Unleashing a Virtuous Circle

I didn’t hear about a Virtuous Circle until a classmate mentioned it during our MBA program. I was much more familiar with its distant cousin: the Vicious Circle; which unfortunately seems to enjoy greater popularity. On both of them there are series of actions or events where one of them reinforces or triggers the next one, in a chain that develops its own synergy. The Virtuous Circle, unlike his counterpart, deals with a constructive synergy. So, how can we develop a positive environment which reinforces itself through actions from ourselves and those from of our team members? How can we unleash a virtuous circle?

Set the ground rules – Authentic leaders determine values to which the team sticks no matter what happens. They communicate them clearly and use them to direct. These principles are a powerful force to align the team and to set ground rules for a path of increasing performance. I remembered this once again when I was confronted by my boss’s boss when we started working together. I was delivering a status report and I didn’t have details on every deliverable. So when he started asking tough questions, I candidly said what I thought the status would be. He replied: I don’t need your thoughts right now; at this time I need the facts; do you have them? I hesitated for a minute trying to elaborate something but then I changed my mind: I don’t have them right now. He closed: That’s ok, make sure to get them and come back to me as soon as possible. After providing him with the full status, I reviewed the subject with my boss to get his feedback. He said that it was one of the core principles of that executive: be hard on issues, be soft on people. I identified immediately with such a principle and I was onboard, eager to demonstrate my commitment by the next status meeting.

Get out of your comfort zone – virtue cannot be cultivated if we keep sitting all they long in our old desk doing the same boring things over and over again, or by doing nothing at all. So we can pick a specific action which is small enough to score us a win with some certainty, but significant enough to force us out of our comfort zone. The idea is to stick to it until it becomes a habit. This will allow us to increase our performance in a consistent manner and it will keep us motivated to try new things. Staying some minutes late at work to plan the next day or entering some minutes early to read an article or to take some training would work pretty good. 

Be sincerely proud of your colleagues – an environment of healthy competence is a good thing, but to stay healthy it should be kept greed free. Sometimes we are too busy thinking about ourselves and our own success, that we take away all the air around us. Take some time to analyze your colleagues and find out the things they are particularly good at. This will prove useful when the team faces new challenges. Don’t be afraid to praise a good decision or a significant contribution when you see it. This will reinforce a positive environment where people we’ll feel recognized and would like to contribute often with their abilities.

Learn from your mistakes – There are certain questions durin a job interview that aim to uncover how a person deals with its own mistakes or weak points. Unless you are a super hero you have a few of those, right? However some candidates have a peculiar ability to remove themselves from the scenery whenever they talk about things that didn’t went good on the assignments for their teams. Placing dirt under the carpet serves no purpose to anyone. Whenever you do something wrong, be prompt to acknowledge it, review what caused it and take the necessary steps to correct it. In this way you will take real advantage of the price that you will pay for a mistake anyway. It will also set a tone for the team to assume mistakes and failure in an adequate manner, which they will need to face sooner or later.

- Sergio A. Calvo

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