Trust: Positivity And Community

I’ve been doing some reading and writing on establishing a culture of trust, and it’s pretty clear to me how leaders are setting the standards throughout their organizations.

As I shared in my last post, leaders are standard-bearers who establish the basic tenets of integrity throughout their organizations. Leaders must clearly communicate four key values and expectations: truthfulness, honesty, respectfulness, and positivity. In this post, I want to deep-dive into the power of Positivity and look at it from two perspectives: As a quality of personal leadership development and as a quality of the organization’s leaders lead. Why is Positivity important? Research evidence suggests that as much as 40 percent of our happiness comes from the things that we do and the day-to-day choices we make. This is very good news. It means that every leader can do something to improve their personal level of well-being and the well-being of those they lead.

Leaders are standard-bearers who establish the basic tenets of integrity throughout their organizations. Leaders must clearly communicate four key values and expectations: truthfulness, honesty, respectfulness, and positivity.

Personal Positivity

It is not a stretch to say that humans are “hard-wired” to seek to be positive. In a classic essay, Identity Youth and Crisis, Erik Erikson described how the achievement of a positive, coherent self-identity is “the critical developmental task of adolescence.”  In their book The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity, Drs. Wolin and Wolin showed that children at an early age and continuing throughout their lives “search out love” and positive reinforcement from everyone they meet. Emotional Intelligence expert Dr. Daniel Goleman suggested that empathy and caring, hallmarks of positivity, are “fundamental people skills.”

There is a close correlation between personal leadership and a high degree of personal maturity. A mature, positive attitude toward the world, toward other people, and most of all toward yourself produces positive expectancy. Skeptics may scoff at the idea of maintaining a positive mental attitude. They consider it a facade – a superficial role people assume to deceive themselves or others. A genuine positive mental attitude, however, is an expression of maturity that comes as the internal characteristics of personal leadership gradually unfold much as the petals of a bud open to form a beautiful rose. A positive personal outlook reveals the full beauty of a leader’s inner being.

Organizational Positivity

I do not know where I first heard the expression: “The beatings will continue until morale improves!” This bit of irony crossed my mind recently when I had an unexpected opportunity to stand in the back of an auditorium and listen while an organization’s leader shared his review of the state of the company.  His words and message were positive if halting and labored. His body language sent an entirely different message: Anxious, vaguely threatening, almost embarrassed. Scanning the audience, it was impossible to miss the bored and withdrawn countenances, the surreptitious glancing at watches, the almost audible groans. This was not a leader who inspired Positivity.

Positive Outlook is an often-overlooked means of building mutual trust, as long as one’s efforts are neither faked nor forced. As I share with my clients, infusing your culture with a positive mindset has many powerful benefits. Cynicism and sarcasm are trust killers. People are repelled by these behaviors, knowing nothing trustworthy comes from them.

A positive approach assumes the best in people and gives them the benefit of the doubt, thereby setting them at ease. Trust-building leaders expect their staff to exhibit thoughtful behavior and language. Add this requirement to your organization’s code of conduct or formal HR policy.

Promote a Spirit of Community

Let me wrap up by talking about the importance of Community. The definition of “community” can be interchanged with team building as it can mean there is a sense of reliance on one another toward a common cause. Robert K. Greenleaf, best known as the author of The Servant as Leader, considered team building a meaningful practice that encouraged workgroup members to become a community. Leaders who instill a spirit of community build a culture more prone to trust. It’s really no secret: co-operation and teamwork promote trust. I have seen community become the norm when people share the load and help each other. Reciprocity is a noticeable and contagious trust-building act. Coworkers dedicated to a common cause commit to each other. They lift each other up and spur one another on.

When dissension or un-cooperative behavior occurs (which they do on occasion), great leaders help employees grasp the power of reconciliation. They don’t expect their people to always get along, but they count on them to apologize and forgive so relationships can be restored and strengthened. Durable relationships lead to mutual trust.

What has been your experience with positivity? How do you promote a spirit of community?


David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D. is an author, master educator, and leadership expert with documented success in public, private, domestic, and international sectors. David is a Professor of Leadership at the University of Arkansas Grantham, International Faculty at Jesuit Worldwide Learning, and a member of the Board of Directors at the Rotary Fellowship of Leadership Education and Development. With his son, he is co-author of "Servant Leadership Lessons for Middle School" available on Amazon.

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