Positive Psychology Coaching for Positive Leadership

The Task of Leadership

The leader’s tasks are many; to make sense of a vast array of information, engage in new forms of relationships, achieve ambitious business results, and generate collective energy and engagement toward demanding goals.

The positive leader focuses on strengths, gives frequent recognition and encouragement, and maintains a positive perspective to further team engagement and high project performance.

Positive leadership adapts and responds with novel strategies to the changing and complex political, social, and economic demands.

The positive leader’s task is to identify and nurture new sources of creativity, autonomy, and initiative in their teams by placing the thinking and feeling capacity of being human at the center of the value-creation process.

Four strategies can enable positive leadership; positive climate, positive relationships, positive communications, and positive meaning.

Positive leadership is an umbrella construct encompassing several leadership styles, such as transformational, authentic, ethical, charismatic, servant, or inclusive. It involves mobilizing, facilitating, and developing a community of exceptional performers, using individual strengths, positive emotions, motivation, and vision as the drivers. The positive leader is aware of her own biases and preferences; actively seeks and considers different views and perspectives to inform better decision-making.


Positive Psychology Coaching (PPC) in Leadership

PPC assists clients in increasing wellbeing, enhancing and applying strengths, improving performance, and achieving valued goals.

It is based on the belief that science and philosophy can guide us in finding the best approaches for positively transforming our lives. The PPC orientation suggests we view and work with the client as a whole person, focusing on strengths, positive emotions, behaviors, and purpose, serving the client’s development and performance improvement.

Leadership coaching has many aspects and facets, including the development of the self with a focus on gaining a deeper awareness of self and improving performance; this development of self may then aid the leader to more effectively regulate and direct her interpersonal and intrapersonal resources to attain her goals better, and also to balance the tensions of cooperation and competition and the interests of various and many stakeholders within teams and organizations.

In achieving a successful coaching outcome, it is imperative that the client sees and believes the coach is working with the client’s best interest at heart. The formation and maintenance of a collaborative relationship become a source of empowerment for the client. This is in accord with Snyder’s Hope Theory, with the coach providing continued affirmation of the client’s agency and the coaching becoming a supportive environment, or pathway, to client goal achievement. Another support for this view comes from social learning theory which emphasizes the function of valued others in the development of self-efficacy.



Positive psychology coaching for leadership (PPCL) combines PPC and leadership coaching to enable the best human functioning to be present and active at the individual level and within teams.

Positive Psychology (PP) is the science of wellbeing and optimal human functioning, grounded in the research of factors that enable individuals and communities to thrive, focusing on finding the best in oneself. Human flourishing requires building and capitalizing on strengths and capacities.

Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS) investigates positive deviance or how organizations and their members flourish and prosper.

Positive Organizational Behavior (POB) is the study and application of positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological capacities that can be measured, developed, and effectively managed for performance improvement in the workplace.


Positive leadership coaching focuses on human capital and the capacities available within each leader and team. The focus on abundance and human capital growth constitutes Positive Leadership (PL) which involves deploying strengths and potentials, achieving tangible positive results, and simultaneously facilitating employee wellbeing.


Wellbeing effects

Subjective Wellbeing (SWB) is linked to positive outcomes, such as generating better and more creative ideas, interacting better with colleagues and bosses, receiving increased help and support, enjoying better health, and taking fewer sick days. All these outcomes are directly or indirectly associated with performance.

People with the highest level of wellbeing use strategies such as finding and linking short-term incentives consistent with long-term objectives for better moment-by-moment decision-making.


The client’s representation of wellbeing

A coaching task is to examine the client’s wellbeing representation and potential tensions between wellbeing and performance.

How would you define wellbeing?

What does wellbeing mean for you?

How do you know you have found it? How do you know when you have lost it?

What makes you happy? How do you know?

Who makes you happy?

What are you doing when you are happy?

How important does it feel for you to be happier?

How important is wellbeing for your performance?

When you walk into your office in the morning feeling happy, are you more or less likely to attack a difficult report? Do you have more or less a chance to deliver a good presentation?

