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Positive Leadership: How to Open up to Positive Possibilities?

Positive Leadership: How to Open up to Positive Possibilities?

  • 03 November 2016
  • Posted by Marcella Bremer

We have seen why Positive Leadership is crucial for change. Today, I want to look at how you can empower people when you apply positive leadership and focus on what is working well.

How can you be a positive change leader? First of all, you have to embody positive leadership for it to work. If you apply this as a trick because the evidence is compelling - it won’t work. People have a radar for authenticity. If you don’t mean it, if you can’t believe it, and positive leadership doesn’t match your deep beliefs about people, collaboration, change, and the competitive world out there - then don’t fake it.

Be you

Be you. Remember the fourth strategy to change, as described by Robert Quinn? Be the change you want to see on your team: change yourself. Be real, be authentic, be WYSIWYG: What you see is what you get.

If you want to apply positive leadership in spite of earlier experiences with scarcity, competition, and failed change - then challenge your assumptions and beliefs first. It can be great fun to detect your hidden assumptions - and to try and disarm them by challenging them: “Is it true that all people always refuse to change?” Note the absolute terms as an indication of this belief - and start looking for exceptions. “When did some people change a bit, during a change project?”

Be open


Diana Whitney shares four characteristics of positive leaders in her book “Appreciative Leadership.” Leaders that fosters positive change:

  • are willing to change and learn
  • are willing to engage with their community or organization
  • believe in the power of the positive
  • care about people (people development).

Check this list before you apply anything. If you are not willing to open up, not open to change yourself and engage with your team, if you don’t really believe in the power of the positive, and you don’t care about people so much as you do about results - then applying positive leadership may be experienced as a trick, a management tool, a way to manipulate.

Ask three times more

Whitney also emphasizes that leaders should ask more. Asking is a positive way to engage people. It shows you respect people, and you’re interested in how they see things. Moreover, what you ask about is what people learn about! A question helps to focus attention and will help to gather the facts, the assumptions, the conditions necessary for change to succeed.

Asking means learning - just like Edgar Schein says in his book “Humble Inquiry.” A positive leader is aware that he or she depends on the team to achieve their shared goals - and to ask a question is to acknowledge this interdependency: we do this together.

Doubled productivity with Positive Leadership

I’m excited about positive leadership myself, and if I don’t restrain myself now, I’ll write a book right here instead of this blog post. To wrap it up, I’ll mention one case of Positive Leadership that I researched. The white paper is available in the member's area of my blog Leadership & Change Magazine, by the way.

It’s about this Asian manufacturing factory that is part of a worldwide corporation on the verge of collapse – with one guy brave or crazy enough to apply for the job of plant manager: Alex Zhang. With the support of the corporate VP Operations for the Asian region, Yanbo Singh, Alex turned the organization around within two years, using “only” people skills and positive leadership.

The productivity in pieces per hour for each product line almost doubled while fallout costs plummeted. Alex summarized his approach as follows: “I focus on the people. They are the most important actors for any change. I try to understand what is going on by asking questions and listening. Why didn’t they meet the target? Is it a lack of thinking power, tools, or motivation? Are they afraid? What characteristics do they need to do this work well? What is the real reason that things went awry? Next, I coach them and help them to keep their thinking positive.” Positive leadership comes down to asking and coaching people to reach their potential.

This is what we’ll practice in the 3-day International Culture Change Leadership Workshop. It may be inspiring to know and read about this, but how do you apply it? It takes practice and that’s just what we’ll do because nothing compares to action learning and experiencing this for yourself. Will I see you there? Check it out before the Early Bird offer expires.

If you'd like to read more - check out my eBook How to lead Positive Change with Culture and Positive Leadership.

Practical tips for positive leaders

There are several practical things to help you train that positive mindset and lead others with positive leadership during times of change. A few tips to apply, are:

  • Practice gratitude by counting your blessings every day
  • Practice openness of mind with a method such as mindfulness: train your brain to notice details but not judge. Simply mindfully notice what you observe.
  • Give others a compliment that you really mean
  • Notice and compliment people for positive behaviors such as helping a coworker, sharing information, thinking ahead, taking action, and so on
  • Don’t emphasize what went wrong and why but acknowledge what went well and how you can amplify that
  • Look for a solution instead of the cause
  • Use “How” - how can we…? Instead of the accusing “why,” or “who.” “How” is opening up to a world of possibilities and implies a solution: there will be a how-to-do-this, we just haven’t found it yet.
  • Imply that things will be okay and that the change will be successful by watching your language: “When we have reached this goal, we will…” Remember: words create worlds.
  • Ask three times more than tell. Asking people means engaging them - if you ask genuine, open questions, and you are interested in the answers, people will share their ideas.

Which tips can you share? What works well in your experience?

In the next post, we’ll explore the art of asking empowering questions.

Copyright © Marcella Bremer 2016. All rights reserved.

Categories Change Leadership