In modern woboard-2433984_1920rkplaces where engagement levels are low, it can be almost too easy to slip into a state of frustration.  With constant and growing work demands, increasingly low tolerance for mistakes, downsized teams and diverse personalities, some workplaces can be quite difficult to navigate.

Over time, persons working within organizations with these types of characteristics begin to feel hopeless, they become a shell, a mere shadow of who they were when they joined the company, so they are not able to connect with themselves or others.  Their primary objective is to get the work done, then they go home so they can start the cycle again the next day.

When leaders find themselves in an endless loop of monotony like this, it is hard for them to summon the intrinsic motivation they need to remain uplifted and uplifting.  Instead, stress takes over and connection with employees is not valued so interaction becomes transactional.

When leaders believe they are trapped in a survival cycle like this, it can be difficult for them to make the internal shift they need to break through into positive thinking and feeling on a sustained basis.  This mental and emotional state makes it more challenging to set the right tone during daily interactions.  It can be too easy to fall into the habit of surviving because this is the most pronounced need.

According to the Positive Psychology Institute, “Positive Psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing, and an applied approach to optimal functioning. It has also been defined as the study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals, communities and organizations to thrive.” It is an approach managers and leaders can use to not only shift their own awareness, they can use it, along with other self-growth and team building strategies to achieve engagement and collaboration whether the team is virtual or not.

I have witnessed leaders who attempt to display a ‘positive attitude’ by saying something positive about every situation.  When managers who do this, are incapable of being authentic or balanced, mistrust will exist within the ranks and low trust levels are counterproductive to a positive team experience.   When leaders are perceived as being incapable of being real, they are not trusted by their direct reports or their supervisors because it is too difficult to get a balanced view from them.

Creating and sustaining a positive work environment is a decision leaders should make every day, during every interaction.  Your first step should be to define what an authentically positive work environment looks like because there are teams that exist where everyone responds positively to the leader because they are too afraid to express their true ideas and opinions.

Higher performing, positive work environments are ones where team members are free to be themselves and they are naturally inclined to be honest, respectful and supportive of each other.  It is not one where there is latent conflict lurking behind the surface of a happy face.

Here are five tips leaders can use to maintain a positive orientation within every interaction and to inspire others to do the same:

  1. Take the time to recognize members of your team for their achievements regularly. If you recognize your coworkers too often and you will lose the value in the exercise and if you don’t do it often enough, your direct reports may think you do not value them.  In some organizations, the only reason executives visit departments is to express displeasure or to terminate employees.  Organizations like this can seek to recognize positive stories, using storytelling as a positive reinforcement tool.
  2. When leaders are straight-shooters, some persons on the team will find this refreshing and welcome it. Others can be devastated by it because they are highly sensitive.  In order to manage the health of a team, it is important for straight shooting leaders to be situational, while at the same time not losing who they are in order to please everyone.
  3. When designing a positive work environment, it is important for leaders to accept their unique mix of personal strengths and weaknesses and focus on their strengths. The more leaders orient their focus on building skills that are not their strengths, the more they will criticize their direct reports. When leaders are critical of themselves, never seeing their strengths, they will be critical about coworkers when speaking to them and to others about them. Leader self-awareness is a powerful contributor to a positive team attitude and experience.
  4. Leaders with a positive orientation know how to set and maintain a positive tone. They honestly value members of their teams and invest in their development – financially and otherwise.  They set the tone for positive exchanges and they keep themselves accountable to consistent and integrous behavior, especially when they are stressed or frustrated.
  5. Positively oriented leaders systematically use tools like gratitude, appreciative inquiry, and coaching to uplift, develop, and profile their coworkers. These leaders are unafraid of their direct reports outshining them because they know when they allow their direct reports to shine, this is a reflection of their well-adjusted, ego-free leadership.

Leaders who use positive psychology at work know their words and actions have to line up.  They can’t use positive words in conversations and emails and their decisions and other behaviors do not reflect the same commitment to positivity.  They are not only self-aware, they are self-regulated, taking ownership for their own morale and setting the stage for high team morale.  They genuinely care about the members of their teams so blame, excuses, planting seeds of doubt, nor any strategies that diminish others, will even be considered strategies by them.

If you are not naturally inclined toward being positive at work, it is a journey.  The great news is that it is possible to energize and inspire your team if you can make and sustain the behaviors necessary for your contribution to building trust, and cultural change through positive actions.

Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.  If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her newsletter at or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.