“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”—John Quincy Adams, President of the United States from 1825 to 1829.
Positive leadership, according to the Financial Times’ lexicon, are the principles that promote thriving at work, interpersonal flourishing, virtuous behaviors, positive emotions, and energizing networks. It focuses on facilitating the best of the human condition to emerge—its virtuousness—and thus, motivate people to unlock their potential inside the organizations.
Inspiring positive emotions in the workplace is highly beneficial and widely documented within scientific research and positive psychology. Positive emotions like joy, interest, pride, awe, and gratitude, for example, determine higher levels of wellbeing among employees, fostering resilience, reducing stress, and enhancing healthier immune systems. Happier employees are more engaged, more productive and creative, they sell more, they make better leaders and are less likely to burn out. As a result, companies have better client satisfaction, reduced employee absenteeism, lower job turnover, more innovation and increased profits.
But what differentiates a positive leader? Communication is the key. Positive leaders take responsibility not just for the content they want to share, but how well their message is transmitted. How clearly, lovingly, compassionately, sensitively, courageously, and completely their ideas and visions are shared. Positive leaders cultivate constructive relationships based on authenticity and trust. They inspire by showing an honest interest in the humanity and unique talents of each colleague and subordinate, celebrating the small and the big victories, motivating through a sense of meaning and purpose. Their positive emotions are contagious and far-reaching, reverberating through the whole organizational culture.
“Good leadership requires discipline, foresight, and organization. Great leadership, on the other hand, comes with an added dose of strong positivity. Because while regimented strength is admirable, it does not inspire or influence a team the way that a force of positivity can.”—says Jon Gordon, bestseller author and inspirational speaker, in his recent book The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World. Interviewed by Forbes, Gordon adds: “Positive leaders, they unite the organization, they unite the team, they bring people together to work together; to create one team with one plan and one goal, all working towards the same vision and purpose. Then once you have that, it's about connecting with the relationships, to develop the relationships with each person on the team, to be able to encourage and mentor and inspire… I often say positive leadership is not just a positive state of mind. It's a positive state of action. What are you doing to invest in these relationships that help people become their best so they can help the team be their best?”
So, is it possible to become a positive leader? There are many theories of wellbeing that focus on how to help people feel good and function effectively at work. Martin Seligman—American psychologist, considered the founder of positive psychology—suggests that in order to flourish, people need: the right balance of positive emotions, the opportunity to be regularly engaged by using their strengths at work, the presence of good relationships, the feeling that work has meaning, and the ability to accomplish goals that matter. Michelle McQuaid—masters in applied positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, best-selling author, and workplace wellbeing teacher—mentions five of the many ways to be a positive leader:
• Be mindful of the mood of people: neurologically, people will be in a better place to deal with stressful situations after watching an inspirational video, or after listening a story of gratitude.
• Build strengths: focus primarily on employees’ strengths rather than in weaknesses and find out what support is needed to develop these strengths further.
• Cultivate positive relationships: each time we genuinely connect with another person, the pleasure-inducing hormone oxytocin is released into the bloodstream, helping to reduce anxiety and improve our concentration and focus. Take a few minutes each day to show kindness and gratitude.
• Find purpose: one of the strongest instillers of meaningfulness at work is the belief that our job has a positive impact on others. Focus on the ‘how positively we impacted’ more than in just ‘what we did’.
• Ignite hope: make sure that there is at least one project people are truly excited about, even if it is more passion than priority. Hope is instrumental in the ability to deliver on the goals people has set.
Positive leadership is what makes the difference between a true leader and an average one. It is the humanity behind his or her behavior, the truth and authenticity driving his or her actions, and the contagious passion what inspires greatness, happiness and enthusiasm in others. Positive leaders are powerful not just because of power, but because they use their leadership for the good.
Written by Paula Arellano Geoffroy for Together Abroad.