Positivity Drives Growth - It Can Also Invite Disaster


Lead in the Moment

Welcome to the first edition of Lead in the Moment, a newsletter where I share my experience gained from more than thirty years of developing, coaching, and advising leaders around the world. I will be offering ways to improve your leadership effectiveness in a complex, fast changing, and unpredictable environment.  If you often need to inspire others to change their attitudes, thoughts, or behaviors, you are a leader. Irrespective of whether you are a parent, a teacher, a salesperson, the head of a team or corporation, or the president of a nation, you are a leader, and this newsletter is for you.

Each week I will cover topics like: How to inspire skeptics to trust you. How to build the culture of a dispersed and diverse team. What does authentic leadership look like? How to become a more inclusive leader. Should you show your vulnerability and if so, how, and when? How to have those difficult conversations you prefer to avoid. How to deal with negativity. Should you be getting everyone back to the office, and if so, how? In this first edition I will talk about how to encourage positivity without stifling bad news.


We know the value of a positive culture. We know that:

“…more than $500 billion is siphoned off from the U.S. economy because of workplace stress, and 550 million workdays are lost each year due to stress on the job[1].”

Nevertheless, a positive culture comes with a risk. An overly positive culture can blind leadership to problems and impending danger because talking about them could be seen as negative.

Growing up as I did in the fifties and sixties, there was no room for negative emotions in our conversations with our parents. In fact, there wasn’t really the space to talk about emotions at all. This meant that my parents were often unaware of the emotional struggles that we were going through. We missed out on their wisdom and guidance at those times because they didn’t know that anything was wrong. The same situation can apply in organizations.

Positivity is not Pollyannaism; the unrealistic belief that everything is good and will turn out just fine. Positivity is not eternal cheerfulness and the expectation of the same cheerfulness from everyone else.  Positivity results from the merging of optimism and ambition, two very natural human qualities. Optimism is the belief that with effort, tomorrow could be better than today. Ambition is the desire to own a part of that betterment. Merging optimism and ambition into an overall sense of positivity drives growth and gives us the energy to pursue it. There is nothing inherently negative about positivity understood in this way. Talking of positivity as toxic, smothers the passion of people striving for something better. Better can only happen if people believe in the possibility of better and in their capacity to bring it about. This belief is positivity.

The Danger of Positivity

The problem with positivity is that it can occupy all the emotional space in a person’s heart or in an organization’s culture. It can leave no room for worry, sadness, disappointment, and the identification of mistakes or the likelihood of bad news. Being able to see danger on the horizon and communicate it up the chain of command is crucial to organizational health. How then do you encourage a culture of positivity without allowing it to drown out the reality-checks necessary to stay on course?

Positivity as a Frame

The answer lies in seeing positivity not as the way you feel about things but about the way you frame them. Positivity is the ability to turn hardship into opportunity, to see challenges as teachers, and suffering as a form of growth. Positivity is being able to foresee danger on the horizon knowing that if you take the right steps to mitigate the danger or perhaps avoid it altogether, the outcome could be positive and yield even greater strength than before. Positivity means being able to embrace sadness in ourselves and accept it in others without allowing it to derail our growth. Positivity means knowing that we can seldom control what happens but we can almost always control how we  respond to what happens. Positivity means that while we cannot control the outcome of events, we certainly can influence them.

If you view positivity in this way, you will see that you can be positive and sad at the same time, you can be positive and worried at once. You can be positive and scared in the same moment, this, in fact, is the meaning of courage.

Instead of just talking about a “positive attitude” at work or at home, rather teach people what positivity means and how to use it as a framing mechanism and not as an escape from the cracks of present and future problems. By doing so, you will build a positive culture that doesn’t stifle the communication of bad news, or feelings of disappointment, fear and sadness. Positivity and emotional truth will live together harmoniously.

Use Positivity Positively!

  • Recognize the power of positivity to drive personal and organizational growth.
  • When positivity is encouraged as a feeling or a value, it crowds out the alarm signal leaders must be willing to hear.
  • Teach positivity as a way to frame events and generate solutions, not as an escape from reality.
  • Embrace sadness when it comes and accept it in others.
  • Without denying sadness and worry, put them in perspective so that they do not derail you.


I hope you enjoyed this edition of Lead in the Moment and learned something new. If you did, please subscribe to my newsletter by clicking on the button below. You will receive weekly updates on my latest thoughts and advice. Also, feel free to share this newsletter with anyone who might find it useful or leave a comment below if you have any questions or feedback. Your ideas and comments are valuable to our community of readers.

Thank you for reading and stay tuned for the next edition!

[1] Emma Seppala and Kim Cameron, December 2015, Proof that Positive Work Cultures are more Productive, Harvard Business Review