THE BLOG
10/16/2014 11:11 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

3 Ways You Can Be a More Positive Leader

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What kind of leader are you? No matter what your job title says, each of us have the ability to consistently bring out the best -- or the worst -- in other people around us. So how does the way you show up, impact others around you?

For most of my career I was so focused on just getting through each day myself, that I only thought about my impact on others when I ran into difficulties. You know people who just wouldn't do what I needed them to do. People who whined or complained about my approach. Or people who just flat out didn't seem to like me (I can't imagine why!).

Running on autopilot I was focused on getting our tasks completed, solving the biggest problems we faced, overcoming obstacles and trying to fix our greatest weaknesses. After all this is what I had been taught "taking care of business" meant.

It was hard work that was rarely appreciated, so eventually I couldn't help but ask: "When it comes to work how can I bring out the best in myself and others?"

"By default we tend to look for the biggest problems, obstacles and weaknesses to solve at work. It's in our nature to take a deficit approach to leadership because we're risk averse," explained Jeremy McCarthy who teaches Positive Leadership at UC Irvine when I interviewed him recently.

Click here for the full interview.

Yet a growing body of research suggests that by taking a more positive approach -- for example focusing on what works in your organization, using and connecting the strengths you have, cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose and being clear on how you can accomplish great things -- you can produce results that exceed normal or expected performance.

"It can be a little nerve wracking to suggest such an approach in organizations where all they seem to care about is profit," acknowledges Jeremy. "But at the end of the day every company is run by human beings who would prefer to work somewhere that was creating meaning in people's lives and had happy employees who were proud of the work they were doing."

Here are three tested, practical approaches Jeremy suggests any leader can try without requiring a cent of budget or anyone's permission to get started:

  • Don't just focus on positive or the negative - While many of your interactions with others at work will be focused on figuring out the biggest problems people are facing and how to fix them, make the time to also talk about what went well this week, what you can learn from it, how you can do more of it and savor what's being achieved. A balanced approach that appreciates the learning and growth opportunities that come from positive and negative experiences is essential at work. Know which will serve you best in different situations for the results you most want to achieve.
  • Stop trying to motivate employees - On day one of a new job employees naturally feel motivated to do well, they don't need their manager to motivate them. But over time many leaders unwittingly strip away this motivation and then spend a lot of their time and effort trying to re-engage people. Studies in Self Determination Theory have found that human beings have natural inherent motivations; they just need you to create the right conditions to unleash this constructively. Spend your time trying to ensure people have autonomy (a certain amount of control over their decisions and environment), a sense of competence (the chance to use their strengths and do what they're good at) and feelings of relatedness (positive connections with people around them).
  • It's not about creating happiness at work - A happy workplaces should not be your goal. If you think about a time you felt like you were doing something really meaningful at work, chances are it involved facing obstacles, drawing on your strengths to overcome them and working successfully with others. Meaning and purpose often comes from work that doesn't always feel good -- just look at Ghandi. Happiness if you find it, is just the icing on the cake.

What could you do - starting today to make your workplace more positive?

This article first appeared in Psychology Today.