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The FACTS of positive psychology

During the ‘Challenging Coaching’ master class I facilitated at last week’s Association of Business Psychologist’s Conference, I was asked an interesting question –  ‘What do the positive psychologists make of all this?‘. The question was asked after I had explained that the ‘F’ in the FACTS coaching model focusses upon how coaches and leaders give feedback that recognises a job well done but also holds the individual accountable for their mistakes, failures and negative impact on others around them. As it happened we had a positive psychology expert in the audience, Chris Samsa, who had delivered a keynote on the topic the day before. I asked Chris to comment and he explained that positive psychology does not mean that a person may not encounter challenges and difficulties on their road towards a happy outcome. I agreed and added that my goal in working with a client was not to make the person happy but to deliver the organisational performance goals as defined in the up front contract.

Particularly in the existing economic environment, there is often tension between the goals and expectations of the various stakeholders involved – individual executive, team, organisation, customer, shareholder, the public at large etc. Focussing upon maximising the outcome for the individual only would be an example of what in systems thinking is referred to as ‘sub-optimisation’. We explore this idea in more detail in chapter 8 of the book and use the credit crunch crisis as a topical example. Here, the maximisation of the goals of individual financial traders i.e. their bonus performance generated risks at other levels of the system that ultimately led to the downfall of the global banking system. As executive coaches we have to be very clear that our number one responsibility is to serve the wider system that is sponsoring our work and not collude with individual sub-agendas however tempting this may be.

This topic links to the influence of an eminent psychologist who we also discussed in the master class – one Carl Ransom Rogers (pictured below). In the swinging sixties Carl Rogers ushered in the era of person centred counselling which has dominated counselling, coaching and mentoring mind sets ever since. His approach  aligned well with a paradigm where the pursuit of personal freedom preoccupied most western ideologies. Yet, as we discuss in chapter 10 of the book,  maximising the collective potential arises not from pursuing blind freedom but from balancing personal freedom with personal responsibility. In an increasingly inter-connected world the words of  1920’s US lawyer Clarence Darrow bear down upon us all – “You can protect your liberties in this world only by protecting the other man’s freedom. You can be free only if I am free.” This is not positive or negative psychology it is simply facing the FACTS.