Seeing the Positive

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The power of positive reinforcement is the most under utilized tool available to leaders. It is due in part to the kind of up bringing most of us experienced. We as a society tend to focus on our weaknesses instead of what we do well.

For example, a child brings home his report card and while the parent compliments the child for the areas the kid did well. The parent tends to spend the majority of their time focussed on the lowest grades. “Why did Johnny get a C in Math? All of Johnny’s other grades were A’s and B’s?” Instead of focussing on the positive, the parent zero’s in on the one area he didn’t score as well.

The concept of focussing on what someone does well is kind of like never turning over a coin to discover it has an interesting other side. My favorite example of looking at the other side came during an episode of Celebrity Apprentice. Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, said to Dennis Rodman. “Dennis, you have the unique ability to become easily distracted.” While the rest of America saw a guy who was a huge distraction to his team, she spied a unique gift and stated it most elegantly.

When I heard her say those words to Dennis, I just about fell out of my chair. Clearly, she learned something while attending Wharton School of Business. She learned how to look for the positive in the attributes that most see as negatives. While I was busy learning to knit pick the flaws in others, she was learning that “becoming easily distracted” can be a huge benefit.

Consider the fact Dennis Rodman is considered to be one of the best rebounders of all time despite being 6′ 6″. Might it be due to what Ivanka saw? Was it his ability to become easily distracted that allowed him to the NBA’s leading rebounder for 7 consecutive years? Perhaps a ball being shot into the air caused him to be more quickly distracted than others. And since he was more easily distracted, it allowed him the advantage to react sooner than others to establish the best position for a rebound? Was it this same ability that when placed in a different environment was perceived as a weakness?

The ability to observe what other’s might see as a flaw, as some kind of unique talent, is a gift. When combined with the ability to utilize an apparent weakness in the right way can pay off in a super engaged employee, maybe even a superstar.

What perceived weakness in yourself or another might you need to turnover to see if it too has an interesting side that hasn’t yet been fully explored?

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3 comments

  1. Michele Veenker · March 29, 2012

    Another great piece of wisdom to stop and think about. I know I find it relatively easy to give my employees generalized positive reinforcement, I find it harder to be more specific, which I know is better and more appreciated by my employees. I find it even harder still to be primarily positive with my children, who deserve it even more. This reminds me to keep trying.

  2. Tammy · March 30, 2012

    Maybe it’s my gift of being able to polish off a bag of dill pickle flavored seeds in a single sitting? Seriously though, you make a great point and as a parent I need to live into it more.

    • Chris Antrim · March 31, 2012

      A whole bag? Sounds a bit more like an addiction, but who could blame you because those flavored seeds are amazing! As I often tell people, it is way easier to understand a concept than it is to actually practice it. But recognizing the need to change in behavior or attitude is a big first step. You are great mom raising great kids.

      Thanks for your comments.

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