A leader’s attitude is contagious: If a manager is cynical, they’ll have a team and overall culture that’s cynical of them and their work. Problems tend to hit them like a brick wall, and then they fail. But if a manager shows genuine positivity and enthusiasm — not the toxic kind that makes people deny hardships to the detriment of problem-solving — their team can be much more motivated.
Workers naturally build resilience when they become confident they can overcome their problems. Because optimism spreads, leaders can use intentional tactics and principles to be a central source of positive workplace culture.
A Six-Step Positivity Playbook
Every team has unique characteristics, which will determine what positivity strategies can be most effective for leaders. A younger team might be happy getting skills training because it builds their confidence, while a more experienced team might respond better to direct feedback that guides the confidence they already have. But a few go-to options can improve positivity for nearly any group:
1. Expect and embrace uncertainty. Change is always here. People always have to live with it. But those who win out are the people who see opportunity and adapt in the midst of change. Being willing to let go and learn can be exciting rather than stressful.
2. Control what you can control. There are things a person can control, and there are things a person cares about. Some of these elements will overlap. But often, people worry about issues they can’t influence, and they spend time worrying about fixing those elements. Then, they get overwhelmed and stressed. If people look only at what they can control, the number of points they worry about dramatically decreases. Even though their work might not be easy or fast, they can feel a sense of purpose from the growth and change they support in those areas.
3. Move past failure quickly. No one is perfect; everyone messes up. But when a person makes a mistake, they have a choice: They can either beat themselves up and lapse into a pity party, or they can stay focused on the goal, objectively analyze and learn. They can get up and try again with a different approach as soon as they realize what went wrong. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” In today’s fast-paced work environments, the ability to recuperate fast translates to competitiveness.
4. Have gratitude and celebrate little wins. To some, a small accomplishment might seem insignificant. But to the worker, it might seem like the world. Leaders must pay attention and know when a win is big for someone.
5. Show faces. People are social creatures designed to respond to physical cues, including facial expressions. Leaving cameras off during remote meetings can leave the other party in the dark and block human connection. When team members are not face to face, request that they put their cameras on if it’s convenient for them.
6. Be spontaneous. Anyone who has had to repeat the same task 100 times can testify that too much monotony is maddening. People need a touch of the unexpected or they’ll likely feel bored, disconnected, and stuck. Something as simple as asking your team one of the questions taken from a book like 3000 Questions About Me can get people talking, and most people enjoy talking about themselves.
Positivity Principles To Remember Along the Way
Looking at the tips above, leaders should be realistic: Directing a team toward positivity takes energy and effort. This can mean that managers need to adopt a service mindset. Simon Sinek expressed this well in his book, Leaders Eat Last. Sinek explains that, in the military, high-ranking officers ensure the people underneath them get their meals first — the high-ranking officers get their meals only once they know others have what they need. So pay attention: Positivity and humility are unmistakably linked.
As leaders increasingly serve their teams, they can not only be good role models but also show empathy for their workers as people. Lending attention to points that are not work-related can have a healthy impact on teams because it communicates that leadership is concerned about the employees’ non-work environment. Most of us don’t operate in an environment that demands instant action. Consequently, managers shouldn’t call, text, or reach out to people at night if they don’t want workers emulating that behavior.
Finally, leaders should either have a mentor themselves or mentor someone outside their group. Having a mentor can give a leader a source of encouragement so they aren’t tempted to give up or fall into negative thinking. But leaders don’t have to have just one mentor. They can have three or four people who serve as their board of directors and offer consistent accountability. And mentoring others can help turn the focus away from the leader’s own problems.
Positive In, Positive Out
Whether a person calls it karma or something else, leaders tend to get back what they put into their teams. So, if leaders want a healthy team that can beat even the worst odds, they must demonstrate positivity and make a conscious effort to build an optimistic culture. Leaning on tactics like embracing uncertainty and being spontaneous can advance this process quickly. Combined with the key principles of service, modeling and mentorship, they’re a reliable path to success.
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