Reflecting on the Summer Fellows Program

August 1, 2014

By: Allison Sheehan

One of the things that I value most about the Center is the people. As I wrote in my initial blog about first impressions, right away what caught my attention about the Center were the bright-colored walls and the collaborative set up of each room. However, I quickly realized it’s the interesting people and conversation that make this place so unique. It has only been eight weeks since the Summer Fellows started at the Center, but I have built high quality connections with my fellows much faster than I have in any of my other jobs. I think this is due to the focus on recognizing and sharing positive identities with one another, and our weekly celebrations at the beginning at every Lunch and Learn.

As Chris Murchison said, “Introduce yourself with your soul, not your role.” By doing this, people become more dynamic and easier to relate and talk to. They become more than just a student, studying some subject, graduating in some number of years. They become a person with interests and ideas that make them unique from the people on either side of them. And when you’re able to figure out who they truly are, going beyond the basic questions, and when they can figure out who you are—that’s when quality connections are made. That’s when work becomes more enjoyable and productive.

Along with meeting very dynamic, fun, and interesting people, I also learned a lot about POS that will be useful in my everyday life and in the other jobs I pursue. I learned the importance of reflecting on successes and failures, which are both critical to my learning. I was also reminded of how useful sharing experiences with others can be for both parties. It allows you to learn from your mistakes and successes, and it allows them to learn vicariously through you.

Something that I have also learned is that in order for anyone to reach their full potential, they must be in an environment that allows and encourages your best self. Whether it’s Fred Keller talking about POS having the power to help people solve “wicked-complex problems,” or Jane Dutton describing people as geysers, which can flow as soon as resources from within are unlocked, both are focused on unleashing potential in people to create more than just an efficient workplace. When people are able to make personal connections and find purpose in their work, they are able to attain flow and vitality. They are able become a garden if full bloom, versus one that is languishing each year, showing no progress. They are able to walk away with an ice cream sundae with a cherry on top, versus plain vanilla ice cream. Instead of being “normal,” or lacking a problem, they become great and positively deviant.

Another lesson that has stuck with me is the concept of having symbiotic relationships. Whether this concept it used to negotiate genuinely, or to create connections with businesses and their communities, it’s vital in many circumstances. In the case of a business, it is important to realize that every decision made has an effect on people, the planet, and profit. Every decision has the possibility of creating a positive effect for both the business and community, or a negative one. I never truly thought about the power a business has on a community, but after sitting through a Positive Links Speaker Series session, led by Fred Keller, describing all the positively impactful programs Cascade Engineering and other businesses have, I realized how big of a role businesses do have.

And it’s not just the impact a decision might have on the community, but also the impact that employees experience when they are positively contributing to their community. When they’re able to see the effect their work has on others, it gives them a drive to want to continue to improve. If all businesses were to evaluate how each of their decisions affects people, profit, and the planet, everyone involved would positively benefit.

Finally, it is important to recognize and to celebrate that everyone and every company is different. There is not a single formula or practice that is going to work for every company, but being willing to find which positive practices will work for a business or group of people, that’s important. I think the practice that suits a group the most can be found through focusing on high quality connections, sharing experiences, encouraging vitality, and valuing symbiotic relationships. Performing these actions will create a positive environment that unlocks potential, and allows for people to be positively deviant and impactful.

I am extremely grateful to have been given the experience at the Center this summer. The lessons I learned are ones that have helped me get a clearer idea of what I want to do with my future, and have sparked my interest in many topics I didn’t even know existed. I am excited to continue my learning, and to see the growing impact POS will have in the workplace.

Allison just finished her freshman year in the College of Literature, Science, & the Arts. She heard about the Center from a Peer Advisor and was drawn to it because of its new and unique way of looking at organizations. Now she is part of the Social Media and Blogging Team as a Summer Fellow. She is excited to be a part of the fellows program and the environment and to learn about all of the aspects of the Center’s work, while discovering how to put positive meaning and leadership into the workplace.