Four Steps to Positive Leadership
November 17, 2016 by Bill Rosenthal

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad the election is over. It had its low points, and it had its high points, but taken as a whole, I think it was unique in the annals of American public speaking. For most of us, it was exhausting just to watch it. Simply in terms of communication, without considering the issues, it was the toughest, most bizarre presidential election I have ever witnessed. 

I have been known to criticize Donald Trump’s “If I say do it, they’re going to do it” leadership philosophy. But the restrained dignity of his acceptance speech after the election suggested a welcome flexibility. That speech was an excellent performance, and I hope we will see some elevated rhetoric over the next four years. Promising to be a President for all Americans, including those who opposed him, he has set the tone for a civilized conversation about the issues facing us.

Hillary Clinton’s concession speech was an exercise in grace, and her plea to give Trump a chance to lead shows her deep commitment to our democracy. President Obama made a speech the day after the election, too. Only he could turn this election into a hope for the future, but he did it by focusing on unity.

These three speeches were a remarkable contrast to what went before. “If I say do it, they’re going to do it” is what I consider to be negative leadership. To the extent it is leadership at all, it is the leadership of the autocrat. And the three latest speeches — Trump’s, Clinton’s, and Obama’s — got me to thinking about what constitutes positive leadership. If you’ve ever been led, you know that positive leadership is not only more fulfilling for followers, it’s more effective, too.

The essential qualities of positive leadership are vision, integrity, commitment, and resilience. They are the qualities on which you build your leadership style. If you have those qualities, then here’s my advice for behaving like a positive leader.

1. Offer your vision loudly, clearly, and consistently. Don’t hide behind memos, emails, a blog, or even video speeches. Get out there in person and show your followers what the vision means to you.

2. Present your vision. If you haven’t done very much presenting to audiences, or even if you have, get some presentation training, such as Communispond’s Executive Presentation Skills® or EPS Anywhere™, to make sure your message has optimum organization and that you have mastered the behaviors that make you seem credible, trustworthy, and authoritative. 

3. Know yourself and your organization. Like it or not, much of leadership consists of selling your vision. Know your followers’ values so you can appeal to them. Know yourself so you can be honest. This may call for serious introspection and reflection, and it may seem to you unnatural. But leadership is not a natural role for a human being. Leaders are, by definition, exceptions. 

4. Avoid negativity bias. Human beings are designed to give more attention to threats than to opportunities. It is how we have survived as organisms in an often hostile environment. To be a positive leader, however, you need to overcome that tendency and focus on opportunities as well as on the assets you have for taking advantage of them. If, as a leader, you spend the majority of your time fixing problems, you’re not leading. You are, at best, managing. Approach every situation as an opportunity to implement your vision, and it will keep you positive.

Communispond, by the way, offers a full range of training programs to help business people develop and refine leadership skills.