Why a Positive Presence is Essential to Leaders

“Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior.
Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits.
Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny. “                                                                                               

-Mahatma Ghandi

Sometimes maintaining a positive presence at work is much easier said than done.  However, by being mindful of your own presentation and making a conscious effort to exude a positive energy and vibe, you can make an immense impact on your employees and the overall culture of the company.  People remember how you make them feel.  Whatever energy as a leader you infuse, people are going to react to, which is what we discussed in a recent interview with one of our dear friends, Shannon Fitzgerald.  

Meet Shannon

Shannon is the Chief People Officer at Service Systems Associates where she elevates HR, culture, diversity, and community engagement throughout the company.  Her Department strives to empower SSA’s managers and employees with the tools and resources to help team members grow their professional skills and thrive in their competitive industry.  In addition, she serves as the Secretary on the Board of the T. Kevin McNicholas Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on the education needs of young people, preparing them to enter the workforce with character, ethics and leadership skills.  In all of her leadership roles, Shannon exudes positivity in her persona and utilizes mindfulness daily in leading her teams, which she discusses in our interview with her.

“When a leader comes into a room, or a company, the energy and vibe that they give off is going to effect and trickle down to everyone around them.”

-Shannon Fitzgerald, Service System Associates

This concept that leaders set the tone of the workplace has been widely researched. In the International Journal of Emerging Research in Management & Technology, Dr. Shelly Mohanty expands on Shannon’s ideas of Positive Attitude as a key element of effective, mindful leadership.  She further explores that a leader can set the tone of the culture of the company by the way they present themselves to their team.  According to Mohanty and Shannon, the first step to positive thinking is Self Awareness. You must be mindful of how you present yourself in order to influence and encourage your team in a positive way.

Another study conducted by LeadingTeams found that managers were the greatest influence on setting a positive office environment. According to the findings, 54 percent of workers said their leaders were the most important factors for positive environments. Leaders have the capability of setting the tone of the culture and it’s one of the areas that many leaders aren’t conscious of. However, it’s one of the easiest to practice.

Practicing Positivity

Ever heard the phrase, “it’s all good?” Can this belief possibly be true? Maybe the idea can be true in some existential, spiritual or even scientific way. What if I choose to believe and practice the idea that “it’s all good?” Perhaps I then live in a fantasy-land or profound denial, but, on the other hand, maybe I start looking for the silver lining, experience a little more joy, and act in ways that are helpful. The choice is truly yours, from moment to moment, in all situations. 

This is a good time to introduce a simple practice. Think back on the last twenty fours hours. Can you remember at least three positive things that happened in that time frame? Please either write them down or tell someone about the positive events, even if you just tell yourself. Seriously, do it. Do it before you read the next sentence. Please. 

This exercise was based on a study conducted in 2005. One group within the study was asked to write down three positive things that occurred each day for a week. Another group, the control group, simply did not participate in the exercise. At a one month, three month and six month follow up, the group that performed this, almost too simple, exercise, was measurably happier than the sample who did not complete the exercise. Even more remarkable, the exercise had staying power. After stopping the daily exercise, the group who wrote down three positive things daily, continued to remain happier. 

Why did the group that remembered three positive events each day become happier? The answer lies in recent discoveries in neural psychology and neurology, namely, our understanding of neural pathways. Wikipedia defines a neural pathway as “the nerve structures through which one part of the nervous system connects with another and usually consists of bundles of elongated neurons, known collectively as white matter. Neural pathways serve to connect relatively distant areas of the brain or nervous system, compared to the local communication of grey matter” There are billions of interconnected nerve cells in the human brain, which allow nerve impulses to follow any of a virtually unlimited number of pathways. This system is like a freeway system on steroids.

