The Spark in Positive Transformations

– The Case for Positive Leadership

Work hard and maintain your humanity. Sounds easy enough. But when you throw in stress like deadlines, unexpected road blocks or uncooperative behaviours, things can go south very fast. Here’s where a leader with a positive mindset becomes crucial to a turnaround.

First of all, what is a positive leader?

A positive leader is one who has the skillsets and sensibilities to cultivate the best in every individual in the team, however negative the surrounding climate and circumstances. A positive leader is the epitome of resilience, and breeds resilience in the entire team.

A positive leader builds employees not only to be better performers and colleagues, but better people -- people who go on to do extraordinary things at work and in life.

According to Dr Kim Cameron, author of “Positive Leadership”, positive leaders:

  • Enable positively deviant performance, that is, outcomes that dramatically go beyond expected performance
  • Focus on human potential and strengths. They emphasise flourishing as much as addressing obstacles. When negative events occur, they see how these can lead to positive outcomes
  • Focus on fostering virtuousness in individuals and organisations

Here are some great examples of positive leadership at its best in various industries, as mentioned in "Practising Positive Leadership" by Dr. Kim Cameron.


After the terrorist attacks in September 2001, the airline industry was adversely affected. A study was done on nine airline companies which used positive leadership practices. This meant they responded to the crisis in a way that took into consideration human dignity, financial support and safety nets of employees. Companies that did this made significantly more money and recovered more quickly that those that did not (Gittell et al, 2006).

Financial and Healthcare Services

Researchers also studied forty financial services organisations and thirty healthcare organisations. When positive leadership practices were implemented, performance scores improved significantly.

The healthcare organisations saw double-digit improvement in climate, manager support, participation, patient satisfaction, physician/nurse relations, quality of care, resource adequacy and willing to recommend. (Cameron, Mora, Leutscher, and Calarco, 2011).

Other Industries (profit and not-for-profit)

Results from a study which looked at seven organisations suggested that when there were more positive practices, profitability, productivity, quality, innovation, customer satisfaction and employee retention improved.

When researchers included organisations from sixteen more industries, organisations using positive practices were found to be much more effective than those which did not. (Cameron, Bright and Caza, 2004).