Want to Be a More Positive Leader?

If you’ve been a leader for any amount of time, you’ve likely faced the dilemma of wanting to be more positive than you actually felt inside. You’re not alone. Being upbeat and calm in the face of difficult situations is a challenge for all of us. It’s especially important for the impact you have on others.

Daniel Goleman, in his ground-breaking 2002 book Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence, shares the results of thousands of research studies that began after WWII:

The leader acts as the group’s emotional guide, driving the collective emotions in a positive direction and clearing the smog created by toxic emotions. If people’s emotions are moved towards enthusiasm, performance can soar but if a leader relates with rancor, anxiety, or even low empathy, they will be thrown off stride.

It’s true in your personal life too. You’ve heard the old expression, “If mama’s not happy, nobody’s happy.” The leader of any clan holds the responsibility, whether they acknowledge it or not, for creating positivity or negativity in the environment. Further, it doesn’t just benefit those you lead — building more positivity helps you be more happy, healthy, and productive.

What Does Being Positive Really Mean?

Being positive is a mindset of optimism over pessimism about situations, interactions, and others — including yourself. Here are some characteristics:

  • The expectation that things will turn out well,
  • The confidence to make better things happen,
  • The commitment to remain hopeful, even in difficult situations,
  • The practice of values such as strength, courage, and resilience
  • A desire to inspire and contribute to others

Positivity does not ignore negative circumstances or minimize pain, failure, risk, and losses. It’s a realistic acceptance of responsibility for stepping up and taking responsibility for one’s own part in making good things happen. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, called it being proactive rather than reactive.

Positivity can turn toxic if one goes so far as to reject difficult emotions in favor of a cheerful and falsely-positive facade. It’s emotionally healthy to grieve, feel sad, angry, confused, and overwhelmed in the midst of a crisis. Emotions that are felt, processed, and shared help you accept change and face it authentically.

Ways To Build A More Positive Workplace

In the book by William Byham and Jeff Cox called Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment: How to Improve Quality, Productivity, and Employee Satisfaction, leaders are either Zapping their people (encouraging, empowering, and energizing) or Sapping employee’s energy (discouraging, blaming, demoralizing). It’s a great little book and fun to read. Here are some ways to Zapp your people:

  • Celebrate wins often.
  • Ask how it’s going and really listen.
  • Provide sufficient autonomy and flexibility.
  • Acknowledge strengths, contributions, and progress in growth.
  • Allow for plenty of training and support to increase skills.
  • Show compassion when things are not going well.
  • Inspire with vision and stories that offer hope for the future.
  • Bring energy to the workplace with humor, transparency, and joy.
  • Model respect, fairness, non-judgment, and kindness to all.
  • Set a team standard of constant improvement. One leader calls it “committed complaining” vs. “uncommitted complaining” — encouraging all to bring up what’s not working or ways we could be better with engagement in exploring ideas and finding solutions. Rule: No one can declare what’s not working without being part of the solution and offering a few ideas.
  • Accept conflict as a normal part of relationships and teamwork. Seek to address and resolve issues quickly with minimal drama. Actively advocate for a no gossip, no back channeling culture. As Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind.”
  • Model gratitude and share it with others.

Pick one or two this week to strengthen your team. You could even try this exercise: Ask your key employees how you are doing on a 1–10 scale in these behaviors.

Becoming a more positive leader will have a beneficial impact on the satisfaction, engagement, and performance of your teams. It may not always be easy but it’s worth the effort to build better workplaces, families and a more joyful you!

Stay tuned for next week’s blog, How to Build a More Positive Mindset.

Elaine Morris
Executive coach and positive intelligence expert

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Elaine Morris is a master-level emotional intelligence and executive coach who brings more than 30 years of experience to upper level executives and their teams.

Elaine Morris