The Natural Hesitancy to Believe in Positive Leadership

Over the last eighteen years we have taught week long sessions on positive leadership to thousands of executives.  They are typically very interested and fully engaged in the learning.  Yet at the end of the week there is often a hesitancy to go back to work and try the new ideas.  To do so is to take a risk and then be laughed at.  They dread this risk. Interestingly a number of them are motivated enough to take the risks at home.  They love and trust their family enough to experiment.  Often we hear back that they succeed at home so they went on to try experiments at work.  My son Shawn tells two stories that illustrate the process.


Getting Your Teenager to Clean Their Room

I often share a story about a senior executive who is worried about losing his relationship with his 13 year old daughter.  Nothing worked and he didn’t know what to do. While she was at a friend’s house, he went up to her room as he thought about her. He felt anger rise as he entered the messy room.

The executive decided to ask, “What’s here to celebrate?” There wasn’t much but he stuck with it until he noticed the bookshelf in the corner. All the books in alphabetical order and well taken care of.

When his daughter got home, he acknowledged he probably hadn’t been the best father and was very hard on her. He apologized and shared what he noticed in her room and thanked her for taking good care of her books. He went into her room the next week and it was not clean but it was tidy. He thanked his daughter for tidying her room. The next time he looked, it was clean.

A recent Positive Leadership participant heard that story and thought about his 15 year old daughter who snacks in her room all the time and leaves it a disaster. He was skeptical that focusing on the positive would help.

The daughter was eating a snack in the kitchen and he believed she would soon take it to her room. He thanked her for doing what he and her mother asked of her by eating in the kitchen. To his surprise his daughter stayed in the kitchen and finished. He reinforced her a few more times and she has changed.  The mom was skeptical about the positive approach but is starting to believe.



  • Why are people skeptical about positive reinforcement?
  • Why are people slow to experiment at work but sometimes willing to start at home?
  • What has to change for a person to become a positive leader?
  • How can we use this passage to create a more positive organization?



2 comments on “The Natural Hesitancy to Believe in Positive Leadership

  1. I think I often try those sorts of positive reinforcement strategies with my kids. Sometimes they give me the result I’m hoping for, sometimes not. But maybe there’s a better approach. Maybe it’s better to accept that all my ideas are fallible, including my beliefs about what my kids should do with their rooms or eating places. I could be wrong and they could be right. The next step is then easy: I explain to them why I think they should keep their rooms tidy etc. If I have good reasons for my view, then they will agree. End of problem. If they disagree with me, it can only be either because I haven’t communicated my reasoning to them or because my reasoning is not as good as I thought.

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