What is a Positive Leader?

I’ve been incorporating “positivity” into my life more and more over the past few years. The more I lean into being positive, the more my life has improved. The more the positive has improved my life, the more I work to incorporate it into other areas of my life. It’s been an incredibly rewarding process and now I’m wanting to bring other people into this journey with me.

For more than a year, I’ve been thinking deliberately and specifically on what is a “Positive Leader” and how I can improve my consistency in this philosophy. That turned into working to define and document what a positive lifestyle and positive leadership style is. My goal is to create structured documentation on this definition of a positive leader so it can help other people as it has helped me.

What is a positive leader?

Ever seen Parks and Recreation? Are you familiar with Chris Traeger? Chris Traeger is an over the top positive character, to a fault early on but he achieves a balance later. Even though he is overly characterized for amusement, he’s still universally loved by characters in the show and viewers alike.

He always loves, compliments, and appreciates everyone around him.

That positivity is infectious. It improves the lives of everyone around him.

Obviously, we can’t create an entire philosophy based on a fictional character, especially since he is to an extreme that highlights the flaws in excessive positivity. (we’ll dig into the balance of “Goldilocks” positivity in the future) But he is an excellent example of the power of positivity. He drives people forward by emphasizing the best in everyone.

So how can we be positive in a way that pushes people forward, improves their lives, and generates multiplicative output from teams? That’s what I’m trying to figure out and define.

My definition of a positive leader

This definition is being continually iterated on right now, so expect these line items to change. But here’s what I’ve got so far.

  1. Prioritize people
  2. Always focus on and seek out successes
  3. Foster collaboration to generate a multiplicative output
  4. Guide people towards affirmative and attainable goals
  5. Every small decision makes a difference

Living positively doesn’t need to be complicated, but it does need be genuine.

Prioritize people

A leader is nothing without people – they are the priority. Helping and giving of oneself to everyone else is what leaders must do. This is commonly called “Servant Leadership” and I absolutely love that label.

In order to prioritize others, leaders must empathize with them. They need to understand that everyone has their own perspectives, experiences, priorities, and goals. Leaders need to work with everything that makes each person unique rather than try to dictate exactly how everyone needs to act.

Leaders need to give constant appreciation, encouragement, and credit. This is where I love the Chris Traeger example. He is constantly complimenting and appreciating everyone around him. Individuals can only go so far, it’s the help of others that takes teams to the top.

Finally, leaders need to joyfully help others. They can’t just help people – they need to help each other with joy. They have to genuinely be eager to help others. People can always see through begrudging help, and people don’t really like that. People love it when others are excited to help out. It, like everything else in here, is infectious.

Always focus on and seek out successes

There are always successes to draw from situations. There’s always things that went well, things that can be learned from, and doors opening for future opportunities. Positive leaders need to emphasize these successes to keep teams motivated and moving forward.

This doesn’t mean ignoring problems and mistakes. It simply means to only take enough time on problems and errors to identify them and understand them. Once they’re classified and organized, spend the rest of available time focusing on solutions and future successes. This keeps teams focused on future growth instead of past problems.

Keeping this focus requires leaders to be level headed and positive. They need to develop a success oriented perspective that is capable of finding each and every success wherever possible.

Foster collaboration to generate a multiplicative output

As I said earlier, leaders are virtually nothing without a team. Sure, leaders can (and should) contribute on their own. But the sum of one is only ever just one. Good leaders take a team and create a multiplicative output – they make a team more than just the sum of the parts.

Teams don’t multiply their output in isolation. Teams use the power of different experiences, skills, knowledge, and priorities. These differences are the power of a team – not the problem of a team. A leader must communicate and collaborate with a team. Leaders don’t dictate to the team and they don’t control discussions. They guide and you guide through listening and asking questions.

The opinion of the people on a team needs to be more important than your own opinion. That doesn’t mean letting a team walk all over you and dictate everything. But it means you must give a team your entire focus when discussing things with them – listen to and care about everything they have to say. A leader takes all of these good opinions and good ideas and morphs them into great solutions.

Guide people towards affirmative and attainable goals

Positive leaders need to, well… lead. Positive leaders aren’t dictators, they aren’t micromanagers, they aren’t bossy. Positive leaders need to prioritize goals and share as much information as possible. This is how teams are empowered and motivated to work together towards common goals. Effective teams can only generate that multiplicative output if leaders get out of their way, but still keep the team moving in a unified manner in the right direction.

Set large long term goals and give a purpose and meaning towards those goals. Then set smaller short term goals as steps to achieve that long term goal. When teams have goals instead of micromanaged tasks, they have freedom to make their own unique contributions. This gives individuals meaning and ownership, which empowers and drives people. This allows leaders to step out of the way and let the team just charge forward. It’s really fun to watch.

Every small decision makes a difference

Finally, leaders need to lead by example and understand that every tiny thing they do makes an impact. Who we are is defined by each and every small decision we make. There is no five minute training montage in life where we can completely overhaul ourselves to conquer a new task. We are who we are because of every small decision we have made in the past.

And guess what – everyone around you watches and notices those small decisions.

People notice when someone doesn’t live as they preach. People notice when someone doesn’t care about them. People notice when someone isn’t willing to do what they expect others to do.

Every teeny tiny decision we make impacts who we are at our core. We must make the best decision we can each and every day so we can show others the right way forward. In doing so, we show others that we genuinely care about them and we slowly but surely change who we are at our core so we can be a better person in the future.

This is only scratching the surface

I absolutely LOVE digging into and talking about all of this. I can’t wait to continue this journey as I strive to define and document what a positive leader is. But I’m even more excited to be doing this in a public manner so I can start sharing these thoughts and ideas with others, even while I continue to define and understand them – and try to live them for that matter.

I would love it if y’all join me on this journey and subscribe to this LinkedIn newsletter. The feedback and opinion of others would be invaluable as I continue to create this definition.

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What do you think a positive leader is?