The Four Pillars of Positive Leadership

by | Feb 17, 2020

In today’s fast-paced economy, it is important for leaders and organizations to create positive work environments for their teams. Although this can be a challenge for every leader, it may be especially challenging for first-time managers and newly promoted leaders.

CorpU has developed the Emerging Leader Program, a turn-key leadership development program designed to teach the skills and habits required to become an effective leader. Participants will enroll in Dr. Kim Cameron’s Practicing Positive Leadership course, which provides tips and tools that can be applied to become a positively energizing leader.

In his Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance book, Dr. Cameron describes four validated leadership strategies as guidelines for leaders who aspire to enable positive deviance in their organizations. Positive leaders enable extraordinary performance by fostering:

Four Pillars of Positive Leaders

Fostering A Positive Work Climate

Empirical evidence suggests that working in a positive climate has substantial positive effects on individual and organizational performance. Among the leadership enablers that affect the work climate are:

  1. Compassion
  2. Forgiveness
  3. Expressions of gratitude at work

Show Compassion

Expressing compassion involves noticing that pain has been experienced, expressing care and concern, and organizing systematic action to help repair the damage or support the person who is suffering.

Facilitate Forgiveness

Facilitating forgiveness involves acknowledging the hurt, identifying a purpose to which employees can look forward, maintaining high expectations or standards of performance, providing support for harmed persons, letting go of feelings of offense and grudges, and legitimizing the use of language that elevates thought and communicates virtuousness.

Expressions of Gratitude

Frequent and public expressions of gratitude to others can be enhanced as individuals are encouraged to keep gratitude journals, recording things for which they are grateful each day, engage in purposeful gratitude visits in which the agenda is simply to convey thanks to another person, or distribute gratitude messages where cards or notes are provided to individuals who deserve appreciation. Such expressions lead people toward more respectful and supportive relationships, which, in turn, affect organizational performance. Leaders who enable the expression of these virtues create a climate in which people are cared for, supported, and encouraged to flourish.

Fostering Relationships Among Members

Empirical evidence suggests that experiencing positive interpersonal relationships produce an array of positive physiological, mental, social, and emotional benefits for individuals and elevated performance for organizations. Making contributions to relationships more than receiving benefits from relationships is the main factor that produces positive outcomes. Among the important but less common leadership strategies for engendering positive relationships are:

  1. Developing and managing positive energy networks
  2. Capitalizing on employees’ strengths and best-self attributes

In addition to radiating positive energy themselves, positive leaders identify individuals who contribute positive energy to others around them, and they enable these people to infuse the organization with this energy. They facilitate the building of positive energy networks, positive mentoring relations, and positive energy teams. These positive energy networks strengthen interpersonal relationships, foster coordination, and collaboration, and enhance the efficiency of interactions so that performance advantages for individuals and organizations result.

Similarly, positive leaders emphasize and build on employees’ strengths (what they do well) rather than focus on their weaknesses, and this emphasis creates an attraction to forming strong interpersonal ties. Addressing weaknesses helps people achieve a level of basic competence, but building on strengths helps people achieve excellence in performance and in relationships.

Fostering Positive Communication

Empirical evidence suggests that an abundance of positive communication compared to negative communication is related to higher levels of organizational performance and connectivity among people. Five positive statements for every single negative statement will predict flourishing in organizations and families. Engagement, information exchange, and commitment are enhanced in the presence of positive communication. Among the many strategies that may foster positive communication are the use of:

  1. Best-self feedback and
  2. Supportive communication

The best-self feedback process builds on the power of positive feedback by helping individuals systematically gather information about their own strengths and unique contributions. Because most people have difficulty accurately identifying their own strengths, using others’ descriptions of the unique value that they produced or a special contribution that was made allows them to capitalize on what they do best. Creating a best-self portrait, or a description of their strengths and the conditions under which they add significant value, helps them reproduce the circumstances in which their best contributions can be made.

Using supportive communication—especially congruent, descriptive, and problem-centered statements—allows leaders to provide corrective or negative feedback in ways that make the communication encouraging and helpful, strengthening rather than weakening the relationship, and enhancing individual performance. The negative effects of criticism are avoided and replaced with a trusting, supportive relationship. Positive communication, in other words, builds on positive energy and positive regard, which are strongly related to high levels of effectiveness among individuals and organizations.

Fostering Positive Meaning in the Work Place

Empirical evidence suggests that when people experience positive meaning in their work—or a sense of calling—performance is elevated and individual well-being is enhanced. Leaders can enhance meaningfulness in at least four ways:

Positive Impact

Identifying the positive impact that the work produces on the well-being of people fosters meaningfulness.

The more human impact that can be observed—that is, how the work affects individuals for the better—the more meaningful the work. The more meaningful the work, the more individuals desire to share its effects with other people.


Associating work with a virtue or an important personal value engenders positive meaning. Highlighting the relationship between work and sustainability, generosity, or compassion, for example, helps engender meaningfulness. Identifying a higher purpose that supersedes personal benefit is almost always a prerequisite to prosocial and contributory work activities.

Long-Term Effectiveness

Identifying the long-term effects of the work beyond immediate outcomes, and highlighting the ripple effect that may occur, also enhances a positive meaning. Leaving a legacy that benefits people beyond the immediate circumstances represents a form of unselfishness that is associated with high levels of performance.

Relationship & Community

Building supportive relationships and a sense of community among coworkers also enhances a positive meaning. Leaders who highlight and pursue contribution goals as opposed to self-interest goals enable important individual and organizational outcomes such as learning, trust, high-quality connections, and improved performance.


In sum, while not ignoring or minimizing problems and obstacles, leaders who enable positive deviance focus on engendering that which is elevating and virtuous in organizations. Because this positive emphasis is contrary to the natural tendencies of most leaders, specific strategies have been identified that can foster human flourishing and unusually high positive levels of performance. Four interrelated strategies for positive leaders have been presented here. These four strategies are not comprehensive, of course, but they illustrate relatively unique, empirically verified enablers available to all leaders.

<span style="color: #8A93A8;font-size: 12px;margin:0;padding:0;line-height: 1">Written By:</span><br>Kim Cameron

Written By:
Kim Cameron

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