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Positive Leadership

According to a 2016 Human Capital Report published by Deloitte, $31 billion is spent on leadership programs globally. Unfortunately, despite this investment, evidence tells us there continues to be a gap in leadership ability and execution. Equipping yourself with the 'right' skills will not only help you on your leadership trajectory, but it will also ensure the appropriate development of future leaders. What are those skills and how can they be fostered at an organisational level?

According to Professor Kim Cameron (University of Michigan), positive leadership has 4 key areas of focus that aim to promote the skills needed in today's global economy:

  1. Climate

  2. Communication

  3. Meaning

  4. Relationships


This relates to 'an individuals psychological experience associated with the work environment' (Cameron & Caza, 2004). A positive climate tends to produce positive emotions, which can lead to optimal individual and organisational performance (Fredrickson, 2003). A leader can engender this through his/her approach, through modelling and cultivating positive emotions and by focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses. Leveraging strengths not only helps build competence, but can also raise overall performance by up to 36%. Employees who experience more positive emotions demonstrate more positive organisational behaviours (hope, optimism, resilience). Leaders can also establish psychological safety which builds trust and authenticity. As a leader, how you show up and how you respond to challenges, will set the tone for the culture/climate within your company.


With the responsibility of constantly managing threats, obstacles and problems, leaders tend to have their own negativity bias on top of the one we all possess. We are hardwired to hold onto negative events more so than positive and as a result our language can evolve into one of pessimism and criticism. Through learning how to communicate in an affirmative and supportive manner, leaders can replace the negative, problem oriented language that has become commonplace in organisations. Experts have found that the single most important factor in predicting team performance is the ratio of positive to negative comments; high performing teams sit at 5.6:1 (Losada & Heaphy, 2004). Positive communication creates more connectivity within an organisation and ultimately leads to higher productivity and performance.


Individuals who feel as though they have meaning in what they do each day have a sense of internalisation, they do the 'right' things and align their actions with organisational purpose. Their sense of motivation is deemed intrinsic and they are driven to perform for the sake of work itself. With meaning, organisational citizenship increases and often demonstrated through altruistic behaviours, discretionary effort and supporting co-workers. Leaders can offer talent the opportunity for variety, interesting tasks and tap into individual values in order to establish more meaning within individual roles.


Social well-being / having positive relationships has been linked to both social capital and positive health outcomes. Having positive relationships actually affects our hormonal, cardiovascular and immune systems (Heaphy & Dutton, 2004). Behaviours such as compassion, forgiveness and gratitude promote positive social connections within the workplace setting. Leaders who foster these traits have organisations that perform significantly better than their competitors (Cameron, Bright & Caza, 2004). Getting to know employees at a personal level and encouraging collaboration through team projects and activities can promote positive connections and connectivity within the organisation.

Through focusing on the 4 key areas proposed by Professor Cameron, leaders can create an upward spiral of positive emotions, psychological capital, prosocial behaviours and leadership development across the organisation. With the ever-changing landscape of business, leaders must develop the leadership potential in all employees. This will not only contribute to a positive culture, but will also promote responsible leadership and ensure the leadership pipeline is equipped for the challenges of tomorrow.

Cameron, K., Bright, D. & Caza, A. (2004), 'Exploring the relationships between organizational virtuousness and performance', American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 766-790.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2003), 'Positive emotions and upward spirals in organizations', in K. S. Cameron, J. E. Dutton & R. E. Quinn (eds), Positive Organizational Scholarship, San Francisco, CA: BerrettKoehler Publishers Inc., pp. 163-175.

Heaphy, E. & Dutton, J. (2004). Embodied connections: Understanding the physiological effects of positive connections at work. Working paper, Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, University of Michigan Business School.

Losada, M., & Heaphy, E. (2004). The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams. American Behavioral Scientist, 47(6), 740-765. doi:10.1177/0002764203260208

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