Change Your Company, Change the World

Change Your Company, Change the World

When faced with a toxic workplace culture, we can tend to check out, act out, or walk out. The spiral of negativity doesn’t end there. We pass it on to our families, friends, and communities. 


It doesn’t have to be this way. 


Organizational life can also elevate us. It can inspire and enable us to be better as part of a collective than we could ever be alone. More connected, more impactful, more energized. More of our best selves. 


Organizational culture is a leverage point for impact on enterprises, economies, and the environment… and also for people, their families and communities. Change your company, change the world. 


That’s why we do what we do. At Riverbank™, we energize and engineer organizations to unleash human potential. 


How we do it is just as exciting. 


We believe that knowledge without execution is useless. You need know-how and know-do. Our clients can count on an approach that is inspired and informed by award-winning management science, and grounded in decades of executive experience on our project teams. 


We feel a profound ethical responsibility to keep our promises to our clients. Some firms bring in the experienced folks to close the deal — and then hand it over to the young guns to get it done, if they can. Our executive consultants — all with extensive corporate leadership pedigree -roll up their sleeves and stay with our clients all the way to the finish line. 


We leave — but not too soon. This shouldn’t be special. But so many firms have built their business model from creating dependence on their services. Their goal is to run projects that never end. Or they create a splash but then call it a day without putting the pieces in place for sustained transformation. From the outset, we declare that we are here to bring about a change, and set things up for lasting success — and then taper out to let the organization carry it forward. And we do, with pride. 


And so, we are hiring. We need to find a missing piece in our puzzle. We want someone to be embedded in our client projects, to make everything click. Someone with the quality of character to work with C-suite executives and grassroots client project teams at the same time. A real team player who makes the rest of the Riverbank team better, and our caring and collaborative culture even more meaningful and fun. 


Riverbank is not for everyone. Is it for you? 


Apply here:  


The Simplest Explanation of Positive Leadership

The Simplest Explanation of Positive Leadership

“It is hard to be that nice all the time. And besides, people do not want things sugar-coated. Sometimes they need tough love.”

This was the complaint of a friend as we discussed the pros and cons of positive leadership.


I have met many individuals with the same concerns about positive leadership, even if they do not say them aloud. Yet the concerns my friend expressed are valid — and they are consistent with how I think about positive leadership.


Civility is foundational to positive leadership: everybody deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, whether we agree or not, and whether our performance meets expectations. Yet integrity and authenticity are also essential to positive leadership. People have an innate sense of when they are being patronized. Being sugary-sweet to a colleague’s face while feeling the opposite way inside — or even worse expressing these negative views to a mutual colleague — is far from positive leadership. We need to believe in what we are saying and doing, and act with integrity and civility.


Often, we think in terms of singular outcomes: “We must be more creative! We must be more collaborative! We need to be more competitive! We need to be more flexible! We need to have better processes!” Yet, positive leadership is all about embodying and embracing paradoxes. We need to be hard-driving and set ambitious visions and goals — and we need to care for people deeply and support them along the way. These two goals are not opposites. Sustainable success only comes from doing both at the same time.


Professor Robert Quinn built a stellar career as a scholar and teacher from a profound understanding of paradox. Enabling and managing important yet competing values is a core principle of positive leadership. How can organizational cultures be both competitive and collaborative at the same time? How can they be creative, but also have strong internal controls, processes, and policies?


Early in my time at the Center for Positive Organizations, I sought to better understand positive leadership. I asked Bob to explain it to me. His reply has stayed with me ever since.


“Positive leaders place one hand on your back to push you along faster and further than you ever thought possible. They place their other hand under your arm, to catch you if you are going to fall too hard along the way.”

This is a simple but powerful metaphor.


When we do not reconcile competing yet important values in healthy ways for the organization, we risk unintended negative consequences. A workplace that encourages relentlessly competitive behaviors without also fostering collaboration will lead to backstabbing, undermining, and potentially unethical behavior. Conversely, a team that encourages collaboration without also encouraging competitiveness can become directionless and uninspired.


