Positive Leadership: The Staff Series “Bringing the Positive Lens to Staff”

August 26, 2016

By: Mary Ceccanese, Gretchen M. Spreitzer


Offering a series of leadership classes for staff was and is a novel idea, and one that the Ross School of Business decided to pursue last fall. Over 70 people signed up for a 6-week series entitled “Positive Leadership: Energizing the Positive Leader in You.” Professor Gretchen Spreitzer was part of the brainstorming team that discussed how to bring the “positive lens” to staff. Continue reading to find out why Gretchen was so willing to participate in this endeavor.


Gretchen Spreitzer
Keith E. and Valerie J. Alessi Professor of Business Administration
Professor of Management and Organizations
Years at Ross: 15

1. Why did you agree to be part of this series for staff?

Amy Byron Oilar, Chief People Officer at Ross, invited me, followed by Professor Jane Dutton, to a few meetings of the Staff Involvement Group. We were asked to brainstorm how we could bring positive business, one of the four strategic pillars of Ross, to staff. The consensus was that we could create a series based on our book, How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact. As the chapters of the book are authored by numerous people from around the country, we decided to focus on those authors who were local. What emerged was a six part 2-hour series with each session based on one of the modules in the book.

The Staff Involvement Group worked on the details of creating a setting that was conducive to community building. For each session, they included ice breakers and artifacts, as well as decorated tables. Attendees were assigned seats in such a way that they would sit with a different group at each session, thus providing an opportunity to meet others from around the School.

We were honored to be asked to bring positive organizational scholarship to staff. To share our research in our own backyard and see the fruits of that endeavor could provide an avenue to make Ross a better place to work.

2. Did you have any pre-conceived ideas about what it would be like to teach to staff as opposed to students?

No, I did not have any pre-conceived ideas about teaching staff. The staff I have worked with in the past have been open to new ideas. These learners would be different than with degree students as they would have to be self-motivators. I wasn’t sure how many would sign up and keep coming.

3. What outcomes were you hoping for?

I hoped that it would be energizing for me and the attendees, as well as engaging and useful. I also hoped that staff would take some of the ideas and use them. The strategies presented, such as thriving, did not need approval from their boss. They could apply suggestions (i.e., trying to get enough sleep every night for a week and monitor how that made them feel), as well as experimenting with other strategies to help them thrive at work.

4. What surprised you the most about teaching staff?

I was most surprised that people carved out two hours of their day across six weeks – there was a serious commitment made. There was an immense value that emerged when attendees engaged with each other and used the material. I was impressed with the number of questions that arose and that people displayed the courage to have real conversations. Good energy was created and an environment of trust spilled over to workshop participants.

5. What does a positive work culture look like to you?

There are several key ingredients that produce a positive work culture.

Empowering people to bring good ideas to work.

Transparency – employees are provided with good information about what the culture is and full disclosure around finances; in other words, they are in the know.

High-quality connections exist and there are people employees trust. There is an absence of incivility at work. Rude or difficult people detract from the opportunity to be a positive organization.

The system creates energy – work can be difficult and depletes energy. A positive work culture is one that doesn’t use up energy, it is one where work creates energy for all.


If you would like to discover how to be a more effective and positive leader, we highly recommend that you read the book How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact, edited by Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer.

Positive Leadership: The Staff Series is a group of interviews capturing staff reflections after participating in the Positive Leadership Workshops.