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The Paradox of Positive Leadership

Positive leadership can be incredibly hard to exhibit, but the journey can be worthwhile

Written by: Robert E. Quinn (Are you the author?)

There is a reason that we see so few cases of positive leadership.  Positive leadership does not derive from conventional effort.  It derives from work that most people are unwilling to do.  It is the work of having a higher purpose and engaging in emotional self-regulation.

In a Zoom meeting we were discussing positive leadership. One person was advocating the importance of presenting the authentic self and engaging in genuine communication.  I pointed out that much of the communication in organization is not genuine.  It is self-interested and transactional.  A meeting ends, and we run to the water cooler with our friends and try to decipher how our enemies were trying to manipulate us.  When someone speaks with authenticity, we note it because it is out of the ordinary.  Much communication in organizations is political and hypocritical.  This sentence applies to me and to you, it applies to all.

A few minutes later in the discussion someone, in essence, said, “Sometimes I am frustrated.  Expressing that frustration is genuine communication.  I do not want communication to be all positive, I want people to express how they really feel.  I want them to demonstrate their most authentic self.”

My knee-jerk reaction was to agree.  Toxic positivity is reflected in the pressure to suppress negative feelings or force a positive face on them.  I often argue that if we have to take into account all of reality.   A comprehensive theory of positive leadership, for example, must include a theory of negative leadership.  Despite my tendency to agree, the last line lingered in my mind; “I want them to demonstrate their most authentic self.”

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