Management Department


Date of this Version



Published in Organizational Dynamics 42:3 (July–September 2013), pp. 198–208; doi: 10.1016/j.orgdyn.2013.06.005


Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. Used by permission.


Many people, especially organizational leaders, find today’s environment both depressing and overwhelming. The depressing part is the seemingly uncontrollable downward spirals of negativity. For example, put yourself in the shoes of Dawn Hochsprung, principal of Sandy Hook Elementary in New-town, Connecticut. How could any leader stay level-headed and resolute during the massive school shooting when the lives of children age 10 and under and their dedicated teachers, your kids and staff, were at stake? More importantly, can you count on your followers to do the right thing and protect those precious children, even if it costs them their lives, as Anne Marie Murphy, Victoria Soto and several other teachers courageously did on December 14, 2012? What makes today’s negativity so overwhelming is its sheer volume and breadth. Violence, incivility and irresponsible behavior seems to be no longer limited to a few isolated incidents. The worldwide economic uncertainties allow only guarded optimism, with over 50 percent of youth unemployed in once-lively European countries such as Spain and Greece or most youth in former Soviet Union countries continuing to subsist below the poverty line after over two decades of independence. Long working hours and pressures for productivity seem to be driving many young Chinese workers, such as those at the infamous Foxconn making everything ‘‘Apple,’’ toward hopelessness and despair, actually leading to workplace suicides in recent years. Even well-todo Singaporeans finished dead last in their reported positive emotions in the latest Gallup World Poll. The political landscape is also bleak, with many heroic movements and bloodshed to overthrow decades of tyranny in the Middle East seemingly wasted by transitional governments with limited experience or unaligned political agendas. Closer to home, the United States is facing seemingly uncontrollable debt and threatened government shutdowns. Whether you are the principal of a suburban elementary school, a supervisor in a Chinese factory, or the leader of your country, it is becoming more and more challenging to be positive. ...

We propose that positivity as we define it is essential for effective leaders, especially when leading across cultures. While leading across cultures poses severe challenges, positive leaders can mitigate these challenges and turn some of them into opportunities. Positive leadership builds on established and emerging leadership theories and best practices, and offers an added emphasis on adopting a systematic and integrative approach to developing, managing, leveraging, and affirming the strengths and capabilities of leaders, followers and organizations toward exceptional performance outcomes. Some aspects of positivity may be dispositional. Others may be situational and beyond the leader’s control. Nevertheless, as we pointed out from the considerable research in positive psychology and our own research in positive organizational behavior (POB) and psychological capital (PsyCap), a significant share of leaders’ positivity can be represented through intentional behaviors that can be developed. When viewed from the positive perspective, cross-cultural leader-ship can help leaders and followers become more independent, and can also leverage their PsyCap, the HERO within, toward desired attitudes, behaviors and especially improved performance in the global economy.