Anyone can lead from the negative but it takes a real leader to lead from this positive!

Simply take a look at the teams you lead and the teams you are a member off, unless you live in Shangri-La, you’ll quickly see we lead and are led in less than perfect contexts. As leaders we can choose (yes it is a choice, most just choose not to see the alternative option) to lead from the positive or lead from the negative.

Common strategies of leading from the negative:

  • Actively seek out mistakes
  • Focus on the negative impact of mistake
  • Let others know of the mistake or impact
  • Only use mistakes to engage in deep dialogue
  • Intentionally allow/setup new team members to make mistakes
  • Tell others of  a teams weakness
  • When giving feedback only highlight the negatives
  • Provide new opportunities without equal coaching/support

How I try (not sure I’m successful as I would like) to lead from the positive:

  • Random acts of kindness – make a point of telling team members they are awesome when they least expect it.
  • Frame feedback from the positive – when giving feedback focus on the positives and discuss how the negatives can be flipped to the positive
  • Don’t dwell on failure – when someone fails they already know it, so don’t get them to relive it just discuss how they would do things differently next time
  • Never let someone fail big – small failures are fine, but big failures are my failure as their leader, so provide coaching and support to ensure it never happens
  • Never discuss failure in public, it’s a private 1:1 discussion or nothing
  • Talk openly about my failures and model failure as learning

Why is it so hard to lead from the positive and why do so many choose to lead from the negative?

8 thoughts on “Anyone can lead from the negative but it takes a real leader to lead from this positive!

  1. Ben
    Often leaders are negative when they see actions of others as a reflection of themselves (not withstanding anything criminal). When leaders allow others to experiment, creat and take risks, then the perspective changes as leaders see their chargers developing and taking ownership of their actions. The question to ask is how can we decelop staff when we are negative. This equates to eventual poor interpersonal skills. Stay positive and staff will follow.

  2. HI,
    I’m a student in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I enjoyed the video you put in this post. It’s a funny example of leading from the negative. At first I wasn’t sure exactly what you meant, so I’m glad you broke it down with the list of examples at the bottom. It is very easy to lead from the negative rather than use positive reinforcement, and I think it’s partly because so many leaders and educators seem to think that having their students fear them gives them power or control. So many teachers come into the profession focusing on how to scare their students on the first day to show them who’s boss. Obviously, not having entered my own classroom yet, I haven’t learned this from experience, but I have found it to be true in the past. So often have I had a class either in high school or recently where the instructor only has an intense talk with the class about bad things that have happened, or mistakes the students have made. It is rare for a leader to have a “come to Jesus” meeting about how well everyone is doing. But why is that? I don’t have an answer, but I appreciated your post and enjoyed thinking more deeply on the subject.
    -L.J. (Laura) Allen

  3. Hi,
    I’m a student in EDM310 at the university of South Alabama. I enjoyed reading your post it was very insightful. It is easy for someone to lead from the negative instead of the positive. Most people dwell on the negative things that happen they tend to forget to acknowledge the positives.

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  5. Ben,

    I really enjoyed this post. Being positive is really a great characteristic to have. Acts of kindness, and not dwelling on failure will is a great way to lead people. I think that people will be more open minded to someone who uplifts them rather than someone who discourages them.

  6. We find what we look for. If we look for negative, that’s what we’ll find. If we look for positive, then that’s what we’ll find.

    Like you, I try to focus on what works, on kindness, and on caring. On what gives me hope for the future. It isn’t always easy but it usually is :)

  7. First of all, thank you for being a positive leader! Like you said, many find it hard to lead from the positive. This is especially true in college. Educators should want to see success of their students and not thrive on watching them fail. It is definitely a reflection of the teacher. I think that some teachers set students up for failure is to feel better about themselves. It makes them feel smart. This reminds me of bullying. Bullies want to feel empowerment over others. This is the same as negative leadership. Teachers who lead negatively should remember when they were students, and teach how learning worked best for them.

  8. Hello,

    My name is Porscha Sellers and I attend the University of South Alabama. I think this blog post is much needed. A lot of people are so negative and most don’t know how to have a positive mindset. Very useful information!!

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