December 12, 2021

The Power of Becoming a Positive Leader

The power of positive leadership creates a better work environment and increases overall company performance. Learn why you should shift from a Negative Nellie or Nelson to a Positive Polly or Pete.
A Shift from "Why" to a Personal Assessment

Last week we considered "Why"  we are in business.  I recommended doing it from the previously introduced humanist commitments of 1) altruism, 2) critical thinking, 3) empathy, 4) environmentalism, 5) ethical development, 6) global awareness, 7) humility, 8) peace and social justice, 9) responsibility, and 10) service and participation.  Suppose you agree first that these commitments are important and second that people should be the heart of the business. In that case, I encourage you to complete an assessment of your current knowledge and practices against these two critical elements of Humanist Manufacturing and your "Why."    

As a leader the most important stakeholder you need to persuade-from concept to execution-is yourself. - Karn Manhas – CEO, Terramera
Before the Change Process Begins

An old-school command and control approach still exists in at least some manufacturing plants.  The expectation is that managers will tell people what and how to do the work, and everyone will follow their orders.  The reality is that the approach has never been ideal, and it is far less effective in today's workplace.  

Building the Foundation

Much like a building cannot be built on an unstable foundation, the work to become a more responsible manufacturing operation should begin with an overall assessment of the leader.  Whether new to the job or a seasoned veteran, each of us can benefit from taking an inventory of our current approach to leading an organization and the benefits derived from determining a personal growth plan.  

It Begins at the Top

We will flip this perspective to one that begins at the bottom.  The organization leader should complete a comprehensive personal assessment using the foundation analogy.  Leaders who better understand the individual attributes they bring to their work maximize their opportunity to experience transformation success.  The perspective needed to drive this work is positivity, where a shift occurs from determining what is wrong to instead focusing on our organizational strengths.  A seemingly unnecessary change in perspective for some, but my experience has found this a primary key to maximizing organization potential.  When well done, there is more potential to determine our best opportunities, set goals to reach our aspirations, and measure our progress toward our desired results.  Before we can help others realize their most significant potential, we should first understand ourselves.

Negative, Positive, or Somewhere In Between

I began my career in machine repair and rebuilding in the manufacturing industry.  My first industry employer was a company that bought and sold new and used machinery and repaired and overhauled equipment for customers.  As you can imagine, my job was to find out what was wrong with a down machine or line and get it back into production as quickly as possible.

Career Progression

Over the years, I transitioned into engineering and plant management roles, where a continuing trend focused on what was wrong.  It might be solving a quality concern, finding a replacement for an absent employee, or expediting a late shipment to a customer.  In most cases, it was all hands on deck to resolve whatever negative issue we were facing in firefighting mode, often at other projects' expense.  It seemed to perpetuate a downward negative spin of one crisis after another.

Affixing Blame

When this happened, the focus was to blame company owners or, worse yet, single out an individual employee.  The cycle continued as one problem was followed by the next, seemingly a never-ending pattern.  Worse yet, these issues happened at inconvenient times that adversely impacted personal plans.  I lived in constant anxiety about what would go wrong next and thus became a Negative Nelson.

Anna Tarazevich from Pexels
A Shift to the Positive

Thankfully Dr. Jackie Stavros entered my life as a student in the Doctorate of Business Administration program at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, MI.  She first introduced me to Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which draws from positive psychology.  My initial reaction was that it was a bit "touchy-feely."  I remember her telling me that this was a reaction she usually received from engineering types.

From AI to SOAR

As my coursework progressed, she introduced her SOAR framework for strategic planning.  SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, & Results) focuses on institutional strengths.  The work uses a positive lens that seeks to understand the whole system by including all relevant stakeholders' internal and external voices in the organization.  However, it is also applicable at the individual level.  There are three main elements of attention during introspection as an individual using the SOAR framework.  First, they center on what an organization is doing right.  Second, identifying and understanding crucial opportunities to leverage is an outcome.  Last, learning what is compelling as a purpose for those who have a 'stake' in their success.

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you'll start having positive results. - Willie Nelson
SOARing into Practice

While business advice would not typically come from the legendary marijuana-smoking American musician, actor, and activist, his quote is apropos for my transformation into a Positive Pete.  Since the SOAR framework introduction, I have implemented a positive perspective in my professional and personal life in the subsequent years. Of course, I occasionally slip back into my old habits, but I work hard to return to a focus on the positive when I see it happening.  The result is enhanced life quality by viewing the various aspects of my life through a positive lens that benefits those in my different circles of influence.

The Science Behind Positive Organizational Scholarship

Leaders looking for extraordinary performance from their company should approach the work by leading positively.  Cameron and Wooten of the Center for Positive Organizations in the University Michigan Ross School of Business developed four positive leadership strategies to include:

1. Enabling positive relationships – Positive organizational energy emerges from leaders who facilitate and model positivity.  The work includes diagnosing and building energy networks by identifying positive energizers. Then, they are supported and rewarded for the work on tasks or filling roles for interaction, coaching, and mentoring others to expand the desired energy networks.  The result is stronger interpersonal relationships that lead to deeper coordination and cooperation through efficient relationships that result in higher individual and organizational performance.

2. Enabling a best-self feedback process – Leaders using positive reinforcement will see heightened relationships with higher cohesion and mutual support.  These results emerge by focusing on the highest talents and capabilities for those in their areas of responsibility.

3. Enabling positive communication – Affirmative and supportive language becomes the norm to replace a negative and critical focus as the single key factor for achieving tremendous organizational success.  Top management teams were studied where the result was a 5.6 to 1 ratio of positive to negative statements.  Those with average performance had a ratio of 1.85 to 1, and poor-performing teams came in at a .36 to 1 ratio.

4. Enabling positive meaning – Establishing a culture where people feel a profound purpose positively impacts employees through reductions in absenteeism, depression, dissatisfaction, and turnover.  Focusing on the positive further increases commitment, effort, empowerment, engagement, fulfillment, happiness, and satisfaction.  Those seeking employment with a purpose are looking for a calling to do a greater good.

My career has been one where I have generally had difficulty managing up.  However, with a few rare exceptions, I excelled at managing those I was responsible for, a pattern that has resulted from these positive leadership strategies.

Key Takeaway

I have first-hand experience related to making the shift from focusing on what is wrong to one that looks for what is right with the organization.  The initial opportunity was during work as a plant manager in Michigan.  I would go around at the end of the day and write a note on something positive I found on their key metrics board for each manufacturing line.  All were struggling significantly when this work began. However, within six months, every line in the plant made a production rate.  Not only did they start making rates, but each line continually increased their daily output.  Others have achieved similar results, so I recommend giving it a try.

First Step

I encourage leaders interested in improving their operations to audit their actions for a week. For example, when having a conversation with someone, mark whether positive or negative.  In the end, count each column and determine the ratio of positive to negative.  If it is less than the desired 5.6 to 1 positive to a negative balance, begin to look at how to move it toward a higher one.

My Gratitude

I have previously expressed gratitude for the blessing that Dr. Jackie Stavros was a professor in my doctorate program.  However, when someone has a significant impact on your life as she had on mine, an additional sharing of thanks seems appropriate.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will integrate humanist principles into the role of leaders to "Know Thyself" by looking at CliftonStrengths.

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit

Cover Image Credit: Binti Malu from Pexels

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