The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. — F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The positive leader integrates paradox. She chooses to transcend either-or choices. She chooses to adopt integrative positions that are more effective than either independent alternative. She communicates them in ways that make sense for those around her. With one hand on our back, and the hand under our arm, positive leaders help us all create better outcomes than we thought possible.


Originally posted on Huffington Post.


How to Avoid Being a Fake Positive Leader

How to Avoid Being a Fake Positive Leader

Many sessions exist these days on “Executive Presence.” Such courses help high-potential employees to walk, talk, and look like a leader is meant to look. Whatever that is.




All too often, programs like these emphasize techniques people can employ to create a certain impression rather than their underlying leadership principles and values. Consequently, the practices advocated are not strongly rooted in integrity. Nobody enjoys feeling like they are on the receiving end of a technique that someone is trying in order to get what they want. We call that manipulation. When people try to be someone they are not, we experience it as superficial, inauthentic and insincere.


Instead, let us pay more attention to our belief systems about leadership and organizations. Here are three mental shifts that allow the practices of being a positive leader to be enacted with integrity and real impact.


1. From fixed to growth mindset

Do you believe that your abilities in a particular area are set in stone, or do you believe that — given proper attention — they can improve? Do you hold the same beliefs about those around you? How you answer those questions may have implications for happiness and performance related outcomes, according to research by Carol Dweck. In short, cultivating a growth mindset — one that emphasizes the learning journey over the immediate results — helps drive a range of helpful outcomes.


We can help ourselves to adopt a growth mindset by being deliberate about our learning experiences in our day-to-day roles. Sue Ashford and Scott DeRue, my fellow faculty associates at the Center for Positive Organizations, call this “mindful engagement.” Rather than being dependent on standalone training sessions, the mindful engagement process can be applied to many of our ongoing tasks and responsibilities. For instance, perhaps you want to get better at leading a team meeting, or conducting a performance appraisal for the first time, the process can be broken down into three main steps:


a) Set learning goals. Before beginning any particular experience, identify your learning goals. What is it that you are seeking to develop here? What experiments are you running?


b) Run experiments and get input. While undertaking the experience, the researchers recommend collecting feedback from others. What is going well? What is not? Why?


c) Debrief and adjust. Afterward, conduct an After Action Review. What should we keep for next time? What should we adjust for next time?


2. From problem solving to possibility finding

Sometimes, there are problems that do need to be fixed. So fix them! Positive leadership does not mean ignoring things that need to be improved. But many people go overboard with an obsessive focus on problem solving.


We see the obsession all around us. Organizational antibodies just love to find initiatives that do not look like the rest of the system. They kill everything that looks different by a thousand cuts. “We tried that once and it failed,” says one colleague. “We could never try that here, it wouldn’t work,” says another. Or, sometimes, you will just get ignored. These are all insidious ways of damping down the enthusiasm of those trying to create positive change.


As leaders, we can choose to place the majority of our attention and leadership energy on what is working well. Part of the key to creating sustainable change is to carefully ration the amount of change imposed from the outside. Instead, it is almost always better to find what is already working inside an organization and amplify it. On a daily basis, positive leaders ask “What is going well here? How could we make it even better?”


3. From hierarchical thinking to influence without authority

When you think of getting things done in your organization, do you picture an organizational chart? Or do you imagine a network of relationships? In reality, of course, most organizations are both hierarchical and based on networks of relationships.


However, the concept to which you assign primacy here says something about how you think of the workplace.


Positive leaders recognize that seldom are organizational decisions made by a single dominant player. Rather, there are influence systems around decision-makers, where people are constantly jockeying for position. Within these systems, the degree to which you positively energize those around you can impact the influence you have in the organization and the performance. By energizing others with character strengths such as compassion, presence, enthusiasm, purpose, generosity, humor, and care, you can both improve performance, and become more influential in the system. In turn, you may also make the culture more resilient.


Adopt a growth mindset. Encourage it in others. Find and amplify the good. Be a positive energizer. Help others to be positive energizers too. That’s the kind of executive whose presence I want to be in.


Originally posted on Huffington Post.

