Leadership is complex and multifaceted. It can make or break a team, the execution of an idea, or an organization. The last year and a half have shown us the need for the right kind of leadership. Achieving goals, creating new products and markets, and championing a group of people takes the right mix of leadership qualities and competence.
In the mainstream discourse around leadership, the focus is often on different leadership personality styles, ranging from autocratic to charismatic. However, these styles do not encapsulate the broader view on leadership nor make provision for leading through uncertainty, building a sustainable leadership environment, and creating a repeatable, replicable system.
You need a more holistic approach, which is where positive leadership comes in. In this article, we take a deep dive into positive leadership and its applications in business.
What is positive leadership?
In her book “Practicing Positive Leadership,” Kim Cameron defines positive leadership as "the implementation of multiple positive practices that help individuals and organizations achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy, and achieve levels of effectiveness."
Positive leadership is modeling, facilitating, and purposefully influencing positive emotions that encourage team members and employees to excel in their work. Positive leaders cultivate an empowering environment through communication, accountability, emotional intelligence, motivation, and model-worthy work ethic. Much like you would prepare and till the land for agriculture, positive leadership aims to enable an effective and emotionally invested workforce in the most frictionless way possible.
Positive leadership sees the well-being of the individual human and the organization as prongs of the same fork. Therefore, creating positive work conditions for employees and building relationships through teamwork will help the whole company prosper.
Why can adopting a positive leadership style be beneficial?
Positive leadership is based on the power that a leader exudes and wields in their position. As a leader, you have a sphere of influence that affects the results you produce and the teams you manage. So, why is adopting a positive leadership style the perfect recipe for an effective team? What are the benefits of adopting a positive leadership style?
Perfect for leading in times of uncertainty and volatility
A positive leadership style is the most sustainable and excellency-driven framework for leading in periods of uncertainty, volatility, and ambiguity.
Over the last year, industries and markets have been rocked by unprecedented volatility from which they are yet to recover. A positive leader can lead their team through a long-term period of ambiguity where a continuous balancing act is needed to not only survive but thrive.
Uncertain and chaotic periods do not send a memo before showing up. It’s up to leaders to manage and steer the ship in these seasons. Positive leadership helps to prepare the way for handling adverse scenarios and trying times.
The positive leadership style encourages building the strengths of employees and team members, being resilient and optimistic in difficult times, and recognizing each person’s contributions. Positive leadership proves to be the best framework for leading through uncertainty, which is a constant threat when running a company.
Building a team that is emotionally invested in the work they do
An emotionally invested team and workforce are passionate about their work, the results they bring in, and the quality of team interaction. Coercion, forced enthusiasm, and disconnect from the organization's big picture cease when a team is emotionally invested in the company and its bottom line.
Positive leadership evokes a sense of ownership in employees, which drives them to go the extra mile to achieve set goals. It does not erode human agency in stimulating effectiveness, agility, and productivity.
If you’re keen on building a team that doesn’t see work as drudgery but is quick to embrace growth, share progress, and bring the bigger picture to life, positive leadership is the way to go.
Embracing flexibility and openness
Two key ingredients for cultivating an Agile environment and a team that can thrive through uncertainty are flexibility and openness.
Flexibility makes room for engendering and adjusting to changes as the need arises — a necessary skill for growing as a team and an organization. Openness ensures that the flow of communication is not staccato and communication channels are accessible and dependable.
Positive leadership is essential to building a company or leading a project with a seamless flow of communication, openness to feedback, and clear direction.
Essential for a world navigating inclusiveness and diversity
Building a diverse and inclusive business means understanding and leveraging emotional intelligence, psychological predispositions, multiculturalism, philosophies, and self-awareness. All of this is possible with the power of positive leadership.
Positive leadership examples
Below are our favorite positive leadership examples to inspire your growth.
Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar and former President of Walt Disney Animation Studios, is a remarkable example of a positive leader. He made Pixar a workplace where openness is ingrained in the culture. His focus on pursuing excellence through employee engagement, enthusiasm, and effectiveness is well known in the animation and creative industries.
Catmull puts a lot of emphasis on self-awareness, recognizing blind spots, and coaxing out the strengths of those around him. This makes people feel comfortable enough to see criticism in the right light, turning feedback into a welcome adventure.
Barack Obama embodies the attributes of positive leadership. Imagine Obama was the manager of a department in your company. How would he handle being a leader? How would he manage his team?
Where people see obstacles and roadblocks, he sees opportunities and possibilities. He created a culture of integrity and transparency in his administration, which paved the way for loyalty and higher efficiency.
Obama exemplifies the type of leader who helps people see the bigger picture and fosters psychological empowerment while holding himself and his workforce to an acute sense of worth and accountability.
