The Way to Lead Today 

positive leadership, friendly female leader

Cutting-edge technologies, a more mobilized generation of employees, and the pandemic have significantly shaped various areas of our lives – including the world of working. Terms such as remote working, flexible working hours, or work-life balance are ubiquitous 

Currently, employees’ needs are paramount, but so too is the need for management to adapt to the adjusted status quo in order to dispel internal disharmony within organizations. After all, who will remain loyal to a company with a negative working atmosphere when there are a raft of bright, shiny, and new alternatives popping up daily?

In this article, we will show you how to use the concept of positive leadership to lead your company safely through difficult times, retain talent, and achieve outstanding results with your team.    

What is positive leadership?

The term positive leadership was originally born from the results of various studies on brain research and positive psychology. Accordingly, purposeful, and positive actions should increase positive emotions in the team and lead to an excellent performance.

Kim Cameron is an American organizational psychologist with a PhD in management science at Yale University. Cameron revolutionized traditional patterns of thinking about leadership and is well known for his work on positive organizations. In his publication Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance, he identifies the three most important characteristics of positive leadership: First, it facilitates a performance that deviates strongly into the positive (“positively deviant performance”).

Furthermore, the method is based on an affirmative bias, i.e., a fundamentally more positive attitude, such as focusing on strengths instead of weaknesses, optimism instead of pessimism and support instead of harsh criticism (“affirmative bias”). Finally, Cameron stresses that the approach promotes goodness in human beings and values such as virtue and eudaemonism. 

Eudaemonism describes the experience of happiness based on personal development, for instance by discovering new cultures or learning languages. 

In their book “Zum Glück gibt’s Erfolg: Wie Positive Leadership zu Höchstleistung führt(translation: Fortunately, there’s success: How positive leadership leads to high performance), the German authors Creusen and Eschemann state that positive leadership (among other factors) is based on the following attributes: self-efficacy, hope, goal achievement, resilience, and optimism. Self-efficacy, hope and goal achievement describe the faith in oneself, and the hope and motivation to achieve a goal. Resilient leaders guide their company and team successfully through crises and demonstrate excellent problem-solving skills.

It also focuses on authentic, values-based leadership. But these values should not only remain empty promises. Instead, they should be actively demonstrated and practiced. We are talking about values such as showing compassion, being honest, trust, inclusion, or providing a listening ear.   

positive, nice feedback, work-life-balance, happy

Mother nature as a positive role model?

Satisfied employees perform to satisfaction. Already in the 1930s, this realization was proven in the research work of Rexford B. Hersey.

In this hypothesis, he states that happy people are naturally more productive. The concept of positive leadership is based on the same principle and thus has some similarities to the biological phenomenon of the heliotropic effect. It describes the predisposition of all organisms to naturally turn in towards the light, or to say it in another way, towards the positive. Plants bend towards the sun, people recall good experiences for longer, and in any language in the world you will find more positive words than negative ones (Cameron). But where do the parallels to positive leadership lie? Managers who make use of positive energy achieve the same outcome. They operate as energizers, do not exhaust others, but rather infect with their enthusiasm. Studies show that improved well-being significantly increases the number of hormones such as dopamine and oxytocin in the human body and thus, strengthens immunity to diseases, which in turn increases productivity. 

Therefore, the secret to a successful organization, with productive and motivated employees, is a high level of wellbeing for everyone.    

How to lead your team in a positive way

How can entrepreneurs create such a sense of wellbeing? There are various approaches and interpretations. 

As an example, Cameron speaks of four underlying strategies in his book. According to this, the first thing to do is to create a positive atmosphere in the company by showing compassion and gratitude as well as forgiving mistakes (positive climate). In addition, team members should establish positive relationships by building a network, harmony, and integration, e.g., by having lunch together, coffee breaks, yoga, or excursions (positive relationships). Moreover, the organization needs to foster positive communication, e.g., by using best-self-feedback methods. The Best Self-Feedback method involves colleagues of an employee naming three positive impressions each, whereupon the most frequent ones are extracted from the list to form individual strengths. Finally, positive entrepreneurs need to think optimistically and find a positive meaning in everything, regardless of whether it is a setback or a mistake (positive meaning).   

Other defenders of the positive leadership approach focus especially on personal development and on the resulting well-being and success of individuals. These include the elements of talent development, commitment, vision development, and the inclusion of every individual. To ensure that employees’ commitment to their tasks is at its highest, they should be in a state of workflow. This describes a situation in which the person is fully absorbed in his or her task, is maximally motivated and, at the same time, disregards time and space. But how does one reach such a state? 

Csikszentmihalyi worked on this phenomenon already back in 1975: He referred to the individuality of people and explained that each task should be tailor-made for everyone. This is the only way for an individual to achieve maximum intrinsic motivation, which is necessary for optimal productivity. If the requirements of a task are too high or too low, it can easily result in over- or under-challenging and lead to a lack of motivation. It is therefore even more important to identify personal strengths and special skills of each employee. It is equally essential to establish a shared corporate vision and to clarify what extent everyone in the team can contribute to the achievement of this goal. To do this, a good leader must also be able to communicate new ideas in a transparent and effective w