Are Positive Leaders Really Toxic? - Innolect, Inc.

Are Positive Leaders Really Toxic?

Although a number of articles recently have focused on the damaging consequences of going overboard with Toxic Positivity, for years social scientists have documented the benefits of positive leadership especially during times of uncertainty. Yet, executive coaches and leadership consultants frequently encounter cynical attitudes when positive leadership is associated with being “soft” without an eye on the bottom line. To address concerns, let’s consider how Positive Leadership can enhance your ability to lead, improve team performance, and ultimately increase that bottom line.

First, to be clear, we’re not advocating for leaders to be positive in all circumstances. It isn’t realistic or authentic to maintain a positive, happy or joyful mindset when there are significant losses, disruptions and uncertainty. Using platitudes such as: “There is always a silver lining,” “Look for the positive,” or “Be grateful it wasn’t worse” does nothing to acknowledge or demonstrate empathy for others. We are not suggesting that you ignore, minimize or gloss over things that are hard, especially with the pandemic, loss of jobs, family stressors, etc. What we are suggesting is for you to remember how you show up and the choices you make as a leader. 


What is Positive Leadership?

When leaders implement multiple positive practices to help individuals and organizations achieve their highest potential and levels of effectiveness, they demonstrate positive leadership. It is about:

  • encouraging and giving feedback to employees to allow them to do their best work. 
  • getting to know your employees and showing interest in them as individuals.
  • noticing when employees need to be heard and/or understood. 
  • holding yourself and others accountable.

As mentioned above, it is more complex than expressing a positive attitude, encouraging team spirit, and fostering positive relationships. It is modeling the behaviors you seek.


What Gets in the Way of Positive Leadership?

With the complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity facing employees and businesses, it is normal for leaders to experience stress. Many leaders gravitate into a “doom” spiral and may even seek out bad news. In fact: 

  1. Physiologically, our brains have a natural negativity bias. Per our survival instinct, we are hardwired to pay closer attention to issues that threaten us. As a result, crises and other issues dominate meeting agendas, and managers’ daily tasks are often centered around solving problems.
  2. The pressures of being a leader also tend to steal attention from positive practices with a focus on the task or pressing issues rather than people. It takes practice to override the instinct to focus on problems.


How Can You Build Positive Leadership Practices?

Leaders want positive outcomes, and the evidence consistently reveals that positive leaders achieve tough goals with greater employee satisfaction and engagement. Richard Boyatzis, PhD, a professor of organizational behavior, says “You need the negative focus to survive, but a positive one to thrive. You need both, but in the right ratio.”

What is his ratio? To put it simply, Boyatzis found that effective leaders provide 3-5 positive messages for every negative message they send. When we think negatively, we can get stuck in a negative feedback pattern. From a neurological standpoint, having positive thoughts activates reward centers in the brain, triggering the release of mood-elevating neurotransmitters. As we continue to experience positive feelings, we crave even more of them. Even so, communication with your team must be authentic and congruent while being mindful of skewing toward the positive. 

As a leader you have a choice each day and during each interaction to make a positive difference. With current demands, it is often more challenging to stay positive, yet you can be a positive influence.


How Innolect Can Help… 

Take advantage of Innolect’s free resources that include articles, whitepapers, checklists and tools to support your growth and leadership journey. Also consider how the following products might enhance your leadership:


  1. Random Acts of Kindness Notecards
  2. Leadership Ideas for Random Acts of Kindness Cards
  3. A to Z: High Integrity Leadership
  4. The Listening Leader: Tips for Listening Leaders
  5. OutsideIN: Tips for Building an Engaged and Inclusive Environment


  1. Five Positive Things Exercise
  2. Leadership and Random Acts of Kindness
  3. Ideas for Leaders to Reduce Office Stress
  4. Behaviors of Servant Leaders Checklist

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