It’s no secret—happy people tend to be more enthusiastic and more productive at work. But how do you transform an organization’s negative culture into a thriving, energized, and supportive community?

Through positive leadership.

Sawyer Business School Professor Chak Fu Lam has spent his career at the forefront of this innovative leadership philosophy. He says positive leaders understand the distinction between personality and skills. They clearly define their expectations, provide the tools and resources for associates to succeed, and allow associates to do what they do best every day. They also emphasize the importance of interpersonal growth, generate positive emotions, facilitate supportive networks, and endorse virtuous behaviors such as gratitude and compassion.

Busting a Common Myth

Backed by scientific research, positive leadership is gaining momentum in the business industry. But people often have misconceptions about the philosophy, making its execution easier said than done.

“One of the biggest myths about positive leadership is that you need to be nice. That’s not true,” says Professor Lam. For example, how should you handle an associate who is consistently negative and purposely disruptive? Professor Lam recommends removing the person as quickly as possible—even if he/she is a high-performer. Rather than giving disruptive associates multiple opportunities to change, positive leaders should focus on helping their most positive, energetic associates.

“The outcome will surprise you. Your workforce will become engaged and revitalized simply by removing associates who are toxic to the work environment and focusing your time and energy on those who exude energy,” says Professor Lam.

Supportive Office Breeds Creativity

Building a positive work environment doesn’t just increase efficiency. It’s also been shown to foster a more open and creative work environment. “In a positive work setting, employees are not hesitant to share their ideas, make suggestions, and say what’s on their minds. They are engaged, want to work hard, and go above and beyond their duties to help the company succeed,” says Professor Lam.

Positive Leadership in Action

As managing partner of eLearning Mind, Professor Lam has firsthand experience implementing positive leadership. He created a novel hiring process to ensure that new employees are well-suited for the positive culture. “Job candidates are now required to pass our positive assessment tool, regardless of how skilled they are. If they don’t pass the assessment, they don’t get the job,” he says.

At Sawyer Business School, Professor Lam teaches positive leadership in his management course—Building a Positive Organization. The students examine real businesses and come up with positive leadership strategies that could improve their workplaces.

This fall, some of Professor Lam’s students studied a nearby dog-care facility. They noticed that employees lacked motivation. They frequently engaged in non-work-related conversations and made personal calls during work hours. And a recent employee engagement survey revealed that their jobs were boring.

So the students set out to improve the staff’s work environment by creating a calm and inviting ambience. They painted the walls warm colors and started playing music in the office. “Those small changes in the atmosphere significantly improved employee satisfaction levels,” Professor Lam says.

Positive Philosophy Essential Today

Today, professional leadership strategies are more important than ever. “As businesses become more service-oriented, the quality of the experience and your customers’ relationships with employees are increasingly important. If you have unhappy employees, it’s going to affect your customers,” Professor Lam says.

“It’s essential to build a positive work culture in your organization right from the start,” says Professor Lam. Social media makes it easy for employees and customers alike to publicly share their views—good and bad—about a company, and those opinions can affect future business. “Implementing positive leadership can help shape those opinions to work in your favor.”