What drives success?
Is it something ingrained within our personalities?
Is it the outcome we achieve when we learn, practice and eventually master the right skills and strategies?
- Or is it determined by the conditions in which we live and work?
Having been trained initially as a clinical psychologist and then, more recently, specialising as an executive coach, my focus has always been very much on the individual.
I was taught to focus on helping individuals achieve their potential by assisting them to eliminate or reduce unhelpful beliefs and attitudes as well as bad habits, and to then increase or maximise more helpful and optimistic thoughts as well as more constructive and productive behaviours.
I still spend much of my time focusing on these crucial variables for one important reason… because it works!
There’s no doubt that the most successful and productive people share a similar cognitive approach to life and work (a realistic and positive attitude) and there’s also no doubt that the most effective people engage in similar types of behaviours (including, for example, spending more of their time focusing on real priorities, collaborating with others etc).
There’s also no doubt, and this is the good news, that these things can be learnt.
I have, for example, in recent months had considerable success helping an entrepreneur/businessman change the way he thinks about his work and his colleagues, and as a result build a more productive and positive workplace.
I’m also very happy to note that following quite a few months working closely with a large professional services firm, we’re now getting closer to arriving at a situation whereby they have a clear and workable system for identifying and responding appropriately to problem behaviours within individuals.
But it’s exactly this type of work, consulting to business-people and medium to larger organisations, that has piqued my interest in something more than individuals.
Although I suspect I’ll always focus primarily on helping individuals be as happy and successful as they can be, I have in recent years focused much more on helping organisations and workplaces create the right conditions so that these individuals can easily perform at their best… without resistance or road-blocks.
How often, for example, have you found that your efforts to improve something in your workplace or to create something new are hampered by systems and procedures that only seem to reinforce form-filling or standard responses?
How often, for example, have “classic” or “typical” responses (the way things have always been done) been rewarded at the expense of new or innovative approaches?
How many of you have actually given up suggesting new ways of doing things because you know there’s no way your great idea will ever be allowed to see the light of day?
Having had much experience with many highly intelligent and competent, but frustrated employees, managers and executives, I’ve come to increasingly recognise that although the approach we all take as individuals is important, it’s also important that a manager or an organisation supports the more productive and positive approaches to ensure success for all.
And now for some more good news.
In their fascinating and very readable book “Nudge: improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness“, Richard Thaler (a professor of behavioural science and economics) and Cass Sunstein (a professor of jurisprudence) describe how we can apply the “new science of choice architecture to nudge people toward decisions that will improve their lives”.
Among other things, for example, they cite research that suggests how the positioning of food in supermarkets and cafeterias influences the buying choices people make.
In another chapter they refer to research findings that indicate how default options (think about all those forms you fill out when you shop or bank online) can significantly affect response rates and response types.
But this is about much more than just “nudging” people towards healthy foods or opting in to an online newsletter (although these can be important issues).
This is about recognising that whether we realise it or not, our environment influences the decisions we make… so why not take advantage of this and ensure that more people are making more good decisions, and hence being more productive and effective.
If we can do this, and I know we can because I’ve started integrating these strategies into my coaching and consulting, then we can achieve greater success in all areas or our lives.
And surely that would be a good thing…
Dr. Sharp’s latest book (out now) is “100 Ways to Happiness: a Guide for Busy People” (Penguin). You can find out more about corporate programs, presentations, and coaching services at www.drhappy.com.au and www.thehappinessinstitute.com. You can also ask him questions using the comments panel below.
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