The One Time You Should NOT Express Positivity

Optimism and positivity are beneficial to leadership in almost every circumstance. You won’t find many who would dispute that thought.

We know the best kind of leadership requires seeing the glass as half full. We know that even in the most challenging times and difficult circumstances, it’s important to concentrate on what we have rather than what we lack. We understand the importance of gratitude—not just as a response when things are going especially well but as a daily practice. It’s not that happy people are thankful, it’s that thankful people are happy.

We know positive thinking and an optimistic attitude can actually change our reality for the better. In the words of the old adage, “Think good, and it will be good.”

A daily practice of gratitude and positivity can benefit you even when things get so bad that you can’t see a good outcome or any seed of hope. You can assure yourself that even if you can’t currently comprehend it, there’s a lesson or a stubborn thread of grace in there somewhere.

There’s one situation, however, when positivity and gratitude don’t work—when, in fact, they can actually be destructive.

That’s when you try to apply them to others.

It’s understandable, the urge to apply something so helpful to someone who’s hurting. But however well intended, it simply doesn’t work.

A distraught or grieving colleague or client doesn’t want to hear “There must be something good in your life to be grateful for.” Or “It must have been meant to be.” Or “I know you’re disappointed but things work out for the best.”

When someone is suffering, it’s cruel to suggest that it’s all a lesson designed to make them a better person. And it’s downright arrogant for us to tell them this is good for them, or that it’s the way it’s meant to be.

Our job is not to philosophize about another’s pain, but to alleviate, relieve and lessen it.

True leaders know that when they see someone suffering, there’s only one acceptable response. They roll up their sleeves and ask, ‘What can I do to help?

Here are some ways you can be of service to someone who’s hurting:

Listen. One of the most important traits in leadership is the ability to listen. The best leaders, the skillful ones, know the importance of listening more than they speak. It’s especially important to listen to people who are trying to make sense of difficult events.

Show support. If someone’s going through a tough time, the most meaningful thing you can say is I’m here for you. Simple words, but when they’re backed up with action they share a burden—and they reassure the person that they’re not alone.

Convey empathy. Adopting a human approach to your leadership sets an example that helps you build an entire culture of empathetic leaders. People will admire your approach and work harder for you knowing that you respect their personal needs.

Connect with caring. Gone are the days when people expect leaders to sit behind a closed office door and dictate from power. The best leaders today get to know their people on a personal level as well as professionally. They care, and they show that caring by connecting, communicating and demonstrating compassion.

 Lead from within: A positive is not the best answer for every situation. As a leader, you need to let each situation involving one of your people bring forth the best of what you have to offer in the terms of how you listen, how you support, how you care and how you connect.

N A T I O N A L   B E S T S E L L E R

The Leadership Gap
What Gets Between You and Your Greatness

After decades of coaching powerful executives around the world, Lolly Daskal has observed that leaders rise to their positions relying on a specific set of values and traits. But in time, every executive reaches a point when their performance suffers and failure persists. Very few understand why or how to prevent it.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Lolly Daskal is one of the most sought-after executive leadership coaches in the world. Her extensive cross-cultural expertise spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. As founder and CEO of Lead From Within, her proprietary leadership program is engineered to be a catalyst for leaders who want to enhance performance and make a meaningful difference in their companies, their lives, and the world.

Of Lolly’s many awards and accolades, Lolly was designated a Top-50 Leadership and Management Expert by Inc. magazine. Huffington Post honored Lolly with the title of The Most Inspiring Woman in the World. Her writing has appeared in HBR,, Fast Company (Ask The Expert), Huffington Post, and Psychology Today, and others. Her newest book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness has become a national bestseller.

  1. Danial Baldridge

    09. Aug, 2017

    Another excellent post, and I could not agree with you more.
    Far too often, I have sat back and observed leaders fail other leaders, due to an inherent need to be positive, or show gratitude, in situations that were just inappropriate. And in each case, these peers failed to follow your 5 elements: listen, show support, convey empathy, connect with caring, and lead from within. However, I believe that their failure stemmed not from a lack of knowledge or meaning those elements, but rather from a misunderstanding of when to apply them.
    Regardless, your posts are always on point and insightful.

    Reply to this comment
    • lollydaskal

      12. Aug, 2017

      Daniel, Most of us tend to want to fix people, make their problems go away, make them be happy. I believe we need to be there for people, in the way we want them to be there for us, by being silent, listening, and learning from us. I appreciate your insights but I feel very strongly about not always expressing positivity.

      Reply to this comment
      • Name (required)

        22. Aug, 2017

        Dear Lolly,
        You are bang on the money. The biggest lesson I have learned is that empathy and leading is not about always about offering solutions, or telling people that everything is going to be ok and to look for the silver lining all the time. Sometimes you have to recognize you need to get in the hole with that person and recognize all emotions and things as they are. Yes it’s imperative to try and be positive, but we also need to be realistic. This is where my concept of reality meeting optimism comes into play.
        Thank you so much for this post.

        Reply to this comment
        • lollydaskal

          22. Aug, 2017

          Jamie, You are correct empathy is not always about offering solutions or telling people that everything is okay. We have to learn to be there for others, the way they want us to- not what we want to do…. Thanks for your comment. Lolly

          Reply to this comment
          • Timothy McAlee, Sr. G.eD.

            02. Jan, 2018

            Lolly, YOU HAVE WISDOM & there is Only One place, to get it, from Within & more importantly from Above!!!

  2. Kristopher lee

    30. Jul, 2018

    Great article. I know when I’m upset I want more than cookie cutter words, I want solutions. If you tell me it’s going to be ok, tell me how it going to be ok.

    Reply to this comment

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