Why Positive Organizations Matter

Why Positive Organizations Matter

Creating workplaces conducive to human flourishing is one of the most important challenges facing the world today. Rising to this challenge will not be easy.


One can paint a gloomy picture of the human experience in organizations today. Just 30% of the American workforce is actively engaged in their work99% have experienced or witnessed incivility in the workplaceAround the world, there are 168 million child laborers. Of these, 85 million are involved in hazardous work that puts their health or safety in jeopardy.


Moving forward, there is reason to think that this landscape will become even more treacherous. There simply will not be enough jobs to go around. Artificial intelligence and automation, combined with population growth, have led some commentators to predict extreme dislocation of workers and accompanying social unrest. This is exacerbated by systems and policies that are accelerating economic inequality. Indeed, many credit this dynamic as being an influencing factor in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. In November, disenfranchised voters cast an angry ballot for a candidate promising to bring back the good days in industries such as coal mining that are surely on death’s door.


Yet there is reason to be hopeful as well. Business has the potential to be the greatest force for good in the world. Indeed, business will have a central role to play in the accomplishment of every single one of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Business is a powerful force for economic development. Globally, extreme poverty has been reduced by 50% (or more) in the last thirty years. Business is a powerful force for human development, too. Millions of people find their organizations to be a source of deep meaning and uplifting relationships in their lives.


We are in an era of intense disruption technologically, politically, economically, and socially. In this situation, we can choose to be victims, accepting whatever hand fate may deal us. Or we can seek to come out of this period of change invigorated by a new and better world of work. In every crisis comes opportunity.


We can make workplaces healing and generative spaces for ourselves and others. Some have argued that the deeper purpose of business is to bestow dignity on those engaged in it. We earn the respect of ourselves and others because of the values we embody and the contributions we make to the world around us. We can create good jobs, paid enough, with working conducive to human flourishing.


We have reason to believe that embracing the pursuit of positive organizations will be better for firm performance, too. At a firm level, there is a correlation between appearing on the Best Places to Work list and their stocks performance. For those of us working within organizations, there are implications. Those who have a high degree of learning and vitality — what Spreitzer and Porath call Thriving — are likely to have higher performance and experience less burnout than those who do not.


The time is now to build positive organizations. The world needs it. And each of us needs it — as leaders, students, scholars, and citizens.



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Cultivating Culture Requires Finding Our Whys

Cultivating Culture Requires Finding Our Whys

It’s a bit taboo to talk about love in the workplace. But that’s exactly what we felt after a recent team meeting. Let me explain.


I led a conversation to discuss why we’re “bankies” individually and to reflect on the purpose of Riverbank as a whole. Abundant research shows that purpose fuels us individually and collectively (subscription required). In preparing the meeting, I suggested that people consider Amy Wrzesniewski’s categories in “Jobs, Careers, and Callings” to help them think about what they’re seeking from their involvement with Riverbank. These categories help us see the role our work plays in our lives through different lenses.


For some people, “job” might include, “it helps pay the bills.”


“Career” might be, “I get to use my skills in engaging and progressively challenging ways.”


“Calling” might be, “I make an impact on peoples’ lives.”


All of these categories and reasons are valid, as they are just different lenses through which we can consider the meaning of work.


It was a fascinating discussion, in part because most of the participants no longer have to work for financial reasons anymore. Riverbank deliberately recruits recently retired senior executives who want to include meaningful work as a part of the way they spend their time now that they’re no longer responsible for large profit and loss statements (P&Ls) and thousands of employees. So, if not to pay the bills, why would they spend their time this way?


Everyone had their unique reasons for being involved. The authenticity of the conversation was inspiring. Some noted their desire to continue making a positive difference in the world. They want to spend more time with kids and grandkids, or traveling — but not all of their time. Others noted they enjoyed the continued intellectual stimulation of continuing work, but with much more flexibility than holding a top executive job enables.


However, the dominant theme in the conversation was the camaraderie that people felt within the Riverbank community. People expressed genuine warmth and affection for each other as human beings. There’s such joy in collaborating, creating and interacting with people who you truly like.