4 Pillars of Positive Leadership that Promise Results

Negativity costs our economy $500 billion dollars a year in lost productivity.  Disengaged workers lose customers, drive up healthcare costs, and contribute to absenteeism and turnover rates.

In contrast, positivity at work is associated with better organizational behavior, better relationships with colleagues, better customer evaluations, less absenteeism, and less turnover.  So happiness doesn’t just feel good – it is good for you, your employees, customers, and the organization’s bottom line.

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The goal of positive leadership is to create workplaces that foster high satisfaction and high productivity.  How can you become a more positive leader?  These 4 strategies will help you transform your organization from the inside out:

  1. Foster positive communication
    Replace negative and critical language with affirmative and supportive language.  At your next staff meeting, pay close attention to the comments that are being made.  Are you being pessimistic or are you fostering enthusiasm and engagement with optimistic language?

    Research shows that high performing organizations have different communication patterns than low performing ones.  In a recent study, 60 work teams were observed from behind a one-way mirror while they crafted their annual plans.  Each statement was coded and then the company was evaluated based on three success indicators: profitability, customer satisfaction and 360° feedback evaluations.  Only 15 teams were categorized as “high performing.”  The single most important factor in predicting their performance – which was more than twice as powerful than any other factor – was the ratio of positive to negative statements on those teams.  In the highest performing teams, that ratio was 5:1.  That means that for every one negative comment, there were five positive ones made by the team members.

  2. Facilitate positive relationships
    Leaders who foster positive relationships emphasize strengths, recognize small victories, and use positive imagery with team members as opposed to focusing on errors, mistakes or problems.  Telling people what not to do is less helpful than identifying what they should do.  Addressing weaknesses in your staff is damage control; not development.  It can help people achieve a level of competence, but building on strengths helps people achieve excellence.

    Positive leaders model positive energy.  They begin interactions and meetings with a celebration of what is going right.  The impact of positive relationships on emotional health, life expectancy, and extraordinary performance in teams is often unrecognized.  Relationships that help people contribute to the benefit of others, rather than merely get support from them, are the most valuable.

  3. Associate the work being done with positive meaning
    Positive leaders highlight the value and significance associated with their organization’s outcomes — beyond the personal benefit of individual employees.  How is your company making a difference in the world?  Reinforce the benefits of your product or service for others, connect your work outcomes with the core values of your employees, and identify the long-term impact created by your work.

    When people feel they are pursuing a purpose or engaging in work that is personally important they are likely to experience less stress, absenteeism, and turnover, as well as experience greater engagement, commitment and satisfaction.

  4. Encourage a positive climate
    A positive climate is one where positive emotions predominate over negative emotions.  Employees are optimistic and hopeful as opposed to feeling fearful, anxious, and suspicious.

    As a leader, you have an extraordinary degree of impact on the climate.  You can significantly influence your organizational culture as you personally display positive emotions, model compassion, and express gratitude.  Leaders who exhibit these virtues create a climate in which people are cared for, supported, and encouraged to flourish.

    Research confirms that a positive work climate can enhance decision-making and creativity.  People are able to take in more information and learn more readily when they experience positive emotions.  A positive climate has also been found to enhance productivity, engagement, and prosocial behaviors.

    Click Here for Free Download: Positive Leadership Manifesto



Humans are hardwired to pay attention to problems and danger.  This makes sense as ignoring a negative threat could be lethal.  Ignoring something positive only results in regret – it is not life threatening. 

Negative events, mistakes, and disapproving feedback are much more influential and longer lasting in individuals.  We have all experienced those days when 99% goes right, but we find ourselves concentrating on the 1% that goes wrong.

Without intentional effort to focus on the positive, negativity will receive much more attention.  Positive leaders are unique in that they choose to emphasize the inspiring side of organizational life, even in the face of difficulty.  Leaders have to solve problems and can’t ignore obstacles, but you should strive to counter the tendency toward the negative with an abundance of positivity.  In the absence of this emphasis, the negative can overwhelm the positive and become the default. 

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RELATED:  15 Devastating Leadership Derailers
RELATED:  How to Create a Positively Contagious Work Environment
RELATED:  The Positive Leadership Manifesto 

Resource:  Cameron, K. (2008).  Positive Leadership.  San Francisco:  Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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  1. Ron Peterson says:

    I am fascinated by the concept of positive influence over negative input. “Instructional” feedback seems so often to highlight the negative or mistakes followed by ways to do better. I was raised in an atmosphere of pride being the ultimate sin so most effort was on how to fix wrongs not emphasize rights. Even in our humor it was evident as sarcasm/ridicule was passed off as funny. However, it was often hurtful and cutting leaving scares and doubt as to self worth.
    I am retired/disabled and, with my wife, still raising a 16 yr old son. I find myself being very critical of him and justifying my behavior as teaching and necessary for his development. How can you change if you don’t know what to change? Having said that, I find that most often my son knows what he is doing wrong without me telling him. So, the idea of promoting his strengths and abilities is foreign to me yet very intriguing. How can I lift his strengths in front of him so that he sees them more prominently that his failures? just sayin’.

    • Thanks for the comment Ron. It is difficult to change our patterns of behavior, particularly if we were raised in a climate where negative comments were the norm. But it’s never too late! Try to identify positive things every day that you can compliment or praise in your family. The ideal ratio is 5:1. If that seems out of reach right now, make an effort to start with 3 positive comments for every 1 negative comment per day. When this becomes a habit, you can try to increase further. Pray for discernment to notice the positive things each day.

  2. Jay Randy Walker says:

    The best way I’ve found to instill positivity into group dynamics is to identify and then go after a shared, objective goal. This gets people on the same side from the start. And then get those team members together to talk about the best ways to achieved the goal. Two ground rules apply in these meetings: 1. We must be supportive of one another’s ideas and efforts and 2. We encourage a diversity of thought around the topic. Then we repeat the process weekly (aka weekly team meetings).. In those meetings we look at our progress via our objective metric (increase in revenue, reduction in cost, better customer satisfaction scores…) and then we begin the conversation again observing our 2 rules stated above. This has a tendency to get people really interested in what they are doing and how their efforts are contributing to the achievement of our goal.

  3. Bill Parker says:

    Article is dynamite positive. I’d add “work to remove obstacles to great performance”, thus eliminating excuses. Then, encourage individuals to develop individual purposes in the workplace, then each will be driven by specific, noble reasons for coming to work. We still have way too many managers and too few leaders!! ENJOYED your article, Dr. S!

  4. Great article Stefani, I fully agree. There is no room in business or personal relationships for negativity. Something that is often overlooked is the power of gratitude. When you are being grateful for something, you can’t be negative. It is a simple practice with powerful results.

  5. Kurniawan says:

    thanks Stefani. A very Positive article! The four pillars will create positive atmosphere, furthermore, a trust pondation in an organisation. One positive action will generate another positive reaction…

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