What comes to your mind if you are asked to compare two questions; “How can I get the most out of my people?” with “How can I support people to perform at their best?”


Integrated Wellbeing Dashboard

The exercise aims to build a composite picture of the client’s current happiness as she perceives it.

If life was a ladder, on which stairs would you position yourself?

What is your current level of satisfaction concerning your health, work, and relationships?

How would you rate your current level of positive emotions? Negative emotions?

What is your current energy level?

Considering everything, do you view activities of your life as truly chosen by yourself?

What indicator appears particularly relevant for you today?

What other questions would you ask to get a snapshot of your happiness?

What indicators would you include if you were to design your own dashboard to capture your daily states the way you see them?


PPCL and Emotional Agility

Organizational and leadership vision can be construed as the direction toward which resources and engagement are to be afforded. Engagement flows from commitment, following alignment.

Emotions are a driving force as they ready necessary behavioral responses, tune our decision-making, enhance memory for important events, and facilitate interpersonal interactions.

A primary function of coaching serves to mitigate ineffective and destructive behavioral outcomes. For example, one can develop emotion identification, increased self-regulation and agency, and greater emotional resilience with the help of an emotional intelligence model and framework.


Perceiving Emotions

Deliberately focusing attention, mindfully, to become more aware of the current emotional climate of one’s team and emotional reactions can help develop an awareness of and knowledge of emotional states and triggers, one’s own and the team’s, for better regulation of emotions.

Mood apps and other tools can help build awareness and track mood according to activity.

What was your emotional reaction? How did you feel?

What are you experiencing right now?

What do you think your colleague felt?

How might the team feel about this?


Using Emotions to Facilitate Thinking

How does your employee’s mood influence her thinking right now?

Is the way you are feeling about this situation helping you to manage it and to move forward?

What feelings and thoughts would serve you better?

Based on our discussion about the feelings involved, how might these affect your team’s attitude?

Next time you walk into a room happy, smiling, and making eye contact with those present, what is the response?

Then try walking into another room tense, hurried, with no eye contact; what is the response?

How are your colleagues likely to feel and think due to exposure to your mood?

You will have spread your mood to those you interacted with through your behavior and subsequent neurological changes; this is emotional contagion.


Understanding Emotions

What emotions are you experiencing now? What event or thought is this emotion related to?

What could have led to this change in feeling?

What are the likely consequences of such an emotional state?

(A contextual question:) How can you help your competitor save face so you can negotiate the best possible deal for the company?


Work stress and anxiety may be responsible for (a big part) of all work-related illnesses.

The capacity to understand one’s emotional reactions and trace them back to underlying causes has an impact on a variety of leadership success factors, such as being able to predict eventual consequences; acknowledging the whole person through concern for other areas of life that are not work-related; developing a complete understanding of the individual; inclusion of an emotional culture component to the development of the team vision.


Managing Emotions

Manage a positive emotional tone to sustain your psychological health and get the most out of your team; exercise, get enough sleep, emotionally disconnect, listen to relaxing music, and practice mindfulness.

What mood would you like your team to have during (this) scenario?

What can you do to achieve this outcome?

What stress-reduction activity could you try right now?

Rating emotional intensity pre-and post-intervention using a Likert scale of 0 to 10.

What is the difference from your first rating?

Have you noticed anything different in yourself? What are these differences?

How can you help your team to manage this disappointment?


Expressing gratitude; mindfulness for emotional regulation, leading to self-compassion, positivity, creativity, enhancing attentional skills, capacity to learn, and other cognitive resources.

Being both resilient and empathic, emotionally sensitive and cool under pressure.

Coaching task: explore interactions between the client’s emotions and strengths.

In the current scenario context, can you remember a similar situation in the past; what emotion were you experiencing? Label it. What strengths were prominent?

What was the outcome, negative or positive?

Was this the most appropriate strength for the best outcome?

In the current scenario context, to plan a course of action, what strength would be appropriate to bring to the task, and what emotion would be conducive to the task?