One delightful truth of neural pathways is that they are created throughout the lifespan. When we think, feel and act in certain ways, neural pathways are created. The more we travel a certain neural pathway, the more developed the neural pathway becomes. Practice may or may not make perfect, but practice does create a new road. The study group that practiced remembering and writing down three positive things daily created new neural pathways of positivity. How cool is that? On the flip-side, how uncool is traveling down a road that leads to pain and suffering? Most, if not all of us, travel these negative roads daily. The roads have become part of our DNA and appear real and true, and in a neural pathway reality, they are. However, now we know that lasting change can begin with a few simple steps that anyone can do, steps that, over time, lead to big results. 

Another powerful positivity practice is called Reframing, a technique often found in family therapy. Reframing takes an event or characteristic that is seen as negative, and makes a concerted effort to find positive characteristics about the event. This mental shift takes practice, but can be really fun and productive. 


Negative – God, you’re an idiot.
Reframe – It’s wonderful you do not have to think deeply to make decisions. 

This example, although admittedly a bit less than fully polished, is meant to humor you, but it is also intended to challenge you to be more aware of your “frame” of mind. Once aware, we can know that negativity begets negativity and negative outcomes. Positivity begets positivity and positive outcomes. Awareness provides choices. Lack of awareness keeps us merely reacting to our world, oblivious to our thoughts, behaviors, resulting feelings and impact on other people. 

Positive Explanatory Style

You’re probably wondering: What is an explanatory style? This psychological term refers to how people explain to themselves why they experience a certain event, either positive or negative. When something happens in your life, your explanatory style is part of how you process it, the meaning you attach to it, and how you assess it as a threat or a challenge in your life. 

“Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results.”     

-Willie Nelson

So, how can we influence explanatory style in a way that we can experience improved performance as a leader? Enter Albert Ellis. Ellis was one of the founding fathers of cognitive behavioral therapy. Ellis believed and subsequently proved that our feelings and performance could be influenced through identifying negative belief systems and replacing them with more neutral or positive belief systems. Here’s how the system works:

A. Identify the (perceived) ADVERSITY and negative feelings
B. Identify the BELIEFS about the adversity
C. CHALLENGE those beliefs with more accurate and helpful beliefs
D. DIRECT your behavior in accordance with a more positive belief system E. ENJOY the results 

Let’s discuss an everyday example to help you learn the technique:

We do a lot of work in Florida. People tend to have strong opinions about the weather in Florida. Colleague one made the statement that he hated the rain. He talked about hating to get his suit wet and ruining his shoes. Colleague two said, “yes, it’s raining and my tomatoes are going to love this.” Colleague one becomes increasingly miserable and Colleague two smiled. 

Reviewing the event through Albert Ellis’ A,B,C,D,E, model, we can analyze the miserable colleague. 

A. (Perceived) ADVERSE event: The rain is falling in Orlando 

B. BELIEFS about the rain. “This rain sucks. It ruins my plans. I’m miserable.”

As a result of his beliefs about the rain, my friend was in a very bad mood, and he was not fun to be around. If he wanted to snap out of his mood, he could have moved to step C, CHALLENGING his beliefs. 

C. “What am I saying to myself? I am saying this rain sucks. I hate the rain. My suit will be ruined, etc. How are these beliefs making me feel? Bad. Angry. Frustrated. Are my beliefs in any way helping me be happy? No. Is there another way to think? Yes. Okay,the rain is necessary for tomatoes to flourish. For that matter, without the rain, we are dead. The rain creates life and grows plants. Plants produce fruits and vegetables. These fruits and vegetables allow me to eat and be healthy. The rain keeps the planet balanced and all life alive. Life is possible because of rain. I can be mindful of these truths. 

D. I can DIRECT my behavior toward thankfulness and express my gratitude about the rain. In so doing, I will begin to feel better and, 

E. ENJOY the results.

Anyone can learn and practice this technique. The rewards are well established in close to forty years of psychological research, but most people never get to step one; the simple awareness of how they are thinking, feeling and acting and how it impacts others. The beauty here is that we can “wake up” anytime, return to our positive practices and be happier. Practice may not make perfect, but practice does make you and your team happier and more productive. 

3 thoughts on “Why a Positive Presence is Essential to Leaders”

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