How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact

Some leaders are able to dramatically expand their people’s—and their own—capacity for excellence. And they accomplish this without enormous resources or huge heroic gestures. Like the butterfly in Brazil whose flapping wings create a typhoon in Texas, you can create profound positive change in your organization through simple actions and attitude shifts. This book shares what Jane Dutton, Gretchen Spreitzer, and their fellow authors have discovered after years of studying extraordinarily effective organizations. Each chapter features a real-world example from both well-known organizations such as Wells Fargo, Ford, Kelly Services, and Burt’s Bees to lesser-known ones such as Connecticut’s Griffin Hospital and the Michigan-based Zingerman’s Community of Businesses. Because positive leadership is based on simple, inexpensive actions, it provides a sustainable way to consistently bring out the best in people and organizations. It offers a vision of leadership that is not about richness of resources but richness of possibilities. Head to the bottom of this page for valuable teaching resources.


©2007 Shawn Simpson, SWS Photography

Oana Branzei

Kim Cameron

Kim Cameron

Anne's business pictures and pics of my talk 002

Jane Dutton

Adam Grant

Adam Grant


Karen Golden-Biddle

Erika James

Erika James


Shirli Kopelman

ram mahalingam[1]

Ram Mahalingham



David Mayer

Laura Morgan Roberts(rev)

Laura Morgan Roberts

Christine Porath

Christine Porath

Bob quinn[1]

Robert E. Quinn


Scott Sonenshein

Gretchen Spreitzer_7668

Gretchen Spreitzer



Anjan Thakor

Picture_Lynn Wooten

Lynn Wooten

Wrzesniewski,Amy newest

Amy Wrzesniewski












“Unites exciting research with surprising stories from companies around the world—everything you need to bring out enduring business success by leveraging the power of the positive in human systems.”  —David Cooperrider, Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreurship, Case Western Reserve University

“This terrific book captures what leadership in high performance workplaces is about. The positive leaders highlighted treat their people right to create a win-win relationship.”  —Ed Lawler, Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business; Director, Center for Effective Organizations

“An invaluable resource for academics as well as organizational leaders at all levels. It consolidates cutting-edge research-based insights in effective, inspirational, and transformational leadership from the leading thinkers in the field in a concise, highly readable and immensely practical manner. This book is destined to be a classic in the field.”  —Raj Sisodia, FW Olin Distinguished Professor of Global Business, Babson College; Cofounder and CoChairman, Conscious Capitalism Inc.

“Profound, practical, inspirational. Written by the most-respected thought leaders in positive organizational scholarship, the chapter-by-chapter evidence-based recommendations provide a compelling case for immediate practical application. This is a must-read for leaders who wish to broaden and deepen the positive impact they can have on organizations.” —Jim Loehr, Cofounder and Vice President, Human Performance Institute

“We need many more positive leaders in our society and in business. Positive leaders create possibility for others. They help us do the right thing and enable us to lead more extraordinary lives. This book is filled with practical advice about how you can become a positive leader. Bravo!” —R. Edward Freeman, University Professor, Darden School of Business, University of Virginia

“This insightful and actionable book beautifully articulates a very relevant and timely set of positive leadership principles. The arrangement of the tools in ‘bite-size’ segments is the perfect format for any leader to present.” —Fred Keller, Chairman and CEO, Cascade Engineering

“Every chapter I read struck a chord and made me rethink an element of my own leadership. This book beautifully combines inspirational ideas with high quality evidence. It is thoughtful, insightful, and brimming with fresh approaches.” —Sharon Parker, Winthrop Professor, UWA Business School, University of Western Australia

“Thirteen insightful essays and about 800 good ideas one can implement for immediate improvement. You’d have to be wildly negative in your worldview not to walk away from reading this book with a wealth of tangible, doable action steps to take your leadership and your organization’s work performance to the next level.” —Ari Weinzweig, Cofounding Partner, Zingerman’s Community of Businesses

“Every leader and aspiring leader from all sectors of society should enjoy, learn, and be inspired by this practical and highly engaging new volume. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how to dramatically improve your leadership skills and make a larger positive impact throughout your career.” —Stewart I. Donaldson, Dean and Professor of Psychology, Claremont Graduate University