PPCL for Vision Alignment

Positive leadership capacities involve creating, communicating, and driving to complete one’s vision, sharing one’s core ideology, values, and purpose, and aligning others to one’s envisioned future. Alignment at all levels, yet harnessing differences, is a tall order. Challenges will emerge in clarifying one’s vision in the form of incongruence of the espoused and lived vision and alignment of employee strengths with the organizational vision, competing or differing values, goals, personalities, strengths, talents, and motivations.

Awareness, development, and implementation of values to positively impact workplace behaviors and practices require leadership; to facilitate a sense of understanding and connection, to facilitate the knowing and acknowledgment of the whole self, and to identify collective transformational visions in tune with the overarching organizational vision.

Setting a clear strategic frame as a basis for a shared vision can enable alignment within teams and across functions at all levels of organization.

Strength interventions are one way to help align the organizational and leadership vision.


Coaching task: help to recall key moments of success and experiences; look for patterns to determine stronger, more prominent values; examine previous actions where the client and co-workers have a sense that their decisions are fully aligned with themselves.

Team members will naturally take leadership roles in the process as each team member’s strengths are invoked.


Values Identification

Storytelling with team members, questioning the storyteller to create a greater awareness of values.

Coaching to bring awareness of one’s unique strengths can mediate gaps in alignment between one’s authentic self, the team and the organizational vision.

What are you consistently drawn to, and why?

What truly matters to you, and does your job enable you to fulfill this?

What do both you and your organization gain from what you are doing?

Who are you working with, and what larger tasks are you doing collectively?

What was it that mattered most during that time?


Strengths Identification

Strengths conversations

Dear client, please recall a scenario where you and your team performed particularly well; you were enthusiastic and highly engaged.

What was it that you and your team performed well? Please identify, and label it.

Which situations bring out this strength in you?

Which situations block you from using this strength?

When might you want to tone down this strength?

What could you change to allow you to use this strength more?

How might you use two or more of these strengths in conjunction with one another?

Name instances in which two strengths together produced a superior result than either alone might have.

How is this strength instrumental in achieving your vision?


Keeping strengths visible

Dear client, how could you symbolize your strengths?


Create your transformational “Everest” vision or goal.

What is the highest aspiration you can achieve?

What colorful and inspirational language can exemplify what you believe in?

What do you care most deeply about that should be pursued?

What symbols capture the objectives you wish to attain?

What strengths will you use to achieve your Everest vision?


Which clients benefit most from positive leadership coaching?

Recommended for all is coaching for emotional awareness and regulation, particularly expressing and receiving gratitude.

In particular, those with low emotional awareness, emotional expression imbalance such as too negative or too positive, and an inability to regulate the expression of emotion at appropriate times may benefit more.

All leadership teams should identify values and strengths, particularly when newly formed or when experiencing significant changes in membership.

Strengths identification can be ongoing throughout different stages of team interaction; this and strengths use can become a standard component of team meetings.


Team coaching session to map a team’s strengths

In a team coaching session, with a focus on the alignment of strengths with the values of the organization:

Introduce virtuous strengths theory and concepts. Ask each member to introduce themselves from a strengths perspective, identifying their top three strengths. Each team member then receives an additional two strengths nominations from others for a total of five strengths each.

Assemble individual strengths at the group level to identify the dominant strengths of the team.

Map the team’s strengths to the organizational values.

Consider how to approach over or under-represented values, etc.

What actions enable you to engage in your strength in “This” scenario?

In “This” scenario, what strength from which team member would be the best fit?

What strengths are required to fulfill “That” task, and who in the team will take charge?


Questions to consider for positive leadership coaching

In what leadership scenarios might positive leadership not be appropriate, and why? How would you overcome this through the use of PPC?

PPC is concerned with facilitating strengths and optimal functioning rather than focusing on deficits and poor performance. However, both approaches have a place in understanding the whole self. So when might PPC not be relevant to the coaching process, and why?

Consider Leadership team coaching in addition to individual leadership coaching.

When does it make sense to introduce them to the leadership team’s development?

What might be some of the pitfalls in each?

What other PPIs can facilitate vision and goal alignment of self, team, and organization?

What other scope do you see for PPCL? What issues could it focus on?