The power of using positive emotions as a leader

This is an excerpt from Hortense le Gentil’s new book, Aligned: Connecting Your True Self with the Leader You’re Meant to Be which will be available October 2019 wherever books are sold.

The power of positive emotions

Cultivating positive emotions is an essential element of effective leadership. When you project these emotions, you set the tone around you and model a positive attitude for your team.

Sigal Barsade of the Wharton School has studied how leaders’ emotions shape the feelings of people around them—a phenomenon known as “emotional contagion.” Focusing on the positive in all situations and all people also helps to resolve complicated situations more quickly.

When I co-created and led an R&D company in steel recycling, staying optimistic kept me, my business partner, and our research team motivated when we encountered setbacks and felt discouraged. A positive attitude gave us hope, energy, and confidence. We were able to come up with the next idea and invariably find solutions to tricky chemical challenges. Maintaining a positive outlook at the top helped maintain an innovative atmosphere and mindset throughout the company.

It can be easier said than done, of course. How can you be happy when life throws you a nasty curveball? And what if patience is not your forte, and you tend to easily get angry or irritated? Maybe it is far easier for you to imagine what could go wrong, rather than what could go right. Isn’t this part of your innate personality, an immutable part of who you are?

It doesn’t have to be. Start doing push-ups for your brain! Positivity, like everything else, takes practice—just as building muscles requires exercise. Thoughts trigger emotions. By consciously shifting your thoughts, you have the power to alter your emotions.

There are many tools to help you. Here are a few I like to use.


Remember specific moments that brought you joy or happiness. Visualize where you were and what happened.

Your brain does not differentiate between visualization and reality: imagining that you’re lifting your hand, for example, stimulates the same parts of your brain that would be stimulated if you were actually doing it. By visualizing a time associated with positive emotions, you have the power to activate these emotions again. This is a powerful antidote if you feel yourself drifting towards irritability, frustration, or blame.

Shift Perspective:

Shifting perspectives is a good practice that cultivates inner alignment through positive emotions. Imagine looking at a landscape with grey-and then yellow-tinted glasses. You will see the identical landscape in entirely different lights: in one case, drab and dull; in the other, warm and vibrant. Same setting, entirely different experience. The same is true of every situation. Think of a movie or a book. Have you noticed how you remember different details and may even come up with a different interpretation than someone else? You watched or read in light of your own mindset and past experience, which influences how the book or movie resonates with you.

Your interpretation of events or conversations determine the meaning you assign to them, and that meaning determines how you feel about them. But you have the power to shift your perspective. Can you find silver linings instead of focusing on what goes wrong? When you find that your thoughts are dwelling on a litany of challenges, can you instead think of what is going well in your life? Feed your own power by adopting a positive attitude. Focus on what you can change and impact, and find a way around everything else.

Keep Smiling:

Whatever happens, keep smiling—even just a little. It might feel forced at first, but just as my childhood friend and I always ended up laughing hysterically after initially pretending, your smile will help you. Why? The physical act of smiling sends positive signals to your brain and instantly tricks it into shifting gears towards more positive emotions. Try it! Just smile, for no particular reason, and pay attention. What happens? Do you notice a slight inner shift?

Make It A Routine:

Make training your brain this way part of your daily routine, like brushing your teeth. Do at least one thing that gives you joy, however small: listen to your favorite song, call your favorite person, walk around the block, or take five minutes for a coffee. Can you find ways to laugh at least twice a day? Create your own bank of positive moments by visualizing instances when you felt intense joy, and bring them back to mind whenever you feel like you need an uplifting breath. And keep asking yourself: did I do my best to experience moments of joy, gratitude, and happiness today?

Cultivating positive emotions brings a shift in perspective that helps chip away the “superfluous material” obscuring your inner alignment. The ability to shift perspective towards a more positive outlook is particularly crucial when dealing with failure.

Hortense le Gentil is an Executive Leadership Coach and the President and Founder of JAY Global Consulting. She works with decision-makers in the business world, supporting them in their development and leadership by working with them on the alignment between their personal values and their professional activities.