Positive intelligence is a recent term in the world of executive coaching. But, as happened with emotional intelligence a couple of decades ago, the term “positive intelligence” is likely to change the way we look at leadership and performance.
One of the authors talking about positive intelligence is Shirzad Chamine. He argues that research in the fields of psychology, neuroscience and organisational science shows that companies with teams and leaders that have higher positive intelligence can perform up to 35 percent better than those without, while their staff are happier and report lower levels of stress.
In the book “Positive Intelligence”, published in 2012, Shirzad Chamine talks about invisible mental “saboteurs” which prevent people from achieving their goals. He identifies 10 saboteurs and gives them names, such as Judge, Controller, Victim, Avoider and Pleaser.
Saboteurs are automatic and habitual mind patterns, each with its own features, which work against our best interests. They are remnants of our primitive urges and instincts. Chamine says nearly 95 percent of executives attending his lectures conclude that they have saboteurs preventing them from fulfilling their full potential.
Different people are affected by different saboteurs. But a saboteur common to all cultures is the judge. The judge is the universal master-saboteur, a tendency to notice and exaggerate the negative, to constantly find fault with yourself, with others, or with your conditions and circumstances.
The antagonist of saboteurs is the “sage”. The sage has access to your deep wisdom, creativity, compassion and clear thinking. It works to build positivity, using five powers to overcome the saboteurs: empathy, exploration, innovation, navigation and decisive action.
Grounds for divorce
Chamine argues that positive intelligence is more important to effective leadership and performance than emotional intelligence or your intelligence quotient. The reason for this is that positive intelligence is a more basic, core form of intelligence. Without it, attempts to improve other sorts of intelligence are likely to fail because of “self-sabotage”.
Positive intelligence is measured by the proportion of time our minds are working in our favour rather than against us. The tipping point for positive intelligence is a score of 75, meaning our brain is working in our favour 75 percent of the time.
Chamine arrived at this figure by using data from various studies. One set of data was from research by John Gottman. Gottman, by making several studies and thousands of observations, learned to predict whether a couple would divorce. After just five minutes with a couple, he was able to predict correctly in more than 90 percent of cases.
An important factor in making his predictions was the ratio of positive expressions he heard to negative expressions. Couples that stayed married had, on average, five positive interactions for each negative interaction.
Other research that Chamine used was done by Marcial Losada. Losada adapted the methodology used by Gottman to business teams. Losada observed that the ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback was a strong indicator of the success of a team. Successful teams had, on average, three positive interactions for each negative interaction.
Another researcher Chamine cites in writing his book is Barbara Fredrickson. Fredrickson found that university students who made, on average, three or more positive statements for each negative statement, were much more likely to be in a state of good mental and social health.
The importance of positive intelligence suggests the need for self-improvement. There are three main ways to improve your positive intelligence.
The first way is to weaken the saboteurs. This is done by identifying those that harm you the most, properly labelling saboteur thoughts when they come to mind and then letting them go.
Fighting saboteurs head-on is inadvisable, as it can, paradoxically, strengthen them. For instance, when you criticise yourself for judging yourself, the judge is playing the part of a double agent.
A second way to improve your positive intelligence is to tap into your sage’s perspective whenever a problem arises. Always regard problems as an opportunity or something that could be turned into an opportunity.
Third, you should give your positive intelligence workouts in the same way that athletes give their bodies workouts. This can be done through special exercises meant to build up positive intelligence “muscles” or the parts of the mind most involved in the sage’s functions.