By John Langhorne / Guest Editorial

In three previous articles, (, we strolled through a series beginning with the idea that attitudes are learned motivators. We ended with the observation that the “characteristics” model of leadership has failed.

The latest thinking and writing about leadership sees it not as a set of skills to be mastered, such as management, but rather a life-long journey of self-discovery, development and wise self-deployment of a person’s strengths. This is an example of a relatively new perspective labeled positive psychology. Briefly, instead of focusing on a person’s weaknesses, identify their strengths and help them self-manage from that base.

Consider this developmental model of a person’s life. Attitudes, a combination of thoughts and emotions support relationships. Relationships are the glue that binds roles together. Roles are the building blocks of organizations. Organizations define our lives. Obviously, this is not a direct causal chain but throughout the links there are many reciprocal and interdependent interactions. Consider the question, what do you do? The answer to this single question probably tells you more about a person than any other.

So let’s examine these components in sequence. As we walk through these elements, you can carry out a thought experiment and perhaps even make a few notes. First, consider the relationships in your lives. You can easily rate each as making either a positive or negative contributions to your personal satisfaction. Contrast the personal effects of a manager from hell versus those of a long-term, deep partnership. You can also rank the order of importance of these relationships in the full context of you current life. Who is the single most important, positive person in your life at this moment? Who is the single most negative person in your life at this moment? You have now defined the end points of the distribution of your relationships. Keeping in mind that negative influences have much more salience, are there enough positives to counteract the negatives?

Then beginning with the endpoints, what and where are the most positive and negative roles these relationships support. Recall a role is a set of well-developed, integrated behaviors appropriate to particular situations. Examples at work might be colleague, friend, immediate manager, office gossip or HR manager. Examples in the family domain might be partner, child, adult child, close relative etc. Examples in the public domain could be lunch mate, neighbor, child’s teacher and friend(s). Each list is specific to you and may be relatively modest or very extensive. The number of roles you interact with is probably not as important as the quality of the roles. There is probably an interesting gender difference here.

Each of these roles is embedded in an organization. The two organizations that are most widely held in our culture are family and company. There are at least 17 family structures and every family is probably different from every other. Companies come in three major types: private, public and not-for-profit. I have been in at least 300 organizations and they are all different. We live in a very complex society. The cultures of these organizations range from delightful to toxic. As in the previous paragraphs, you can identify your best and worst organizations and examine the contribution each makes to your personal satisfaction. You might want to focus on the organizations you live in rather than the organizations you interact with. These core organizations have an enormous impact on the quality of your life.

Thinking about this model, remember that emotions are highly contagious. If you surround yourself with people and structures that radiate positivity, you are likely to have much more personal satisfaction then the reverse.

We have just walked through a model designed to help you reflect on the overall quality of your life. At sometime in your life, perhaps more than once, you will find yourself in a very difficult situation that has a powerful, usually negative, impact. Evidence shows that such a crucible in either a threat or opportunity to your well-being. Beginning with the empirically-supported premise that attitudes are learned, it is apparent that each of us makes our lives by either creating virtuous or vicious cycles of thought, emotion and action. All of this begins with our internal conversations. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.




John Langhorne is with Langhorne Associates. He can be reached at His new e-book, “Beyond IQ: Practical Steps to Find the Best You,” is available at