How to Be an Inspiring Leader and Avoid Toxic Positivity in the Workplace

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Toxic positivity in the workplace is fueled by a common myth: to be an inspiring leader, we have to be positive all the time. 

This belief not only feels unrealistic and inauthentic, but can also be counterproductive if your goal is to be an inspiring leader. Positivity is such a wonderful trait and yet, it can also obscure authentic feelings and block the exploration of deeper insights and opportunities. 

In this blog post, we’ll dive into the misconceptions surrounding the ideal of a perpetually positive leader. We’ll also examine how this type of leader can inadvertently discourage authentic connections and hinder personal and professional development. Finally, we’ll offer an alternative approach rooted in a broader, more accepting perspective of the world. 

The truth is, being an inspiring leader doesn’t have to arise from relentless cheerfulness. Inspiring leadership can come from authenticity, and the willingness to see situations clearly and hold space for what’s happening without judgment. This approach will allow you to elevate your team’s energy, garner support, and much more.

So without further ado, let’s get started!
 

What Do We Mean by Toxic Positivity in the Workplace?

Toxic positivity in the workplace occurs when leaders or colleagues overly encourage positive attitudes and dismiss or suppress genuine concerns or negative emotions in themselves and others. While well-intentioned, this approach can create an environment where authenticity takes a back seat to maintaining “positive vibes only.” 

When we rely on positivity as a coping mechanism to encourage peace and productivity, we suppress our genuine feelings, which creates a disconnect from our true self (that others can pick up on!) This lack of authenticity can erode trust and connection with team members who may understandably struggle to resonate with a leader who appears insincere or disconnected from reality.

Imagine a team leader who responds to a challenging discussion with a dismissive remark like, “Let’s not dwell on the negatives; focus on the positives!” This response will likely shut down any genuine concerns and even discourage open dialogue about potential areas for improvement and innovation, perpetuating toxic positivity in the workplace. In this scenario, the team members may feel invalidated and reluctant to voice their concerns. This can lead to a lack of trust and may hinder the team’s ability to communicate and address issues effectively.
 

Understanding Toxic Positivity Through the Lens of Energy

Energy influences how we act because it forms the “lens” through which we perceive the world. For instance, if you’re coming from a higher level of energy, a challenge is more likely to appear as an opportunity. While experiencing one of the lower levels of energy, that same exact challenge might seem daunting or like a sign you’re doomed to fail.

At iPEC, we use seven different energy levels to describe the types of energy a person can experience and express in each moment. All levels have advantages and disadvantages, and research studies have shown that people who report experiencing higher levels of energy feel far more satisfied in key areas of life like work, relationships, communication skills, financial success, and leadership ability.

Knowing which of the 7 Levels of Energy you’re experiencing at any given moment empowers you to decide whether your current energy level aligns with your goals, values, and wellbeing. If it doesn’t, you can intentionally shift to a different energy level!

To support you on your journey to becoming a truly inspiring leader, let’s explore two crucial energy levels: Level 3 and Level 5. Diving into the nuances of each level will offer profound insights into your current leadership approach and provide clarity on which energy level you aspire to lead from. By recognizing these distinctions, you’ll be better equipped to foster an environment of authenticity, trust, and growth within your team, steering clear of any toxic positivity tendencies.

Level 3 Energy

When operating at Level 3 energy, our main focus is to achieve our goals or fulfill our needs, ideally while benefiting others in the process. The way people often do this is through trying to maintain a sense of peace—both within themselves and in their external environment—to pursue their objectives with ease and as minimal obstacles as possible. If we’re not mindful, this approach can inadvertently lead to toxic positivity in the workplace.

To maintain a sense of peace, we can employ all sorts of clever coping mechanisms like rationalizing, cooperating, tolerating, compromising, etc. While these tactics can be tremendously helpful ways of diffusing or sidestepping the ‘problem’ we feel is preventing us from getting what we want, it’s important to employ them with intention rather than by default because of how we’re used to operating in the world. 

At this level, people judge situations as inherently “good” or “bad,” so it makes sense they’d want to do everything in their power to make the perceived source of conflict go away and get to a “good” outcome! For a leader who’s in Level 3 energy, this might look like encouraging those they lead to “look on the bright side” when the leader feels uncomfortable with “negative” responses from their employees. It could also look like forcing forgiveness in an attempt to release resentment or avoid conflict.

Pause and Reflect: 

Where do you see aspects of Level 3 energy showing up in your leadership or management style? (Remember: no need to judge yourself, one way or the other! This is an opportunity to simply observe.)

Level 5 Energy

At Level 5, leaders embrace a mindset of accepting all situations. Sure, who doesn’t love peace, right? But that’s not the main thing they’re after. This non-judgmental approach allows us to be open to all experiences, while at Level 3, judgment keeps us locked into a narrow vision of what’s right or wrong, or good or bad. 

When operating at Level 5, people are genuinely as excited by the things that go according to plan as they are by the things that don’t—because regardless of the situation, they truly believe they can create an opportunity, and they know these opportunities can often be born out of challenging situations. 

