Most people want to be positive, to lead in a positive way, and to think positive thoughts. Not many people aspire to be negative. We laugh when we see the donkey, Eeyore, in Winnie the Pooh, but most of us can name someone with that mindset. And all of us go through periods where we may exhibit that behavior. How to consistently create a positive mindset is a skill.
Your new book is titled Lead Positive. What does “leading positive” mean?
It took us a long time to come up with that title, believe it or not. It’s very simple, very straight forward, and people tell me that they get it right away. It’s about leading and it’s about moving forward in a positive way towards a positive result.
Highly effective leaders spend 5x more attention on the possible positive than on problems.
Lead Positive also has a subtitle that is very important to the meaning of the book and the purpose of the book: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say and Do. In my study and experience with coaching leaders, I have found that the see-say-do framework is a self-reinforcing loop. Oftentimes, leaders are not really aware of exactly what they’re paying attention to. But whatever it is dictates in a very direct way what will come out of their mouths—what they’re going to say—and then ultimately what they do. So it’s a virtuous cycle.
Leading positive is when a leader is looking at what’s possible, what’s positive, what’s valuable, and what they can leverage in the moment. When leaders are looking at the upside of a situation—welcomed or unwelcomed—then they create a virtuous cycle. They start talking about it, they say out loud what they’re seeing, and then other people join them in taking action, doing what is necessary to really take advantage of the upside.
In your research on leadership, what distinguishes a highly effective leader?
One of the things that stands out about highly effective leaders is that they actually spend five times more attention and effort leveraging what is possible and what is positive in the moment than they do focusing on problems. That is a big reversal from what most of us by nature and nurture do almost automatically.
What neuroscience refers to as our negativity bias literally equips us to be more sensitive and more reactive to something that spells danger, harm, problem or something’s not right. And so if we let that negativity bias have its way, most of us are literally the opposite; we’re focusing on the upside five times less than the downside.
What we’re doing here with highly effective leaders is we’re training them how to be aware: “What am I paying attention to?” And if it’s a huge problem or a huge barrier, something that’s significant, of course, you need to pay attention to it, but pay attention to it as an asset-based thinker would—by focusing five times more effort on the assets inherent in the situation, even if the situation is problematic.
On the other hand, deficit-based thinkers are people who have not tackled or tried to tame their negativity bias. It’s quite easy to do. It’s a simple process, but we find it difficult because it means cultivating a new habit.
Soul is all about meaning what you say and saying something meaningful.” –Kathy Cramer
You break down communication into substance, sizzle, and soul. It really resonated with me. “Saying it” with substance, sizzle and soul makes communication positive and memorable. Would you share an example of this?
I’m thinking of Franklin Delano Roosevelt here. In his famous inaugural speech, one of his first lines was, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Let’s just take that one memorable line. There is tremendous substance here, which really refers to the psychological fact that when you are afraid, when you’re in deficit-based thinking land, there’s some anxiety. And in this case, America was going through the Great Depression, so the anxiety was profound. When we feel hopeless we have a very narrow focus. Our minds operate like lasers zeroing in on what the problem is and how to escape. But there is no creative bandwidth at all in that.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” –F.D.R.
So when a leader is speaking with substance, he is giving people the kind of information that FDR was presenting, the cautionary tale: If we act out of fear, we surely will fail, we surely will be sub-optimized, we surely will be impulsive.
Speak With Sizzle
The sizzle that’s associated with this phrase has to do with the emotion, the profound warning that you can hear in FDR’s voice. We can go to YouTube, we can Google this particular speech, and we can hear it thanks to technology now and even view him as he spoke those words. The tone of his voice and the message itself had sizzle because they were speaking directly about emotion.
Mark, it’s great to have a chance to talk with you as everyone is thinking about New Year’s resolutions: how to make them, but more importantly, how to keep them. Your book is a blueprint for success and is packed with principles, ideas, methods, and specific actions all designed to change your life. We can’t cover even a fraction of them, but I want to ask you about just a few.
“The best leaders keep their minds positively focused.” –Mark Divine
Let’s start with visualization. You put it this way: “Visualize Powerfully.” How do you personally visualize your goals and your success?
I learned in the SEALs the importance of winning the mission (goal) in my mind before stepping off the ramp into the dark of the night.
What this means for me is a three step process:
Go after well defined targets
First, I ensure that the targets I go after are the right targets and are super well defined so I don’t waste valuable time and energy chasing impossible dreams or improbable projects. In the past I often had poorly defined new year goals that quickly fell by the wayside. That happened because they were the wrong targets, or poorly defined to begin with. I outline a powerful process for preventing this and selecting the right targets in my book.
Imagine what victory looks like
Second, I imagine what victory looks like for my target / goal. I see it as clearly and with as much detail as possible in my mind’s eye. In fact I have built an imaginary training space I call my ‘Mind Gym’ where I do this inner work. In the gym I see the outcomes of the goal, see myself achieving it and what my life is like after. I see myself as the type of person who CAN achieve the goal and possessing all the skills and knowledge necessary to crush it.
Review your goals daily
Third, I visit my mind gym daily to review the visualization while tackling the tasks and preliminary steps toward accomplishing the goal. This strengthens the image and eventually leads to greater confidence and certainty of mission success.
“Decisiveness is a must for anyone seeking to gain momentum toward their critical targets.” –Mark Divine
You talk about the importance of breathing in your book. Why is it so important and would you share one of your breathing exercises?
The Benefits of Deep Breathing
In a firefight or any intense situation, I learned to perform better by controlling my physiology and psychology. The key was learning how to breathe more powerfully. It is the first and most important of what I call the ‘big four of mental toughness’ skills. Deep diaphragmatic breathing, through the nose, brings two immediate and critical benefits for mission success:
First, It is a stress release mechanism because it stimulates the automatic nervous system’s calming function. We are riddled with stressors coming at us from all angles, many self-imposed, and this breathing technique slows down our heart rate, calms our body and allows us to get back in control of our physiology so we can direct it towards performance.
Second, it centers us by narrowing the range of our critical mind’s thought patterns. The concentration required to breathe deeply means you are now focusing on health and stress release. This triggers positive feelings and thoughts, and the mind slows down so we can direct it towards the important tasks leading to success.
The training technique is simple, called the ‘Three part breath.’ Begin by exhaling all the air from your lungs, then inhale deep into your belly . . . your belly will move out. When the lower part of your lungs are full (your belly is ‘full’), then activate your diaphragm to fill the middle of your lungs. When that is full, then use your upper chest to fill the top of the lungs. The exhale is then done in reverse order, and the whole breath cycle should be a five count inhale and five count exhale. Over time you will do this naturally and unconsciously in one step, versus three steps. It will help you stay positively focused on your important goals in 2014 AND have great benefit for your overall health and peace of mind.
When he storms into your office with a voice just beneath a yell, red-faced and angry about something someone did. “Before you tell me another word, take a deep breath.
But the real benefit comes from breathing before a crisis or stressful event. A deep breath almost at any time can change your mood, improve your day and help you achieve more. I don’t always remember to do it, but when I do, my day is more relaxed and I have a better and calmer presence. As a singer, I know that I feel better after singing a difficult song. The reason may very well be the forced deep breathing from the diaphragm.