Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance Book Review

By Drs. Sheila Boysen, Mike Cherry, and Lesley Page

“Positive leadership aims not just to create positive emotions in people—to help people feel happy—but to dramatically affect organizational performance for the better.”

This quotation from author Kim Cameron provides, what could be, a jolting premise! So much of what we read in business literature talks of attacking problems, determining our Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats, and seizing market share. Words and phrases that connote more of a reaction to negative influences rather than highlighting strengths and the positive. Cameron suggests that we don’t ignore problems and weakness rather look to cultivate the positive leadership strategies of:

  • Positive Climate,
  • Positive Relationships,
  • Positive Communication, and
  • Positive Meaning

to achieve positively deviant performance, foster an affirmative orientation in our organization, and focus on virtuousness and the best of the human condition! Lofty goals, for sure. Let’s explore the 4 strategies and ideas for how to implement them.

Positive Climate

This refers to a work culture where positive emotions such as appreciation, recognition, joyfulness, predominate over negative emotions such as reprimand, ignore, and sadness.

For leaders, activities that support, and promote, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude are important. Given our work in the Cemeteries, compassion is…well just who you are. Forgiveness is more nuanced. As leaders do we look to blame others for problems or use moments of failure as ‘learning moments’ where we acknowledge what went wrong and determine methods to avoid the mistake in the future? How are we practice gratitude i.e., pleases, and thank yous…maybe sending a note of thanks out of the blue? How we do express gratitude widely?

Positive Relationships

We believe this is inherent in the human condition. We tend to want more positive than negative relationships in our life! To foster more positive relationships who in our organization are positive energizers? Maybe it is us! Who are those who are optimistic, trustworthy, and unselfish. Perhaps more importantly, how do we recognize those people? As leaders, are we recognizing the strengths of others? Are we ‘catching the good’ and sharing that widely?

Also, who might be negative energizers? Those who leave others feeling exhausted and depleted. As leaders, have we had a direct and honest conversation with them about their impact on others? Have we offered ideas and steps for development? We may need to find them roles where their impact on others in lessened or perhaps, help them find a place to ‘flourish elsewhere.’

Positive Communication

As you would suspect, “positive communication occurs in organizations when affirmative and supportive language replaces negative and critical language.” Cameron provides further clarification on what is positive v negative communication can sound like…

Positive statements express… Negative statements express…
Appreciation Support Helpfulness Approval Compliments Criticism Disapproval Dissatisfaction Cynicism Disagreement

We suggest leaders carefully balance these two. Cameron suggests the ideal ratio is 5 positive statements to each critical statement. We suppose a good question for you is…how is your ratio?

Another tool for leaders is to balance advocacy i.e., telling and statements with inquiry i.e., asking and questions. How do we invite those we are leading to contribute their strengths, ideas, and gifts to support organizational success?

Positive Meaning

Cameron suggests that our search for positive meaning is a university human need. In our connection with all of you, we believe this is an area you do extremely well. For many of you, this work is your vocation and calling. It is, powerfully, meaningful to you. Cameron believes work had meaningfulness when it possess one of four attributes.

  1. Positive impact on the well-being of human beings
  2. Associated with an important virtue or personal value
  3. Impact extends beyond an immediate time frame
  4. Builds a sense of community

In earlier articles, we have discussed the Great Resignation and its challenges. For you as leaders, how are you framing the work of your team to demonstrate the, above, four attributes. Maybe this can help in hiring and retaining your key teammates.

In conclusion, we find Cameron’s text wonderfully written, supported by many, many studies, and suggest you check out his various videos for a ‘quick hit.’ If you are interested in the book, please check his reference pages. You could build several years of intentional reading about positivity…that, actually, sounds pretty great.


Cameron, K. (2012). Positive leadership: Strategies for extraordinary performance. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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