Rather than trying to maintain the peace with platitudes (which can contribute to toxic positivity in the workplace), an inspiring leader at Level 5 will confidently hold space for the authentic responses and expressions of others, knowing that by embracing what’s emerging, they can create a win-win for themselves and everyone involved.

A great way to think about these two levels is that at Level 5, leaders blend agendas—you don’t feel like you’re compromising but rather focusing on what’s best for the group (our agenda). This creates a supportive work environment where people feel valued.

On the other hand, Level 3 leans more towards self-interest and focuses on personal agendas (my agenda). While there may be a hope that others benefit, the focus on reducing obstacles or friction can sometimes lead to dismissing the concerns or challenges of others as mere annoyances or obstacles to personal goals.

Pause and Reflect: 

Where do you see aspects of Level 5 energy showing up in your leadership or management style?

 

The Path to Awakening Potential Through “Negative” Energy

In the journey through the 7 Levels of Energy, it’s important to keep in mind that there are no “good” or “bad” levels—they each come with their own set of advantages and disadvantages, and we experience all of them at different times. What matters is that you’re choosing your level of energy with intention and purpose rather than defaulting to a level out of habit or programming.

While Level 3 can be an effective way of achieving our personal goals, it can often compromise the mental wellbeing of others.

Encouraging your team with a “We can do this!” attitude may help them band together to meet a quick deadline, but a more sustainable strategy for long-term productivity and harmony is to avoid sweeping negativity under the rug; address it openly and use it as an opportunity to grow. 🌱

Acknowledging and validating the experiences of team members who are navigating “negative” energy is key to avoiding toxic positivity in the workplace. By empathetically addressing their struggles and acknowledging that it’s completely understandable that they feel overwhelmed or angry, or even pressured to maintain “high vibes” on the team, you create a space for authenticity and vulnerability. You might even spot hidden opportunities to be a more efficient, high-achieving team (which ultimately leads to a win-win for everyone involved!)

As an inspiring leader, it’s also crucial to practice compassion while holding space for and validating others’ more “negative” reactions without judgment. By doing so, you create an environment of trust and psychological safety within your team, ultimately leading to greater buy-in, collaboration, and last but definitely not least . . . fun! 🙌 

 

6 Practical Ways to Be an Inspiring Leader While Avoiding Toxic Positivity in the Workplace

Being an inspiring leader involves genuine connection, empathy, and understanding. Here are some practical ways you can begin to cultivate a positive workplace culture while embodying the principles of how to be an inspiring leader:

Listen Deeply and Actively

Practice active listening by giving your full attention to others when they speak. This means not only hearing their words but also understanding their emotions and perspectives. By listening deeply, you demonstrate respect and foster a sense of belonging within your team.

Acknowledge and Validate

Acknowledge the experiences and emotions of your team members, even when they’re navigating challenging situations. Offer validation and empathy, showing that you understand and care about their wellbeing. This creates a supportive environment where individuals feel heard and valued.

Refrain From Judgment

Avoid labeling others’ expressions of negativity as simply being “wrong” or “too negative.” Remember that everyone’s perspective is valid, even if you don’t agree with it. Instead of judging or trying to convince them to see things your way, seek to understand the underlying reasons behind their feelings and reactions. By refraining from judgment, you promote open communication and mutual respect within your team.

Embrace Vulnerability

As a leader, be willing to show vulnerability yourself. Share your own challenges and struggles openly, demonstrating it’s okay to be authentic and imperfect. Vulnerability builds trust and strengthens connections within teams, creating a culture that prioritizes genuine emotions and honest communication over toxic positivity in the workplace.

Be Aware of Your Own Triggers 

Recognize that your perception of how a teammate is showing up is filtered through your personal lens. Be mindful of your own triggers and biases, and take accountability for your own healing and growth. By being aware of your own triggers, you can approach interactions with greater clarity and understanding.

Encourage Understanding:

When a team member faces challenges, avoid jumping to conclusions or assigning blame (even to yourself!) Instead, approach the situation with curiosity and empathy. Listen attentively, ask empowering questions, and work together to find solutions. This approach creates a culture of unwavering trust and support. 

 

In today’s fast-paced work environments, it’s easy to fall into the trap of toxic positivity, where genuine concerns and challenges are dismissed in favor of forced optimism and forward momentum. However, by practicing the strategies we’ve shared above on how to be an inspiring leader, you can create a supportive environment that enriches the lives of every person on your team.

And remember, it’s okay if you don’t master them overnight! Growth is a continuous journey and you are capable of being an inspiring leader who cultivates a workplace culture that inspires you, too. 
 


  

Want Some Extra Support (and 20+ Coaching Tools and Techniques) to Enhance Your Leadership Skills?

 

This article is just the beginning! If you’re ready to become a more inspiring leader by discovering the transformative power of the 7 Levels of Energy, we encourage you to explore Coaching Fundamentals; it’s an interactive, immersive training designed to help you harness the energy within you to create lasting positive change, both in your life and the lives of others.

Not only will you dive deeper into your journey of learning how to be an inspiring leader (and boost your earning potential!), but you’ll also get to experience the impact of eliminating inner blocks and awakening your personal potential. This 3-day live training will help you master new skills, build confidence, and begin paving your unique path forward.
 

 



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