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NewsOK: Oklahoma City consultant encourages leaders to focus on workers’ good results

by Paula Burkes

Have you ever taken a vacation with a leader? If you did, there’s some telltale signs, Oklahoma City leadership consultant Nathan Mellor says.

Leaders might come away from a day at Disneyland, for example, and say, “That was nice, but if they did this and this, it’d be better,” said Mellor, noting leaders similarly critique movies.

“Leaders,” he said, “tend to see the negatives first, thinking if there are no problems, they’re not needed.”

But psychologists, workplace researchers and Oklahoma City employers have learned that focusing on workers’ strengths, versus their weaknesses, leads to process improvements and overall success, he said.

Mellor, the chief executive of  Strata Leadership and Mosaic Personnel staffing firm — who holds master’s and doctorate degrees in dispute resolution and organizational leadership from Pepperdine University — spoke at an Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium luncheon Wednesday at the Oklahoma City Petroleum Club.

“I’ve found telling people they don’t have character doesn’t help,” Mellor said, drawing guffaws from the packed ballroom.

“People who don’t know the expectations have a difficult time thriving, because they don‘t know how to succeed,” he said.

Mellor applauded Oklahoma City-based AAR Corp., now the world’s No. 1 aviation support company, for reducing its annual workers’ compensation costs and days missed from $850,000 and 1,100 days to $35,000 and one day missed.

“They did that by catching what people were doing right and being a cheerleader,” he said. “It was the same people, same location, same planes, but different attitude,” he said.

Mellor credits Kimray Inc. oil-field equipment manufacturer for starting the trend of thanking employees for specific good works, nearly a decade before Martin Seligman chose positive psychology as his theme as president of the American Psychological Association in 1998. Seligman advocated focusing on what makes people well, or life worth living.

The University of Oklahoma, Mellor said, is helping lead the nation in this idea with its Institute for Human Flourishing.

Workers with supervisors who focus on their strengths are 61 percent engaged, compared with 45 percent of those with bosses focused on their weaknesses and only 2 percent with ignoring supervisors, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the Workplace survey. Meanwhile, the percentage of employees who are actively disengaged, or as Mellor says, “make things more difficult for everyone,” is only 1 percent under supervisors focused on the positive, compared with 22 percent for supervisors focused on weaknesses and 40 percent for ignoring bosses. The remainder are simply disengaged.

Mellor said now is the time we’ll see character emerge in Oklahoma’s energy sector.

“The price tag of character is pain, which leads to perseverance, then to character and then to hope,” he said. Oklahoma staffing firms need to step up to “keep great people as close to home as we can keep them” and the U.S. needs to come up with a creative solution to the downturn “so that Saudi Arabia doesn‘t dictate to us,” he said. “We need to link arms and go at this together.”

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