Leading Through Positivity
Negativity and discord have reached historic levels in our culture. Most aspects of our lives are widely affected by worsening attitudes, constant complaints and pessimistic mindsets. Like a virus, they spread easily, even when unwarranted.
Negativity impacts families, communities, institutions and workplaces. Leaders see the results firsthand, regardless of whether they recognize the causes. Turnover rises, projects fail to hit their goals, and productivity falls short of expectations. Leaders receive poor financial reports or drops in market share. Studies confirm the American economy suffers financially each year, to the tune of $300 billion, when corporate cultures turn negative.
Leaders miss negativity issues unless they’re close to day-to-day operations. They fail to appreciate the drain negativity causes—and when they finally take notice, they often implement the wrong remedies. This response cascade is guaranteed to make matters worse.
The Power of Positivity
The most powerful truths are often the simplest. Just as negativity causes myriad organizational troubles, positivity has the opposite effect. Logic tells us that a positive approach has to be better than a negative one. We glean this from our experiences and the common sense we’ve acquired. Evaluations of corporate performance and culture affirm that positivity is a powerful, yet often overlooked, force that can determine whether an organization will thrive or take a dive.
Over the years, studies of corporate performance reveal that a positive culture:
- Inspires people to have better ideas and find better solutions
- Yields more realistic visions and more feasible plans to attain them
- Inspires higher levels of employee engagement, initiative and productivity
- Sees more projects succeed and goals reached
- Does better at overcoming adversity and building unity
- Boosts levels of employee hope and security
- Outperforms competitors with negative cultures (and takes their market share)
- Is more innovative and quicker to market with new products
- Experiences improved communication and collaboration
- Has more employees committed to success
A positive culture clearly drives performance, which translates into greater prosperity for everyone. Only when leaders embrace this concept can they make cultural changes that profoundly benefit their organizations.
Culture is established by only one person: the leader. You cannot rely on other people or circumstances to set your workplace tone. You need to determine, initiate, maintain and enhance your organizational culture using your character and leadership traits as primary tools.
Many leaders dismiss positivity as a simplistic notion, but it’s one of the most fundamentally powerful tools in their arsenal—and it costs you nothing. Nonetheless, many intransigent leaders refuse to take the first critical step toward experiencing all the benefits of a positively empowered company.
Making the Crucial Decisions
Leaders fashion a positive culture by first seeing a need for improvement. A qualified leadership coach can help spot the telltale signs of negativity. Once problem areas are recognized, it’s time to take the next crucial step: making the decision to do something.
Positive results require a positive approach. Leaders must decide that positivity will be the charter for the company and that conscious changes will be well worth the effort. Life is difficult and negative enough, notes leadership consultant Jon Gordon in The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World (Wiley, 2017). The only true remedy is to be positive.
But Gordon realizes that simple positivity is insufficient. Being positive while also being effective is the perfect combination to overcome negativity’s obstacles. Effectiveness is the blending of reality with a better mindset. One must see things for what they are and implement potent methods to turn around problems.
Leaders must also adopt a positive character—not a superficial positivity, but a genuinely encouraging mindset and determination to see the good in things (and pursue and accentuate them to create a better reality for all).
So, exactly what do these positive leaders look like?
For some, it may mean stepping out of their comfort zone. Those historically influenced by negative environments and people may find themselves overtaken by pessimism and a critical nature. Their challenge: to reject this pervasive mindset and set a new course—one that may feel foreign at first. It may be necessary to start fresh. Leadership coaches specialize in empowering their clients to effect positive changes.
Leaders, however, cannot succeed without a fundamental desire to overcome obstacles and create an environment that inspires positivity in those around them. As Gordon instructs: Develop a passion to be the best at what you do and be a winner. Motivating your organization with that philosophy will start to change the culture. Your winning attitude requires personal investment, for you and your team. With your determination and optimism, the environment will transform. Making these important decisions sets the leader in motion to influence the mindsets around them, to lead the way, and pursue a positive path forward.
Enhancing Your Character
When leaders have a more positive character, their thoughts, behavior, instincts and responses are more receptive to organizational needs. They see a brighter future in which problems become opportunities.