As Alan Mulally, the former CEO of Ford, told Jon Gordon, "You have to love your people. They have to know you care about them. But you also have to hold them accountable to the values, principles, culture, and standards."
Indra Nooyi shows what you can achieve when positive leadership and empathy are at the forefront of your mind. During her twelve years at the helm of Pepsi, she helped create the version of the company that is known and loved.
Expanding Pepsi's offerings to include healthier foods and introducing environmentally friendly practices, Nooyi empowered her employees to embrace a bigger cause than individualism.
Other positive leadership examples can also be drawn from leaders who, according to Lloyd and Atella (2000), represent "commitment, courage, dignity, healthy control, choice, decision, the will to action, responsibility, freedom, challenge, personal meaning, authentic community, communication, activism, social support, and faith."
How do you become a positive leader?
Having learned about the power of positive leadership, you may be wondering how to be a positive leader. What are the practical steps for fostering positive leadership at your company?
This is where we introduce to you the 4 P's of positive leadership, a structured matrix for putting positive leadership into practice.
What are the 4 P’s of positive leadership?
The 4 P's of positive leadership are Psychological Safety, Purpose, Path, and Progress. These four principles are the crux of living and executing as a positive leader. Let's explain what they are and how they catalyze your transformation into a positive leader.
According to one definition, psychological safety is the belief that you won't be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.
Psychological safety breeds an atmosphere that ensures team members will not be embarrassed, put down, or rejected when they speak up, share their work, or make mistakes.
This encourages people to show up fully at work without fear or intimidation. When employees feel that their unique contribution is welcome and criticism is truly constructive, they bring their A-game to the table.
The example of Ed Catmull and Pixar is an excellent case study on the importance of psychological safety. Pixar's culture focused on the journey of filmmaking to make failure a necessary and psychologically safe part of the process. Employees were encouraged to face failure and criticism with open curiosity in their attempts to realize a sound story structure.
Psychological safety has many positive effects, including:
- Increased confidence
- Boosts in creativity
- More trust between team members
- Improved engagement
How do you create a psychologically safe work environment?
Create a psychologically safe work environment by following the tips below:
- Prioritize psychological safety: The best way to assimilate a behavior or habit is to make it a priority. Have open conversations about psychological safety, reiterate its importance in your team, and model the behavior for your team. Help team members see how crucial it is for their individual positive goal setting, practice emotional intelligence and empathy, and invite them to do the same in their interactions.
- Make learning a norm: A workplace that encourages learning and growing through imperfections is a psychologically safe workplace. When team members are not ashamed to ask for help, they are braver about their work, spurring creativity and innovation. Prioritizing psychological safety creates a safe space for learning and experimenting.
- Have a clear-cut communication method: To establish an open, feedback-encouraging team, the channels and method of communication should be free of ambiguity. Encourage curiosity, speaking up, and suggestions by having specific carved out moments for that. You could host regular open house meetings where experiments, failures, and progress are discussed without hierarchy, judgment, or inequality. This will go a long way in ensuring unbarred psychological safety.
The second P of positive leadership is purpose. Purpose, in this case, refers to attaching meaning to your work beyond the act of just getting the job done. When employees see their work as being connected to a higher purpose, they are more likely to be positively engaged.
To enable a sense of purpose in your team members, you need to take the time to show them how their work connects to the bigger picture of the organization. Humans have an innate desire to understand the impact of their presence or work in a larger context. You need to show how their work is a necessary piece of the puzzle.
Simon Sinek said, "People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe." If you apply this to employee relations, you'll get a truly purpose-driven team.
Path, the third P in the 4 Ps of positive leadership, focuses on having clarity on goals, resources, roles, timelines, and strategies.
Path defines the ‘how’ in granular detail. Positive leaders do not scrimp on giving clear expectations and directions to the team they manage. Team members have no doubts about what is expected of them, what they need to do to achieve their goals, what tools are essential for delivering the best results, and the time constraints that shape their tasks.
Progress, the fourth P, speaks to the connective tissue of leadership, which has to do with promoting a sense of value, growth, and development. This can be done in two ways:
- Showing appreciation, celebrating small and big wins, and nurturing a deep sense of positivity.
- Building good relationships with team members by providing support and feedback on performance to boost morale.
Balancing it out
Positive leadership is the antidote to a lackluster 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.
To foster positive leadership in your organization, you need the right tools. Wrike project management software provides a secure, centralized digital workspace to manage multiple projects and teams without micromanaging or losing touch with stakeholders and collaborators.
Wrike gives visibility into project progress, automates reminders, and provides many useful functionalities to encourage positive leadership within your organization. Get started with a two-week free trial.