“The Center for Positive Organizations is a treasure trove of people and knowledge. Now we have the map to their treasure. How to Be a Positive Leader gives us a practical path to become better, positive, inspirational leaders.” —Rich Sheridan, CEO, Menlo Innovations LLC

“Jane Dutton and Gretchen Spreitzer have gathered a sterling group of thought leaders to describe what it takes to become a positive leader. Thought-provoking and provocative, it shows the day-to-day actions leaders can take right now to improve the quality of relationships, build the capacity for collaboration, and unlock the resources of innovation. A must-read for any practicing leader or those destined to follow the extraordinary trajectory to positive leadership.”—Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School

“Jane Dutton and Gretchen Spreitzer have tapped the greatest minds to provide a one-stop resource for leaders who want to create and maintain a meaningful, purposeful, and positive workplace. The leadership tools and experiences discussed play to the desires of leaders to inspire themselves and others; promote excellence, virtuousness, and high quality connections; and reward positive deviance in the workplace to bring about exponential positive change.” —Roger Newton, founder, Executive Chairman, and Chief Scientific Officer, Esperion Therapeutics, Inc.

“As Gallup polls proclaim that seven in ten American workers are disengaged, this book provides a recipe for change. Simultaneously theoretically rigorous and action oriented, the authors offer concrete actions to recreate yourself and spur others to thrive. As leaders seek to move their organizations to higher levels of excellence, this book provides simple but powerful tools to improve relationships and excitement about the future.” —Deborah Ancona, Seley Distinguished Professor of Management and Faculty Director, MIT Leadership Center, MIT Sloan School of Management

“The book offers distilled and accessible wisdom from many years of solid research. It is a tour de force of positive leadership, written with a deep sense of humanity and providing a plethora of concrete practices to make an impact.” —Arne Carlsen, Associate Professor, BI Norwegian Business School

“‘What do I do?’ That’s the biggest question we hear from leaders who want to create positive organizations. This book is the answer. It gives you specific actions, inspiring examples, and even tweets. Apply this book and you will be a positive leader.” —Wayne Baker, Professor of Management and Organizations, University of Michigan, and author of United America

“Positive organization studies is a burgeoning field of evidence-based management that, enacted in everyday organizational life, makes a real difference. Organizational dysfunctions need remedies, and many can be found in the wisdom assembled in these chapters.” —Stewart Clegg, Professor, University of Technology, Sydney


Positive Psychology News Daily

“I highly recommend this book as a source of ideas for changing your own leadership formula, whether you lead yourself or thousands of people… The many stories of positive outcomes can give you confidence to reach for big impact. Yes, you can make a difference.”

Positive Links Speaker Series

The Positive Links Speaker Series features prominent researchers in the field of Positive Organizational Scholarship. The Center for Positive Organizations hosts these sessions with the goal of engaging academics, students, staff, and practitioners locally and globally. The 2014-15 series features contributing authors of How to Be a Positive Leader:

Lynn Perry Wooten & Erika Hayes James | Create Opportunity from Crisis 
Karen Golden-Biddle | Create Micro-moves for Organizational Change
Shirli Kopelman | Negotiating Genuinely: Mindfully and Strategically Leading with Emotions 
Scott Sonenshein | Resourceful Change
Amy Wrzesniewski | Engage in Job Crafting
Laura Morgan Roberts | Cultivate Positive Identities
Oana Branzei (with Neil Hetherington) | Cultivate Hope: Found, Not Lost
Dave Mayer | Lead an Ethical Organization

Related Articles

Michelle McQuaid published a series of articles featuring interviews with contributors and key learnings from How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact.

How to Be a Positive Leader

3 Ways Positive Leaders Make Work More Meaningful

How Do Positive Leaders Enable People To Thrive At Work?

How Do Positive Leaders Build Positive Identities?

Why Do Positive Leaders Believe It Pays To Be Virtuous?

Are You An Ethical Leader?

Teaching Resources

I. Foster Positive Relationships

II.  Unlock Resources from Within 

III.  Tap into the Good 

IV.  Create Resourceful Change 

  • Cultivate Hope: Found, Not Lost – Oana Branzei
  • Create Micro-Moves for Organizational Change – Karen Golden-Biddle
  • Treat Employees as Resources, Not Resistors – Scott Sonenshein
  • Create Opportunity from Crisis – Lynn Wooten, Erika James

Epilogue and Looking Forward – Gretchen Spreitzer and Jane Dutton