PERMA – an acronym that was devised by Martin Seligman (Wiki entry on Martin), a published psychologist who has spent much of his life determining the tools required for a ‘good life’ as he describes. During a lecture given to the Royal Society of Arts, he presented a positive psychology model based under the acronym of PERMA. This idea has since been adopted across many management teams as well as many other disciplines as a model for building positive, productive and people oriented teams. My three favourite Ps!

You may now be thinking to yourself: ‘But Kirstie, I’m here to read about technology leadership; not to have a psychology lesson!’. My response to you, dear reader, is that they are one of the same. Understanding people is essential to how successful a leader you are / will become. As leaders, our relationships with teams, suppliers, peers etc and their part in the three Ps are a big part of what defines us.

So let’s take a look at what PERMA means.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 12.17.21I believe that this is a tangible structure to build a positive leadership framework from and here’s why.

Positive Emotion

This can be the hardest thing to cultivate as leaders, especially if you are tasked with an environment that has become accustomed to negativity and its effects.

I have often been accused of allowing emotion to creep into what I’m doing. When I was younger, this was particularly apparent to my peers and judges when frustration would creep in – nowadays this has often become a reaction to my dedication that people are not resources but your key to success. I have sometimes been negatively perceived due to not being quite so gung ho with the discipline and firing processes.

Emotion is a very powerful thing and it has many guises. A person may say to you ‘Stop being emotional about this’ to mean ‘I feel you are taking this personally’ when they actually are expressing a reaction to negative emotion. Emotion is an important factor of your life that will be behind your drive, your dedication and your motivation for your successes. What we must actually work on is the positive manifestation of these emotions.

As leaders, we have double the job! We must lead by example. Any emotion must be motivating and positive for your team and organisation. This means we also sometimes must coach our team and organisation into positivity and implement change where necessary to maintain a positive drive.

Positivity is key.


This may be a term you will mostly use during your UX and marketing meetings, however, it has just as much place in your leadership techniques as well. Just as to encourage our users to use our products, we must encourage our teams and partners as well!

In my experience, the greatest negative aspects which hinder engagement are a lack of insight into impact. Imagine spending all day sewing patches of brown material together for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for some coins with 20 days off a year without ever knowing anything about what they became, what use they were and what use it was sewing them. Would you feel fulfilled and inspired to dedicate yourself to your goal? What is the goal?

Long gone are the days where you are told that your motivation was to do as your told and take home your paycheque. It is proven that people who are more engaged are more connected with your organisation, more supportive in a team and will strive to do the best they can to achieve the success for them and their team. Being able to see your impact on a success story I find is something most people in teams want to see.

Sometimes, you can’t always show the bare bones of the success. You probably can’t say to your entire company commercially sensitive information. Transparency is not all about hard solid numbers, it’s about trends, metrics and displaying the success direction. This can be in the form of conversion rates, user engagement statistics, hitting deadlines, technical debt levels and many more. By making these transparent to your entire organisation, each and every member can directly attribute their effort to a metric that matches to a clearly defined objective and goal.

Transparency is key.


Our relationships in life are key to our success. This is true for every single walk of life and goal from a mother to a cashier to a CEO. Relationships are what you build in order to develop inspiration, understanding and trust. Without these elements in our teams, the rest of the PERMA model falls down.

Collaboration is of great importance to me; systems that collaborate are highly efficient and so are teams. By building a collaborative culture, we instil trust, sharing of knowledge, personal development, mentorship and a joint responsibility. It is in here that there is no room for ‘that’s not my job’ or ‘It’s his/her fault’. Blame and isolation do not breed wealth of success, revenue or personal goals and they are damaging in teams as well. How can a team achieve a common goal if we are not empowered to do so by both our peers and judges?

How can we as leaders cultivate, monitor and implement this when relationships are so dependant on many people? It’s not an easy job, to some it comes naturally and to others it is a goal for them to achieve. It is important that we as leaders show by example. He/She is the thrust, the suspension and the glue. He/She is the spokesperson with the team/org and for the team/org with clear visions that have come from joint learning, collaboration and common goals.

Collaboration is key.


‘What is the point?’ This question should always have a very clear answer for any member of a team or organisation that asks it. It is an age old question – ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ and that often permeates our entire existence either on a conscious or subconscious level. Why should I exercise? Why should I go to work today? What is the point of swapping this tasty cake for this less tasty banana?

It is often when we see little point to something, that we can not be the positive, productive or healthy people we aspire to be when we can and the same goes for our place of work. The engagement part of this acronym is heavily entwined with this one. One comes with the other and rely on each other to help deliver and empower our teams and organisations to thrive.

How do we achieve meaning? It’s all very well providing the metrics to engage, but how do we make them important? How do we make the relevant?

It’s incredibly important during the recruitment process to not only hire for skills. You ideally want to hire people that show at least an interest in the type of organisation you have and/or what you are trying to achieve. If this is not apparent, the work won’t have relevance to that team member and this may become destructive later on. Team and organisation fit is just as important as the ability to perform a task. It is also important to provide inspiration through engagement to establish meaning amongst the troops. What difference are we going to make? Would you expect a person to give their life for a cause they didn’t believe in? Then would you expect a person to dedicate 1/3 of their life to excel with an organisation they didn’t believe in? Inspiration through vision and team fit are essential.

Inspiration and Vision is key.

We’re nearly there – promise! 🙂


Recognising peoples’ accomplishments is a very well documented course for success. With clear insight into achievement and recognition of that fact, most team members will feel a sense of pride which is one of the most effective positive emotions to drive success.

It is also important that we realise the hard work behind accomplishments and look after our team. This is making sure they are being supported through their development processes. More on this can be found here: The importance of rest which is a blog I wrote some time ago about supporting our teams.

By keeping this balance of hard work, fun and rest in our own lives; we can instil it in our teams and organisations to always deliver without unnecessary sacrifice thereby setting a healthy positive culture.

Balance is key.

Concluding to…

Here we go – I promise I’ve nearly finished now!

With all this in mind, PERMA creates a fabulous framework to align yourself to leading your teams. Next post on PERMA will look at the different leadership tools we can use to promote this that you probably always thought a bit much or old school on their own such as SWOT and PEST analysis to use as a monitor for change.