30th October 2017 / by Sarah Mundy

A leader’s attitude is contagious – for better or worse

In my experience as an Executive Coach, one of the most difficult challenges for leaders is always maintaining a positive perspective whilst dealing with the constant demands of their role.  Leaders in an organisation are role models by virtue of their function.  Employees watch them carefully and respond to the cues they perceive regarding appropriate behaviour.  So, a positive persona is critical to engaging and inspiring employees.  But we are all human, and maintaining a positive attitude through tough times can be challenging.  This article provides some useful insights into how this can be achieved in practice.

Maintaining a positive perspective is commonly referred to as resilience.  This is often referred to as ‘bounce-back ability’ or ‘being bullet-proof’.  But these descriptions are more suited to the world of super-heroes.  In the more real and practical world of business, resilience is more about:

  • Being pragmatic versus eternally optimistic. By retaining the face of realism and removing over optimistic approaches the balance of judgement is much more realistic and attainable for all.
  • Having a strong values Recognising if your core values are aligned with those of your organisation.  Values tend not to change, but decisions, people and direction will.  After all it is the core values that draw people into a collective and from the most important decisions an organisation will make.
  • Being good at improvisation. Having the ability to readily accept the changing situation and being agile and flexible to take a new and different approach.
  • Being authentic and genuinely interested in others. In building trusted relationships with others it’s important that they see you are interested in them as individuals, not just as part of the organisation/team.
  • Having the ability to remain vulnerable enough to feel for and with others. There is strength and connection the ability to be able to list, hear and be compassionate with others.
  • Reflecting and learning from adverse situations. Taking the time out to work out what went well or not so well, and potentially getting reflections from others, provides the opportunity to learn and develop.

The experience of coaching a wide range of leaders, across many industries, has provided me with real insight into the difficulties that leaders experience.  They often report that it is not easy being the eternal optimist; in fact some find it a little wearing.  Some of the techniques that I use to help them strengthen their resilience include asking them to:

  • Think about how you would handle one of your team coming to you with a negative perspective or problem without solution. What steps would you take to help them think it through and come out with a realistic and pragmatic approach?
  • Hold up the mirror to yourself and ask:
    1. What things are causing barriers to a more positive perspective?
    2. Which of these are within my control?
    3. Can I possibly have all the answers
    4. Am I concerned about being seen as fallible?
  • Reflect, learn and take action; reflect, learn, refine and take action, . . .

These techniques enable leaders to reflect and develop, which is the difference that executive coaching can make.  It gives leaders the opportunity to have the “thinking space” that will enable them to:

  • Reclaim the sense of self, building back the strength of self-belief; review their approach
  • Reflect on situations and recognise the learning from it and how to apply this going forward
  • Look at the wider perspective, enabling the opportunity to connect the broader issues, see the linkages and implications
  • Have a sounding board to share the reality without potentially revealing what could be perceived as an Achilles heel

Maintaining a positive attitude at all times is not easy.  But it is crucial for leaders, because their employees will follow their lead.  Try some of these techniques; they really do help you remain positive: or if you would benefit from an external perspective, try executive coaching.


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