What makes a positive leader?
There is a wealth of research that supports the claim that positive leaders have a positive impact on their organisations’ growth and improvement. Schools are no different.
In addition to confirming our intuitive beliefs about the impact a leader has on their group, research also suggests that positive leadership practices lead to individual benefits on one’s psychological health, emotional well-being, optimal brain function, improved interpersonal relationships, and learning. It goes without saying that schools gain by ensuring that their leaders are positive leaders.
Regardless of our perception of what makes a “good” leader, there is no doubt that such a leader must demonstrate competencies in several domains. But what are the competencies and practices demonstrated by leaders who are not only good but excellent?
Leaders capable of creating a positive school climate where everyone can be at their best share the characteristic of being able to establish strong interpersonal relationships.1 These leaders communicate sincerely, whether the message is positive or negative. They are respectful of others and their feedback is communicated in a constructive way without negative emotions. They have confidence in their staff and all school employees and support them during difficult times. Strong positive leaders don’t hesitate to recognize quality work and to value and promote such work in private and in public. They value long-term goals and have the ability to strategize in order to reach their goals. Their charisma gives confidence to their staff and allows them to mobilise and engage the school community. All this, plus they are open to everyone, exude enthusiasm, and have a good sense of humour. Wow, what a tall order!
Thankfully, what is common to these competencies and practices is that they are observable and therefore can be learned. The work of Cameron2 and the synthesis done by WMA Wellness3 show that positive leaders demonstrate competencies across five domains: leadership virtues, positive communication, energizing skills, motivational and knowledge skills, and operational tasks.
Measuring positive leadership practices
A key element of the Positive Workplace Framework is a questionnaire designed to evaluate the level of embeddedness of practices from each of the five aforementioned positive leadership domains.
Although positive leadership practices can apply to everyone in a school setting, the Positive Leadership Inventory (PLI) questionnaire describes practices that school leaders such as principals and vice-principals should demonstrate on a regular basis. The PLI assesses the presence of positive leadership practices associated with healthy and effective school environments. It provides school leaders with quantitative results on their strengths across the five positive leadership sub-domains. The PLI contains short, clear descriptions of 30 distinct leadership practices that can be expected to be observed in positive school environments. Each practice relates to one of the sub-domains described above. All school employees are asked to indicate how well each practice is reflective of their school environment using a 5-point Likert scale where 1 = Not at all, 3 = Sometimes, and 5 = Very often. It takes less than ten minutes to complete the PLI questionnaire online. All answers are anonymous and confidential.
The PLI report provides a profile of strong leadership practices (those practices that are very frequently demonstrated by leaders) and areas for development (those leadership practices requiring more promotion and capacity building). The report gives leaders empirical evidence which helps them prioritise the areas they wish to continue developing. To facilitate this development, the Positive Workplace Framework offers a suite of targeted resources for each of the leadership domains.
Results of the PLI’s rigorous psychometric validation study show that the PLI can be trusted to identify existing positive leadership practices. The results of the validation study are available.4
Schools that have the reputation of being “good schools” have leaders who excel in many areas. Implementing the Positive Workplace Framework (PWF) and its practices in daily routines allows leaders to create school environments where mental fitness and resiliency practices can be fully integrated. By integrating positive leadership practices guided by the results of the PLI, leaders can pursue their evidence-based professional development which benefits not only themselves but also their school.
Photo: Adobe Stock
First published in Education Canada, December 2019
First published in Education Canada, December
1 J. P. Rolland, L’évaluation de la personnalité. Le modèle à cinq facteurs (Sprimont, Belgium: Mardaga, 2004).
2 K. Cameron, Positive Leadership: Tools and techniques that create extraordinary results (San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler, 2013).