What if positive leaders built positive identities in the workplace?


How would your team describe their capabilities to you? Do they see themselves as a high-performer, valued team member, a great presenter and a real go-getter? Or are they more down about themselves and think they’re nothing special, a bit of a loner, poor public speaker and worry that they could be replaced at a moment’s notice?


What causes someone to have a positive/negative self image?


According to psychologists, the way humans try to make sense of things is to tell ourselves stories about what’s happening and what might happen next. What we often overlook however is the power these stories have to shape our beliefs and the way we think, feel and act as we go about our work.

It’s as if our stories become us.

Many will vouch that it’s natural to focus on the negative rather than positive and this certainly does apply to the things we say and do in the workplace. For example, we may ace a presentation first thing in the morning but in the afternoon get an email about something we forgot to do. That email will have the ability to bring our mood down and we will feel bad and harbour on the small thing we forgot to do rather than remember the important presentation we excelled in earlier that day.


How can leaders prevent the downward spiral of self-doubt?


Professor Laura Roberts from the University of Michigan spoke out during an interview with Psychology Today about how leaders can help employees use these mistakes to build positive identities rather than destroy their confidence.


“If leaders can help people interpret events as an opportunity to grow by becoming more capable in their jobs or by becoming better people as a consequence of their work, they are more likely to experience positive emotions, persist through adversity and have better relationships with their colleagues.


Professor Robert’s also argues that creating positive identities isn’t just about inflating people’s sense of self-worth however. She highlights the importance of helping people to determine the personal characteristics that are valued by others and enable them to operate at their best. Not only does this have benefits for the individual, it also has hugely positive repercussions on the rest of the team. Roberts continued:


“It’s not enough for an employee to just feel good about themselves in isolation. Instead, it’s important for them to understand that by cultivating a more positive identity for themselves, they can start a virtuous cycle. Instead of feeling insecure and the need to pull others down, they can focus enthusiastically and productively on helping other people understand how to bring their strengths to their collective work so that together, they can all help to build a better organisation.”


How leaders can help cultivate positive identities


Laura’s research suggests that there are a number of effective ways this can be achieved:


Craft your own positive identity – lead by example and as hard as it may be, blow your own trumpet and exude confidence (not arrogance however). Recall tales of when you were really growing and developing, when you felt good about yourself and when this was validated by others. Create specific examples of experiences that led to your success and use these to inspire your team.


Have evidence-based conversations – when your team does well there is the tendency to conclude with a generic ‘well done everybody, thanks for all your hard work’. Instead of offering empty praise, try to take the time to engage your team in a collective conversation about how each individual contributed to the team and how this was so valuable. The confidence boost will have a huge impact on productivity and once people start to realise where their strengths lie, they can use them to build a positive identity.


If you would like more information or advice about building positive identities in the workplace, please feel free to contact Chiswick Consulting and we will be more than happy to help.