been exceptionally busy for me, but reflecting on it a theme has emerged as, among other things, I've read three articles on healthy communities, participated in a discussion on organization development in China, and read a lovely article about a woman in her 70s who is an excellent runner and has developed her form using Chi running techniques, and commented on a wellness white paper a colleague sent me.

The connection between all these is close, albeit from different perspectives. They are all concerned with creating and using positive energies and emotions. Doing this leads to individual and organization health and high performance. I'm glad that I've recognized the theme and can now re-group myself as by Friday I felt thoroughly pulled down by the inertia, politics, and power plays of organizational life. (Not helped by watching the movie All the King's Men about a politician,Willie Stark, who "begins his political career as an idealistic man of the people but soon becomes corrupted by success and caught between dreams of service and an insatiable lust for power")

Meg Wheatley's interview in strategy+businessreinforces my view that community matters. She makes the point that "In a time like this of economic and emotional distress, every organization needs leaders who can help people regain their capacity, energy and desire to contribute". Unfortunately, she also says that people are reporting that "mean-spritedness is on the rise in their companies. And there seems to be a growing climate of disrespect for individual experience and competence." Partly she thinks this is due the uncharted territory that we (organizations) are in. Certainly in my work this week I've heard the phrase 'we're doing things we've never done before' echoed several times, and that is somewhat scary and I've observed that people are reacting in a scared way.

Wheatley has some antidotes to this 'running scared' mentality including taking time to reflect, making choices, and learning how to find the place beyond hope and fear. In another article of hers she quotes Rudolf Bahro, a prominent German activist and iconoclast: "When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure." Bahro offers insecurity as a positive trait, especially necessary in times of disintegration."

As she rightly points out living with insecurity and taking a reflective and thoughtful path to manage it positively is a lot easier said than done but nevertheless has huge benefits, and pays dividends in terms of higher motivation, and performance as well as increased feelings of individual well-being that ultimately contribute to the creation of organizational health (the collectivities of individual well-being among other factors).

In the November issue of ACSM's Certified News, Margaret Moore (aka Coach Meg) of Wellcoaches Corporation discusses the 'pivotal role of positive emotions in successful group performance', drawing on the work of Marcial Losada and Barbara Frederickson to argue that groups and communities that have positive emotions and participative management practices are higher performing than those that are fear driven, rule bound, and risk averse. Her article has a nice illustration of the butterfly effect (Lorenz equation) that I learned about while taking a program on chaos theory.

Moore presents a list of Losada's findings that, if applied, would help develop the positive emotions she advocates. One that I would like to see more of is the ratio of positive and negative topics and points made in meetings staying at above 3:1. Do this focusing on "positive topics, asking positive questions, providing affirmations, exploring strengths, or success stories.

In one of the meetings I attended last week someone presented a change curve (the standard, simplified, type of visual about the emotions people feel about change), and talked, humorously, about the 'valley of despair' part of the curve that she feels in. We all enjoyed the discussion and laughed a lot so maybe humor is another way of generating positive emotions. (I'll ask her on Monday if she has moved on from the valley of despair towards 'the search for meaning').

The content of these articles relates to another article I read (in November's AARP Magazine) about Betty Holston Smith. She is in her 70s and has run eight ultramarathons in the past four years. Her running technique is based on chi running (Chi is energy – the life giving, vital energy that unites body, mind and spirit a concept that has its origins in early Chinese philosophy). Her positive energy abounds and is a testament to its contribution to high performance.

Finally a co-worker asked me to review the business plan and rationale for an organizational wellness program that looks at five areas of well-being: career, mind and body, financial, community (being a member of a goal oriented or special interest group), and social (the network of relationships a person has). The paper lists the organizational benefits of such a wellness program including – as Wheatley, and more both imply in relation to reflective behavior and positivity:

 Increased employee productivity
 Higher quality work
 Improved employee morale and job satisfaction
 The ability to innovate, implement and adapt to change
 Reduced turnover
 Fewer stress-related disabilities and illnesses
 Reduced absenteeism
 Reduced presenteeims (employees who are not engaged)

I wait to see if the program will be financed or introduced as we are currently focused on stringent cost cutting, and axing of what are seen as discretionary efforts.

The Chinese connection came up again in the discussion I had with two Chinese colleagues about organization development in China. One of them mentioned the principles of yin/yang, wondering why organization development as we know it is currently rooted in western traditions, and suggesting that organization development that flowed from Chinese traditions might have a very different aspect and approach.

It was a fascinating discussion originating in the idea that a Chinese organization I am working with would like to offer a recognized and certified organization development program to its members. The plan was to buy in an existing western one. What emerged as we talked, however, was the notion of co-creating a Chinese organization development course with, among others, people who have been on the two-day organization design and development programs that I have run there and then aim to get that one certified.

The intention of this approach would be to explore and include more of the traditional Chinese philosophies and approaches – my colleague mentioned the yin-yang complementarities – and develop a potentially very different approach to organization development that could act to counter balance the fear and anxiety noted by Meg Wheatley, whilst recognizing that both exist as part of the dynamic system of an organization.

What are you doing to balance your fear and anxiety with positive energy and emotion? I've registered to take a half day course in Chi running!