Start building positivity by working to overcome your own negativity, Gordon advises. Reject negative behaviors like complaining, gossip, selfishness, apathy and untruthfulness. By placing a higher value on integrity, honor, service to others, caring and truthfulness, you’ll push negative elements aside, where they belong. You’ll enjoy greater satisfaction and experience personal and professional benefits. The more you practice positivity, the more natural it will become—and the less desirable your old ways will seem.
A positive mindset eliminates the need for ego or pride. Fulfillment comes from the joy of positivity and self-worth. The pursuit of excellence with your employees fosters the enjoyment that negativity blocks.
Minimizing the negative influences around you also increases your ability to transition to positivity, while simultaneously reshaping the culture. Your employees will experience their own character shifts when leadership no longer tolerates negative behavior. Negative people around you become uncomfortable when behaviors and comments are met with disapproval. Your encouragement makes positivity more appealing to them.
Direct reports support and appreciate leaders whose positive character inspires transformation. As people choose to follow you, your care for them will grow, as will your spirit of service.
By diligently building a more positive character, followed by persistence in pursuing it, you and your people will ultimately refuse to live any other way.
Leading by Positive Example
An organization’s culture is an extension of its leader’s philosophy. Leaders need to let people feel their walk, sense their mindset and be compelled to follow it, Gordon says. This sets the positivity example. Put it out there for all to experience and get used to. Gathering employees to inspire a culture shift has benefits, but nothing influences a following like living positively and loving it. People seeing how their coworkers’ lives have improved is the most powerful teaching tool you have.
If your culture encourages acceptance and discourages disinterest, positivity becomes the norm. As with leaders, once people taste the benefits and rewards of a positive mentality, they will buy in. They’ll set their own examples and encourage each other to do the same. They may even correct each other with reminders, taking their cue from you. They understand that you’ve established the goal of working positivity into every operational aspect.
The transition may be slow. Backsliding may occur after frustrations or crises arise. Your coach can help you maintain your focus and hold you accountable. Good outcomes are great motivators when positive approaches are used. Rely on this, especially in tough times.
Sometimes the example set by positive leaders requires difficult decisions that protect the organization from negative influences. Ineffective products or services may need to be discontinued. Negative, damage-inflicting clients may need to be dismissed. Stricter policies may need to be put in place to deal with conflict or detrimental behavior. Toxic employees deserve the chance to be converted to positivity with the appropriate oversight and counseling. If they choose to remain negative, they may need to be replaced.
Your passion for positivity gives you several hats to wear: role model, cheerleader, guardian, coach, enforcer and rewarder.
Building on a Firm Foundation
Great leaders expand their efforts to solidify a collective perspective and build upon the culture they’ve initiated. They continue to battle negativity and reinforce the expectation of a positive workplace. They promote one spirit: one united front to raise the bar.
A solid, positive culture is undergirded by trust. You earn trust by caring about your people and developing relationships with them. Make this happen by:
- Listening to them and providing for their needs. Applying active-listening skills helps people feel valued, which improves positivity.
- Encouraging and inspiring your people to think, respond and apply themselves positively.
- Communicating about everything. Give people information, and let them in on the plans to fulfill your vision. Let them feel worthy of being included in what’s going on in the organization.
- Getting to know your people, their interests, their lives and aspirations. Let them know who you are by sharing the same. This offers a sense of family and unity, which prompts a positive feeling about the workplace.
- Trusting people to make more decisions and be ambassadors of positivity. Letting your people take ownership of their culture strengthens it.
- Inviting people into problem-solving activities and allowing them to inject their expertise to make a difference. Celebrating positive outcomes also reinforces a positive mindset.
- Providing coaching and mentoring resources to help your people gain skills and become more valuable contributors.
- Creating a safe environment through transparency and security, where politics, favoritism and deception are rejected. People’s fear and anxiety will be minimized.
In a community of trust, people know each other well enough to think the best of their coworkers, instead of criticizing or grumbling. If your employees sense a greater optimism, your clients and customers will follow suit. Positivity is visible, indicating that a good fundamental culture is at work. Companies that exude positivity draw customers because they know their needs will be met. Your people and your operation thereby prosper.
Dr. Maynard Brusman
Consulting Psychologist & Executive Coach
Trusted Leadership Advisor
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