Over the course of my career, I’ve held six positions with four different organizations, working for vastly different personalities. I’ve had both male and female supervisors, bosses down the hall and others on different continents, some profit-driven and others focused on impact. My very first supervisor taught me that I had a lot to offer and should be given a full and equal voice in everything we were doing. And in another position, to juxtapose, I listened to my boss tell another director that she ‘disgusted him’ because she had made a scheduling error and left a desk unattended for 15 minutes. I’ve seen enough variation to realize how profoundly a supervisor can affect not just your work life, but your confidence, development and well-being as well.
Currently, I serve as the Co-Director of the U.N.-mandated University for Peace’s Centre for Executive Education in Costa Rica. I came aboard about three years ago under the amazing leadership of my then-boss and now Co-Director Mohit Mukherjee, a true example of what a manager should be.
The thing is, Mohit lives what he teaches. At the Centre for Executive Education, we offer online and onsite professional development workshops, most in the fields of leadership, social innovation, entrepreneurship and education. We do a 3-day intensive workshop called Positive Leadership, which starts by looking inward at one’s own well-being, strengths and limitations, then projecting these values outward to bring the very best out in both employees and colleagues.
It’s both fascinating and inspiring, and in a recent Positive Leadership workshop, I realized that it was time for me to take my own leadership skills to the next level – to move it out of the classroom, go beyond mimicking my favorite supervisor, and start to develop my own personal style. I started with a few easy steps:
- Bring it home: I realized that, in order to truly live positive leadership, I needed to make it personal. Over the course of the workshop, I spent long hours into the evening going over the materials with my partner of 6 years, sharing with him the valuable lessons that, at the end of the day, are about life, and how we treat others. Before I knew it, he was quoting it back to me, stopping arguments with phrases that started ‘Well from Positive Leadership we learned…’ Positivity in my own house offered me the biggest opportunity to see immediate and real change in my life.
- Straight to the source: In many of our classes, we discuss and talk about Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement. His vision of well-being challenges us to go beyond happiness, over which genes play a large role anyway, to tackle other areas that help us live the lives we want to live: engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement. I had learned the basics of Seligman’s works in our courses, but realized I had to read his books first-hand, hear how he described the concepts, and got into the nitty-gritty, real-life examples he provided from his extensive 20 years of research. Reading his teachings firsthand helped me understand them on a new level that made them all the more impactful.
- Practice what you preach: After reading Seligman’s book and participating in a number of Positive Leadership courses, I decided it was time to try out some of the practical examples I had seen. Seligman touts the power of gratitude to highlight (and therefore replicate) the positive. He suggests starting a gratitude journal, recording not only three positive things that happened at the end of each, but why they happened as well – what circumstances allowed them to occur. Sounds simple, and putting it into practice for 2 months was eye-opening. Even more than the highs, the journal helped me better understand my lows, why they happened, and how I could make conscious changes to avoid them.
Each of us must choose what type of leader to be. I choose to do my best to highlight my own strengths and use them to my advantage, without using them to climb over others around me. I choose to try to bring out the very best in my team, helping them see how invaluable they are to the group effort, and how much they contribute. In short, I choose to follow in the footsteps of the best, using the guidelines provided by masters, and adding my own touch of personality. I choose to be a positive leader.
Julia Delafield is the Co-Director of the U.N.-mandated University for Peace’s Centre for Executive Education, based in Costa Rica. She’s passionate about social enterprise and Latin America, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.