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Too Positive? Be Realistic and Lead Optimistically. (#129)

The Confident Leader

Recently, I had the opportunity to offer my thoughts for a possible article on the topic of “toxic positivity.” I hadn’t heard that phrase before. After quick research, I found some pretty interesting things. 

Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise.
— Thomas Gray (English poet)

This Week’s Edition

Toxic positivity is the excessive and overgeneralization of a happy state across all situations, no matter the true reality. It can lead to the recipient of the positivity feeling as if their experiences is minimized or invalidated. 

Clarify Your Thinking

Toxic positivity seems to be the new label for someone that is so positive their behavior is noxious or poisonous to others. Really? Let’s explore. 

One would think that in today’s world we all need a positive outlook given all we have experienced these past three years. As leaders, don’t our teams look to us to be upbeat and create a positive work environment?

Apparently, some are taking it too far; being so positive that they refuse to acknowledge anything bad or negative. The problem is that bad things are happening. Leaders who fail to acknowledge those less than positive things risk losing credibility with their team. If the team feels that their leader doesn’t know what is actually going on with them or the situation, it may cause lack of followership or worse… disengagement

Old Thinking: My team is so negative right now. I can’t let that negativity creep in. I’ll be extra positive no matter what just to balance it out.

New Thinking: Sometimes things happen that aren’t great. I’ve got to account for how my team is experiencing these situations. I’ve got to acknowledge it and help lead them through it based on the reality of the situation.

Thoughts Lead to Actions

If a leader is overly positive, it impacts the team negatively. How ironic! 

The team starts to question, “does he not see what the rest of us see?” They begin to doubt the leader, “he just doesn’t get it. The rest of us are living in reality.”

Thankfully, reality testing is an emotional intelligence skill that can be trained. Take these steps to improve your reality testing when a less than positive thing occurs:

Step 1: Empathy: ask your team their perspective of the situation.

Give your team time to air their frustrations. They are venting in the “parking lot” bring that conversation into the office. Hear them out and show your empathy for their experience. 

Step 2: Feedback: then ask your team for input on possible next steps. 

At the right point, turn the conversation to next steps. Engage your team on their ideas showing them you care about getting all the details and you need their perspective. Leaders who seek feedback are 86% more effective. 

Step 3: Optimism: communicate you believe things can improve.

The optimistic leader is one who believes the future can be better and that they have the influence to make it so. Optimism is contagious. Positivity that is not grounded in reality is apparently toxic. You choose. 

Boost Your Performance

Many leaders I’ve worked with have shared war stories about how one negative person has created a toxic environment. I can appreciate how a leader attempting to defuse that situation with positivity might over correct. Watch this week’s video to hear how others balance their approach.  

What’s Your Opinion?

How do you balance being positive with staying grounded in reality? Share it with me at

If you are going to be a leader, you might as well be a good one. Don’t let doubt count you out. Have a confident week!

Robin Pou, Chief Advisor and Strategist

We live to make bad leadership extinct so forward this newsletter to others who strive to be confident leaders. 

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What is “The Confident Leader”?

During the Covid-19 Pandemic, I began a video series called “Panic or Plan?” It was designed to equip leaders to navigate the doubt they experienced and to rise in the confidence they needed to lead during turbulent times. It took off. I then started this newsletter to equip leaders in the same fashion each week for the doubt that crashes across the bow of their leaderSHIP.

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