037 – Michelle McQuaid – A Positive Leader Masterclass

Positive leadership and psychology

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Positive psychology. Positive leadership.

Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?

In this episode of the Team Guru Podcast Michelle McQuaid treats us to a masterclass; a brilliant guide to understanding and pursuing a life defined by the positive.

Michelle defines, in an incredibly real and accessible way, positive psychology and the science that sits behind it.

We talk explicitly about what it means to be a positive leader, the common barriers well-meaning leaders will face in the workplace – and how to deal with them.

And we delve in to Appreciative Inquiry – a strength based approach that guides change on a personal, professional and organisational level.


Lessons Learned

Here’s what I took from the episode:

Positive in the Workplace?

Believe it or not there is some cynicism about the term ‘positive leadership’. Some are allergic to the word ‘positive’. They question if it’s the role of a workplace to be trying to make us positive. Perhaps is it simply a trick to get us to blindly follow where our leader wants us to go?

Michelle accepts that we must be careful with terms like positive psychology and leadership – because it is possible to have too much of a good thing. If the drive for a positive workplace restricts employee’s ability to air concerns, ultimately it will be a bad thing for the workplace.

And sometimes it does us good from a developmental perspective to sit through the discomfort of the negative, fear or anxiety.

Sometimes in a benevolent pursuit we can swing the pendulum too far one way – and risk it swinging too far back the other. So the challenge is to extract what we can from these ideas that can be implemented effectively.

These are tools – they are way of looking a things. But they can only be useful when we apply them to the right type of purpose.

In a services company your brand depends on your people and how they show up to clients

If you get compliance to any idea but not commitment, you will lose your people to the next idea or slipping back into old habits.

Positive psychology is the science of human flourishing

The thing that motivates Michelle is the chance to make a positive difference for someone else.

Research tells us that the number 1 predictor for meaningfulness in our work is the chance to make a positive difference for somebody.

What is positive psychology?

Definition by Professor Martin Seligman – In order to thrive as a leader and really have the kind of impact we want to have for ourselves and others, is wellbeing

Wellbeing – feeling good and being able to function effectively on a consistent basis as we navigate the inevitable ups and downs of life and work

In order to do that there are 5 pillars that we want to cultivate as a leader:

  1. The right level of heartfelt positive emotion – hope, pride, interest etc
  2. Be engaged – to be able to use strengths – the things you like doing, the things you are naturally good at – as you go about your work
  3. Relationships – the ability to connect with other people. Empathy
  4. Meaning – know what you stand for. Demonstrate integrity – so people know who they are following
  5. Accomplishment – being able to achieve what you set out to do. Fall down 7 times and get up 8. A growth mindset. Goals for success can be around the learning, growth and development

4 Things we Expect From Leaders

Gallup research into the most effective leaders across industries found that there are 4 things we expect from our leaders:

  1. Stability
  2. Trust
  3. Compassion
  4. Hope

Barriers to being a Positive Leader

  • Pulled in many directions
  • Relationships – lose priority, fall to the bottom of the ‘to do list’
  • Moods affects employees

The Science of Mood

  • Mood has a major effect on the way our brain performs
  • When we feel ‘heartfelt’ positive emotions – joy, interest, pride amusement – research tells us that our brain is broadened.
  • We take in more of what is going on around us – our field of peripheral vision takes in about 75% rather than 15% when in a neutral or negative mood
  • It flood our brains with the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin – helping us think creatively
  • Because we feel safe we think a little more about ‘we’ instead of ‘me’ – so we’re much better at collaborating

How often do we, as leaders, think about where we need our team’s brains when we are having a meeting?

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciate Inquiry is a strength based approach to creating change

Looking for the things that are working (at a personal or organisational level) and working out ways to build on it. Rather than looking at what is not working and trying to fix it.

Discover – when it worked what did it look like

Dream of what’s possible – If /I could build on the strengths, what would success look like in 3, 6, 12 months from now

Design the pathways forward – once I’m clear on what success looks like, how would I get from here to there

Deliver/Deploy – skin in the game. What am I actually going to create this change. Often we are looking for really little steps because change happens in small moments. Start with small things and build


Quick tips for leadership improvement:

  1. Your wellbeing as a leader matters
  2. Being more intentional and mindful
  3. Use your strengths to play with how you improve and learn


20%-30% of business performance is determined by the mood of employees. And the number one predictor mood is their leader

‘Gratitude is the most underused resource we have today’

Neurologically a strength represents the way our brains are designed to work the best. General rule – 80/20 – 80% of the time working within your strengths and 20% of your time working on building weaknesses

Most work places have that flipped around 20/80

Find Michelle McQuaid


Articles by Michelle



Free Tools

Character strengths survey – viacharacter.org

Welling being questionnaire – http://permahsurvey.com



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