Positive psychology is the study of why folks are happy and successful. Where traditional psychology studied mental illness, or negative deviation from what is viewed as normal behavior, positive psychology studies positive deviation from the norm. At least as much, if not more, can be learned by studying positive deviation, or why folks are just insanely happy or successful. Let’s face it – normal isn’t so hot! It certainly is not a goal to work toward.

Positive organizational scholarship
is the study of positive psychology in organizations. Appreciative Inquiry is one set of techniques that has emerged from this scholarship.

In preparation for speaking at their annual sales conference, I have recently been studying the highest performing salesman (yes, they are all men) at Mack Truck. As a form of Appreciative Inquiry I have been “inquiring” into why the best of their eight hundred sales people consistently outperform the others. I have interviewed them regarding their habits, or the routine way they go about their work. So, why are they so good? The answer contradicts many of the sales techniques that are commonly taught in sales training. They don’t fit the mold.

What each of these folks are is authentic. They are entirely natural, comfortable in their own skin. None of them can describe their closing technique or how they keep score on their performance. But, they are all “truck guys”. They love trucks, they love Mack trucks. They genuinely care about their customers to the point of sometimes advising them NOT to buy trucks when the business need doesn’t justify it. And, they fit perfectly into the culture of their part of the country and their customers. There is no sense of hard sell, hard push, or any manic motivation to succeed. Rather, there is a sense of “flow”, the natural performance of a process that is so well practiced that it happens with little deliberation.

What does it mean to be authentic? It means to be yourself, to be whole, to be engaged in work that fulfills the need for developing your natural talents; the need for financial success; and the need to do something worthy. These are the three components, the three slices of bread, that when put together result in both financial success and personal happiness.

Authentic performance is achieving your potential, utilizing your natural talents and abilities, and in passionate pursuit of goals you believe to be worthy.

Each of these two elements are critical: 1) achieving your potential, your natural talents and abilities; b) passionate pursuit of goals you believe to be worthy.

Mack’s best salesman know themselves. Each of them are different in their style, pattern of communication or the specific tools they use. But, they are the same in that each recognized their own talents and utilized those talents. I was particularly impressed by one who acknowledged that he had a life long stuttering problem. You would think he wouldn’t go into sales. But, on the contrary, he had learned to speak in a slow and deliberate manner that controlled his stuttering and, he felt, conveyed a sincere listening and respect for the other person. He turned what could be a liability into an asset. That is knowing your own talents and abilities.

And, they all had a clear sense of purpose – both serving their families, their communities, and their customers. I am certain that the genuiness of these motivations among the dozen best salesman was far higher than among the norm.

Discovering and encouraging authentic performance is one of the next challenges for our organizations.