For those of us who are always on the lookout for impactful leadership solutions, today’s business environment offers quite a challenge. COVID, social and economic turbulence, and the pressure of delivering business results means line leaders must lean in and support their teams in a way they might not have experienced in the past. All of us, no matter what our titles are or how big our teams are, will need to reflect on our leadership styles and help our teams embrace constant change.
When it comes to my journey and the most challenging moments that I’ve experienced – personal or professional – the outcomes boil down to two common denominators: having a positive or solution-focused mindset and being surrounded by people who give me confidence and courage. Let me unpack this a little bit.
As a leader, it’s easy to focus on what’s not working. In fact, one can argue that a critical mindset is a ‘must have’ attribute of a transformational leader. The trick is not to avoid the challenge – it’s to look beyond it and get excited about how it will feel when you overcome it. By visualizing what success will look like, you can translate that excitement and paint a picture of success for your team. I’ve found that I need to shift my internal mantra from ‘I cannot make it work’ to ‘what needs to happen so it will work?’ From there, it’s all about determination, perseverance, and people. I like to think of this as positive leadership.
What is positive leadership?
To me, positive leadership is a mindset that leaders can adopt when approaching times of change – personal or professional. It’s a mindset that looks for possibilities, upsides, and opportunities. Questions we often can ask ourselves – How can we get the most out of our current situation? What are the positives we can build on? What can I learn, and which experiences can I harness? What have we learned in the past that can help us shape the future? What’s in my control and what isn’t? Is there a way to break the problem down into pieces? And how can I support my team?
Positive leadership is also about proactively reaching out to people who can help us fill gaps in understanding and assist in reframing the way we think about what’s on our plate. They can remind us of our strengths and past successes to build our confidence for the future. From there, we can shape the narrative we want to pass on to our team. It’s about reflecting, recognizing, and affirming the strengths of our teams, making the best of our differences, and complementing and building each other up.
I’d like to dispel some common misconceptions about positive leadership, as I feel it’s important to address what positive leadership is, and crucially, what it is not.
● It is about focusing on possibilities and finding ways to move forward. It is not about being naive or overly optimistic.
○ A positive leader does not ignore the reality of the current situation. Instead, they face it head-on. They look for opportunities and solutions rather than dwelling on the
negative. Particularly if those negative aspects are outside their control.
● It is about making sure setbacks don’t slow you down too much. It is not about suppressing your true feelings or your team’s feelings.
○ We can’t avoid negative emotions. They’re part of being human. So, leaders should not minimize people’s feelings of frustration or disappointment. Instead, a positive leader creates a safe space for teams to vent, discuss, and debate uncomfortable topics. They help reframe situations.
● Positive leadership is about generating positive energy. It is not about creating noise.
○ Many people associate positive leadership with a loud and exuberant leadership style. However, calm and engaged leaders are just as influential.
● It is about building healthier work environments. It is not about showing up happy and positive all the time.
○ Positive leaders can have a beneficial effect on the work experience and wellbeing of every member of the team. However, they do it through their decisions and actions rather than the volatility of their own emotional state.
Why is it so important?
I am a firm believer that if approached correctly, positive leadership allows you to achieve positive business outcomes in a sustainable and efficient way. Positive leadership can minimize the downtime of setbacks and frustrations. It can build solution-oriented teams that feel confident to challenge the status quo and comfortable enough to vent their feelings and move on. Positive leadership can also encourage individuals to recognize and lean into their strengths while addressing their development needs. It can improve employee wellbeing by creating a more trusting and positive environment.
Putting positive leadership into practice.
In theory, positive leadership sounds straightforward enough. But turning theory into practice is easier said than done. Here are some tactical methods I picked up along the way that you can use in your day-to-day work.
1. Make time for positive affirmations. Pause to visualize and celebrate wins. Point out the strengths of people on your team. Draw on positive examples from the past. Motivate your
team to rise to a challenge by reminding them of a time they faced a similar demanding situation and got through it.
2. Use your network. If you are having a hard time seeing the upside, reach out to people you trust – peers, leaders, or mentors – and ask them what they think. An outside perspective can often help shed a positive light on the situation.
3. Be patient and available. The aim of positive leadership is to move forward as quickly as possible, but that doesn’t mean you have to rush. Stop, look around, and gauge how others react to the situation before you set your course of action. Be available to listen to those who are experiencing challenges. Give them opportunities to vent, offer a hand where possible, and help reframe if needed.
4. Acknowledge that disagreement, debate, and conflict are uncomfortable but necessary parts of solution development. Disagreement stimulates creative thinking and leads to better outcomes. As long as it is respectful and not personal, it can help your team move forward. Do not be afraid of uncomfortable silence when your teams discuss sensitive topics, and do not rush to jump in. I have seen it on many occasions – a simple thing of holding or allowing a pause in uncomfortable discussions, more often than not, will trigger
individual team members to chime in with great ideas they were holding back on. This type of outcome is a lot more empowering.
5. Recognize that everyone is different. You won’t always be able to empower and motivate every team member in the same way. Some team members will naturally start looking for
solutions as soon as possible. Others are less inclined to see the positive and may need time before they can make progress. Make an effort to find the tactic that works best for
each member of the team.
6. Create positive “hooks” for yourself and your team to hold on to. If your team is going through a challenging time, give them something positive to aim for. It could be a specific
outcome or a fun business event that’s coming up.
Do you have what it takes to be a positive leader? Think back to a challenging situation you and your team overcame. How did you turn it around? What can you learn from the experience? Were there any positive actions you took that you could apply again?
I hope these insights can help you put this leadership style into practice. In the meantime, if you’d like to hear more examples of positive leadership, join me at reynoldsamerican.com/careers or follow me on LinkedIn for future blogs.
Anna Dolgikh – SVP & Chief Human Resources and Inclusion Officer