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Leadership 101: Cultivate a Positive Attitude

By Pamela Duitson, University of Missouri Extension

Does keeping a positive, upbeat attitude come easy for you? The most cheerful disposition has likely been tested during the last few weeks, as the pandemic caused challenging circumstances for each of us. What if, like many other leadership skills, we could train our mind to be more positive? What if our aptitude for positive thinking could improve at a foundational level that went far further than plastering a smile on our face or a “fake it till you make it” mentality? Leadership experts agree that leaders are needed who can be depended on to open the doors for what is possible, share a vision that unites others, and create hope that inspires and builds trust. A leader cannot model vision, confidence and hope unless his or her attitude is positive and authentic. Thankfully, researchers believe this type of attitude is a skill that can be developed.

The first step is to accept that our attitude is a choice. We must realize that our thoughts, emotions, and attitudes are 100% under our control, despite outward circumstances. Whether we choose to be miserable or content is totally up to us. Negative will attract more negative, and positive will attract positive. But, while the negative will propagate on its own; the positive will take nurturing in order to grow. Below are some tips to cultivate this essential leadership skill, whether positivity comes naturally or not:

Take every opportunity to fill your mind with positive input. What we feed our mind, in the way of positive self-talk, media, videos, books and podcasts – has a lasting effect. Choose to only fill your mind with positive messages. Start this first thing every morning. Place positive and inspirational messages all around – on the bedroom nightstand, the bathroom mirror, the refrigerator and the car visor. Hang posters and pictures that inspire, motivate, and encourage. When we are the recipients of kind words and actions from others, we should capture those in a “warm-fuzzy” file to pull out when needed. Carry all of this to the next step by becoming aware of how we choose to think. View everything and everyone with this positive view. Do not rely on others to build you up. Create a well within yourself that not only feeds your soul, but also those around you.

Watch your words. The words we speak – to both ourselves and others – matter. Words are powerful tools to build up or tear down. Our words, tones and inflections have a cumulative effect on how we think about ourselves, our work, and those around us. Words trigger mental images, and paint pictures of what can be, influencing attitudes and outcomes. Make a decision to be the person with encouraging words. Use words that help – both yourself and others – to believe in the possibilities in every situation, and the possibilities within themselves. 

Give up the need to control everything. Let it go. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey described the 90/10 Principle: that 10% of life is what happens to us, and 90% of life is decided by how we react. These last few months have taught us that ultimately, we do not control much. We can control two things: our attitudes and our actions. Our attitude will determine our actions, and both will determine the path of our life. No matter what the circumstance, it is our choice how to react. Use the most challenging situations as a springboard for personal growth, and for modeling to others that contentment and happiness are controlled from within.

Do not be so overly optimistic that you are not realistic. There is not a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow, or a silver lining in every cloud. We should acknowledge challenges for what they are, but not dwell on them. Others will be looking to see if we are confronting the realities of the current situation, while also using wisdom to move forward toward hope, solutions, and ultimate success.

Practice gratitude. Research shows that gratitude is strongly and consistently correlated with positive emotions, improved health and relationships, and greater happiness. Gratitude builds resiliency, helps to deal with adversity, motivates others (when shown to them), and builds a sense of life satisfaction and contentment. Being grateful may be the most important thing we can do to improve our attitudes. No matter what the situation, there is always something to be grateful for. Take five minutes every morning to write down three things for which you are grateful. Focus on them, giving thanks mentally throughout the day.

Choose today to not let negativity win. Do not dwell on what has been.  Use this moment to think of what could be, what is possible. Embrace what is good, right, and full of hope. And inspire others to do the same.