I remember this conversation like it was yesterday. I had just presented in an important meeting. Afterwards, an executive took me aside to compliment my presentation and gave me some advice. She said, “You should be less positive; it’s a big big project and we could miss the mark. She was afraid that my optimism would lead me to failure.
This comment got me thinking about my approach to leadership. There are all types of leaders: authoritarian, transformational, visionary, etc. But the worst kind of leader is one who is not authentic. I have always been a positive person, in my personal and professional life. This positivity was born out of a lot of losses growing up that taught me to take a step back. For me, positivity starts with a mindset. I love this quote from Leon Brown: “Life is what you think. If your thoughts are negative, the world you see will be the same. This mentality inspires me every day. As a CMO of high performing teams, I am passionate about leading and inspiring my colleagues through positivity, empathy and pragmatism.
Now more than ever, positive leadership is vital. And in my experience, leading with positivity results in a thriving, innovative, and happy work culture. Here are five ways to cultivate a culture of positivity in my organization:
1. Celebrate success early and often. Show your appreciation. Employees feel appreciated when they are recognized for their hard work and accomplishments. I have found that positive recognition improves morale, builds team engagement, and makes work much more enjoyable. A simple gesture of thanks may only take a minute, but it can stay in someone’s memory for a lifetime. There are many ways to celebrate success. It can be as simple as a verbal acknowledgment of gratitude or as elaborate as a public acknowledgment in plain sight. Twice a year, I officially award Gold Star Awards to honor individuals and teams for their outstanding contributions. Every day, I recognize excellence with a “verbal” gold star that has no monetary value. I find that celebrating successes, big and small, brings out the best in people.
2. Practice the “no”.” Time is precious. It’s something you can’t buy and must protect. In today’s hybrid environment, the blurred boundaries between work and personal life can cause burnout. It is important to set boundaries and be able to say no, a “positive no”. I believe it is important to say “no” to anything that distracts you or distracts you from your priorities (personal or professional) and to say “yes” to what matters: our own needs, values and priorities. In his book The power of a positive noWilliam Ury outlines strategies for being firm about your values and expressing your opinions while respecting others.
3. Accept mistakes and celebrate learnings. Mistakes are a gift. They teach us, shape us and, if fully experienced, guide us to the right outcome. I tell my teams, “I will never get upset if you make a mistake; just learn from it and don’t make the same mistake twice. Leaders must empower teams to dream big, aim for the moon, and not be afraid to fail. I strive to create an environment where new ideas are welcomed, mistakes are celebrated and innovation thrives.
4. Stay positive and be pragmatic in a difficult situation. As leaders, we are constantly faced with difficult situations. It’s easy to fall into a negative mindset or even blame others. In my experience, this is the most important time to stay grounded, not get emotional, and give your team confidence that it’s not the end of the world and that there’s always a way forward. .
5. Find your “why”. Everyone is looking for a purpose, whether they realize it or not. Purpose provides individuals and organizations with a rallying cry: it guides us, motivates us, and inspires a thriving culture. In this turbulent and dynamic world, it is important to find your why. My organization has discovered our “why” over the past year. The purpose is a reminder that the work we do matters. He provides the organization (and me personally) with a veritable North Star.
This month I had the privilege of interviewing Chris Gardner, author of the critically acclaimed book “Pursuit of Happyness”, entrepreneur and philanthropist. During our conversation, he advised the audience “to go put a dent in the universe.” Those words really resonated with me. Our teams spend most of their lives under our care. The words we use, the environments we create will have a profound impact on their lives today and for years to come. The breach I want to leave in the universe is positive, empathetic leadership that inspires greatness in the teams I serve. What bump do you want to leave?
Kim Salem-Jackson is executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Akamai.