Positive Leadership: Key to a Positive Workplace Culture

Dr. Ryan Quinn, Associate Professor and Academic Director for the Project on Positive Leadership at the University of Louisville College of Business, is a positive leadership expert who challenges traditional leadership thinking. As the world becomes increasingly complex and divided, Dr. Quinn emphasizes that positive leadership is essential for fostering a thriving workplace culture.

Drawing on his experience as a part of the positive organizational scholarship movement, Dr. Quinn identifies virtues as the key to creating positive leaders and positive workplaces. “We define positive leadership as exhibiting exceptional, unusual, unexpected virtues that other people choose to follow because of how they admire and feel elevated by those virtues.”

The Need for Positive Leadership

In the latest episode of my podcast – Better Leaders, Better Workplaces – Dr. Quinn explains that positive leadership is needed because… of the complexity and the division that we face in the world today.”

Virtues such as wisdom, patience, empathy, love, care, compassion, and courage are essential to managing the complexities of modern organizations. However, according to Dr. Quinn, virtues are often overlooked in favor of more traditional leadership qualities.

Quinn emphasizes that virtues such as empathy, love, care, compassion, patience, wisdom, and courage can help prevent and manage complexities, thereby fostering high reliability in organizations. These virtues also help leaders confront conflicts early on, preventing issues from escalating.

Addressing Taboos in Modern Corporations

One of the challenges in adopting positive leadership is overcoming cultural biases that tend to favor more aggressive, dominating leadership styles.

Words such as “love” and “compassion” are often considered taboo in describing leadership qualities. According to Quinn, while humble and compassionate leaders are often more effective, they are rarely selected for leadership roles. “We have these biases whether in trying to become a leader or in who we select as leaders, that we don’t look for humble people, for compassionate people, for what are often considered the more feminine virtues.” However, these virtues are essential in creating effective leaders.

He refers to the concept of Level 5 leaders, as introduced by Jim Collins in his book, “Good to Great.” These leaders possess relentless ambition coupled with exquisite humility, contributing to their effectiveness.

Changing Leadership Culture

Dr. Quinn makes a compelling case that the current leadership culture needs to change. He emphasizes the need to reassess what we look for in leaders and promote the practice of positive leadership to create better workplaces and more successful, high reliability organizations.

Though complex and dynamic, such organizations manage to avoid disasters, providing an excellent example of positive leadership in action. These organizations exhibit virtues that prevent and manage complexities, enabling them to function effectively and safely.

Dr. Quinn’s work with the Project on Positive Leadership aims to inspire and develop leadership virtues: accountability, ambition, compassion, courage, creativity, curiosity, decisiveness, flexibility, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, humility, inclusivity, integrity, justice, loyalty, patience, playfulness, resilience, respect, and trust.

These virtues, when practiced by individuals and embraced by organizations, can create a culture that is more supportive, inclusive, and ultimately, more successful.

To become a better leader and foster a positive workplace culture, Dr. Quinn encourages individuals to reflect on their leadership and observe whether these virtues are part of their leadership practice.

By embracing positive leadership and fostering a culture that values virtues, organizations can better navigate the complexities of the modern world, creating a better workplace for all.

Listen to the full conversation with Dr. Quinn on the latest episode of my podcast entitled “Positive Leadership: Key to a Positive Workplace Culture.”


She’s a woman on a mission, prepped and ready to help you create resilient leaders and a workplace that is poised to succeed. Having weathered her fair share of corporate and career crises of all sizes, Vivian Blade MBA, MBB, PMP, is a global leadership expert and thought leader who equips leaders with the resilience that inspires teams to recover quickly in the face of ongoing disruption and thrive in spite of insurmountable odds.

Vivian empowers leaders and organizations as a frequent keynote speaker for association conferences and in delivering transformative leadership development programs, executive coaching and consulting for corporations.

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