Want a positive workplace? Be a positive leader

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Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

Many of us, no doubt, have had experience working with a negative manager. When I think about some of the companies for which I have worked, one person in particular stands out.

One memory I have of this manager is of her standing in front of a room of employees, saying, “I am not the problem. You're the problem.” What hardworking employee wouldn't want to hear that?

In another meeting, this manager compared the subordinates seated with her to dogs who hadn't responded successfully to training efforts. “You know how you get a dog to listen?” she asked rhetorically. “You beat it with a baseball bat.” Very motivating.

Author and consultant Jon Gordon would call managers like her “negative leaders.”

“Leading a team is really a lot like parenting,” said the author of “The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World” and other books. “If you yell at your kids, they miss the message. Instead, you have to use love and accountability to help them perform their best at all times.”

Former co-workers and I personally can confirm the message Gordon shares: Negative energy causes employees to disengage and lowers morale and productivity.

Fortunately, in my experience, most managers aren't as over-the-top as the one I encountered earlier in my career. But chances are, you know such a leader, or have been one yourself.

Flourishing organizations, however, need positive leadership, Gordon asserts, and that means sharing optimism, hope and inspiration with employees, especially when things don't go as planned.

“A lot of people roll their eyes when they hear about positive leadership,” Gordon says. “They think positive leaders are nice, undisciplined, happy-go-lucky people who smile all the time and believe that results are not important. On the contrary — positive leadership consistently helps organizations thrive and inspires teams to get results.”

So how do positive leaders act compared with negative ones?

According to Gordon:

  • Negative leaders attack employees and focus on the past, whereas positive ones attack problems and focus on the future. They coach employees and are demanding without being demeaning.

  • Negative leaders complain and blame, whereas positive ones identify opportunities and look at failures as chances for growth. “Positive communicators encourage and inspire others to do more and become more than they ever thought possible,” Gordon says.

  • Negative leaders fire negative employees quickly, whereas positive ones first see whether these employees can be transformed, by listening and trying to understand them.

  • Negative leaders overlook an employee's inconsistencies with company culture and move on to other problems, whereas positive ones expect accountability and offer employees support to succeed. Doing so, Gordon says, shows others that you are committed to the company culture and procedures that are in place.

  • In bad times, negative leaders become even more negative and turn volatile and hopeless, managing by fear. Positive ones, on the other hand, counter doubt and uncertainty with faith, optimism and positivity.

“Focus on the positive in all situations and see the remarkable difference it makes,” Gordon advises.

And that doesn't mean that you should ignore negativity within your organization, he adds. Companies must confront negativity and either transform or remove it before it has a chance to spread, Gordon says.

For instance, that manager I mentioned earlier? I'm not sure what was said behind closed doors, but an HR representative accompanied her to employee meetings for a while to ensure that she used more appropriate language when speaking with employees. Thankfully, I don't work with her any longer, but I hope that she came across and learned from Gordon's writings to effect a lasting change in her management style. As for me? I learned what not to do as a manager.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight's Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.

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