The Power of Positive Leadership

Positive leadership can be described as modeling, facilitating, and purposefully influencing positive emotions that encourage team members and employees to excel in their work. 

Positive leaders will cultivate an empowering environment through communication, accountability, emotional intelligence, motivation, and model-worthy work ethic.

Joyce E. A. Russell of Helen and William O’Toole Dean of the Villanova School of Business (VSB) says, “Some might say that positivity is something you’re born with and that you are either a positive leader or not. Actually, positivity is a skill that requires work each and every day. It may look easy to others, as if you are simply a positive person (and you were born that way), but that’s because you have worked on your ability to stay positive no matter what – despite the health or personal crises you are facing, your overwhelming workload, the obstacles that arise, and the difficult personalities and challenging people you are dealing with.”

The PotentialSquared team wanted to delve a little deeper into this fascinating topic, so we reached out to learning & development professionals to ask what they understood by positive leadership – their answers offered a fascinating blend of ideas and thoughts:

Jessica Amortegui, Global Talent Development and DEI Leader, Airtable

“Positive leaders understand the heliotropic effect, which is about energy. You literally see it when a plant leans toward the sun —it’s moving toward life-giving energy. That movement is the heliotropic effect and it’s the impact positive leaders have on others. People can’t help but lean toward them. Through emotional contagion, they spread positive feelings and energy through their teams and organizations. People follow them because of how they make them feel. They connect in ways that make people feel seen, heard, and valued. They signal that their presence matters and that they matter. As a result, in their presence, people show up as their best selves and give their best efforts.”

Todd Billingsley, Leadership Development, Biohaven Pharmaceuticals

“Leadership should be positive; that is fundamental to the role. Being positive means believing those under your care can grow, evolve, and become freer and more autonomous. However, positive leadership is not soft. It’s not easy in a world that is quick to criticize and seek immediate results to believe in the potential of others.”

Catherine Peloquin, MBA, PCC , Global Head Learning & Organizational Development, Galderma Global

Positive leadership is like dancing ’above the line’. Check your intention. Do you guide from fear (below the line) or opportunity and creativity (above the line)? True authenticity naturally inspires ‘above the line’ conversations.”

Positive leadership, if done well, is the antidote to a lacklustre workforce. It is effective as a leadership style regardless of personality, background, age, level, or circumstances. It applies to every type of team, business, organization, and market. However, positive leadership should not be misconstrued as a cop-out from accountability, efficiency, and responsibility. Its very nature seamlessly enables ownership and responsibility.

Are you getting the best from your people? Here are 5 tips to build an engaging workplace through positive leadership, from Liz Rider.

Create a positive culture where people can thrive. When employees are engaged at work, they feel valued, secure, supported, and respected compared to a high-stress, cut-throat culture. Avoid developing a culture of blame and competitiveness, instead focus on learning and collaboration.

Trust and respect employees. If the pandemic did anything it highlighted the lack of trust, we have towards employees. When we believe in our people, they will do their best, when we micromanage and check up on people, we lose this. Take the approach of checking in with your team and providing support and coaching where needed.

Growth mindset approach. We are hard-wired to find the problems and reasons why things are not working. Instead, celebrate what is working and what your team is achieving and build upon this. A growth mindset focuses on what can be done and sees failure as the opportunity to learn, whereas a fixed mindset sees failure as the limit of a person’s abilities (Carole Dweck). 

Strengths-based development – Looking beyond the gaps and weaknesses of your team and focus on what they can do. Bring out the best in everyone by taking the time to understand the unique talents within your team and nurture them. Believe that their growth is limitless and see what they can achieve. 

Social Support – We spend 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, shouldn´t it be great? We are human and all have emotions so it´s important to support each other at work.  Show care and compassion for employees and ask them “How are you today?” and really mean it! 

A friendly word of warning – be cautious of toxic positivity. If we are constantly positive and ignore negativity we can be seen as naïve and even irritating. Be realistic in your positivity and allow people time to express their disappointment or fears.

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