I think we would all acknowledge that people perform better when they’re feeling positive, so as leaders we naturally want our groups and organizations to be positive environments. However, most leaders are not aware of the factors that influence the positivity of environments. We think we’re controlling environments when we monitor what’s said and done, but experimentation tells us that thoughts themselves become pervasive and set the tone in an environment.
A Revealing Experiment
Consider this exercise that I often conduct during presentations and seminars. I use a form of kinesthetic testing, the basic arm-pull-down test, to demonstrate that the thoughts of a group have a physical effect on individuals. I ask for two volunteers, a tester and subject, where the tester exerts a downward force on the subject’s extended arm, while the subject tries to resist the efforts of the tester by keeping his arm parallel to the floor.
To get everyone familiar with the experiment, I tell the subject that he has just received a prestigious customer satisfaction award from a large customer, as well as a corresponding big raise and promotion. I then instruct the tester to exert a downward force on the subject’s extended arm. The arm invariably remains strong with little movement. I then tell the subject that he has just lost a large client and his boss is evaluating whether he’ll need to make some staff reductions as a result. I then instruct the tester to exert a downward force on the subject’s arm. Without fail, the arm moves down substantially. So far
this is nothing revolutionary, but pay attention to what happens next.
I then tell the audience that when I give them a thumbs-up signal, they will all think about the best day they ever had at work, reliving the details and feeling it in their body. Conversely, they’re instructed to think about the worst day they ever had at work when I give them a thumbs-down signal. I then tell the tester and the subject to turn their backs to the audience. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I then lead a series of tests where I silently flash a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down to the audience, which the tester and subject cannot see it. I wait fifteen seconds while the audience does their thinking and feeling, and then I ask the tester to perform the arm-pull-down test. Consistently, the subject’s arm stays stationary when I have flashed a thumbs-up and it moves significantly when I have flashed the thumbs-down.
This is not a controlled scientific experiment, but it’s convincing and it’s consistent with what new science tells us about our connectedness. The thoughts of the audience create a physical effect on the subject, which demonstrates that we connect with each other in ways other than physical, or in other words, we are not as separate as we have believed.
How does this discovery help us lead?
It’s commonly acknowledged that positive environments are conducive to higher performance. Among other things, positivity in an environment helps people think more clearly and doesn’t waste the energy that negative emotions demand. Conventionally, we get people to feel more positive by taking action such as showing appreciation for their work or inspiring them to be of service to customers. Now we see there are others factors that must be considered in creating a positive environment.
First, we must become more careful with our own thoughts. Consider what this experiment tells us about the impact we have on an employee or group when we harbor fears of them failing, or when we allow our minds to be overrun with anxiety. We may think there’s no harm in our thoughts, as long as we control what we say and do, but this experiment tells us otherwise.
We also must become more attentive to the thoughts that are pervasive in our organizations. We need to detect and control the thought energy of our organizations as diligently as we measure and control the performance outcomes. This has implications to the criteria we use for hiring and promoting, as well as the priorities we choose to address.
We’ve all experienced negative people who can be among our best performers. We generally tolerate their negativity until and unless they say or do something that is harmful to the group. However, now we see that their mere presence has a detrimental impact to the organization.
In general, this knowledge demands that we become more cognizant of group energy, including how it’s generated and its impact on performance. Most leaders are currently unaware that thoughts alone can become pervasive and affect the entire organization, either positively or negatively.Share