Last week I attended two seminars in the Sydney CBD. The first seminar, Positive Psychology@Work: The Science & Practice, was organised by the University of Wollongong Sydney Business School and was given by Dr Suzy Green, a leader and pioneer in the complementary fields of Positive Psychology & Coaching Psychology and Founder of The Positivity Institute. The second was arranged by MGSM where Dr. David Cooperrider, spoke about the process of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Appreciative Inquiry is a collaborative, strength-based approach to both personal and organizational development that asserts by focusing on the organization’s strengths, you can evolve into a true “center of excellence”. Rather than focusing on problems, Appreciative Inquiry elicits solutions.
Both lectures were effective segues on the original work on Positive Psychology by Martin Seligman which was started as a ‘positive’ counterpart to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). While the DSM focuses on what can go wrong, Positive Psychology is designed to look at what can go right. I am very much in the camp that says the only thing that is more contagious than enthusiasm is the lack of it. However while at end of the both seminars the mood in the audience was definitely happy-clappy, I must confess that I walked out of the two lectures discombobulated.
My unease can be traced back to Plato’s Republic. One of the great passages in the Republic concerns the Ring of Gyges. According to the legend, there was a shepherd in the service of the ruler of Lydia. After an earthquake, a cave was revealed where he discovered a ring that gave him the power to become invisible by adjusting it. He then arranged to be chosen as one of the messengers who reported to the king as to the status of the flocks. Arriving at the palace, he used his new power of invisibility to seduce the queen, and with her help he murdered the king, and became king of Lydia himself.
In the Republic, Glaucon, the brother of Plato, constructs the following mind experiment. Suppose there were two such magic rings, and the just man puts on one of them and the unjust man the other. According to Glaucon both men would act the same: no man would keep his hands off what was not his own when he could safely take what he liked out, or go into houses and lie with any one at his pleasure, or kill or release from prison whom he would, and in all respects be like a god among men. So the just and unjust man would act the same and if anyone thinks that he can safely be unjust, then he is unjust. For all men believe in their hearts that injustice is far more profitable to the individual than justice.
While I do not agree that all men would be unjust I do think that there is sufficient percentage of those people in the population to manipulate their position in a zeitgeist of positive psychology. According to the 7MTF/Humm, the manipulators are the Hustlers and around 15% of the population have a higher than average Hustler temperament components. Half of this group have a moral compass due to a higher than average Normal but the other half (7% of the population) are Machiavellian manipulating narcissists. History is replete with religions where a Hustler was part of a group that intended to do good but ended up doing rather well. Judas Iscariot is one example. The pious charlatan Tartuffe in Moliere’s eponymous play is another example.
Professor Alex Frino of MGSM carried out a study where five CEOs of the 20 biggest ASX companies were identified as narcissists. These people are able to manipulate themselves into positions of power. They do not necessarily do a good job when they get there, but they do get there all the same. Kevin Rudd is an excellent example of this phenomenon.
I must confess that I lean much more towards Professor Pfeffer’s concepts of power and leadership. Pfeffer’s view is that it takes power to get things done. Without power, you’re impotent and power is not gained through intelligence (emotional or otherwise) and job performance. This is one of the key lessons in my workshops: you do not get promoted into management because you do a good job, but because your managers think you have the potential to be a good manager. As long as you keep your boss or bosses happy, performance really does not matter that much and, by contrast, if you upset them, performance won’t save you.
On the other hand I did learn a new definition of leadership originally provided by Peter Drucker: “The task of organisational leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make a system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”
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