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Inspiring Success: The Pivotal Role of Positive Leadership in Digital Transformation

Today and tomorrow, I am in Ulsan, South Korea, to attend a Train The Trainer course on Transformational Leadership delivered by Dr. Josef Frischeisen from Jenewein AG, a company started by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Jenewein of the University of St. Gallen. I delivered Part 1 of the program in 2022-23 in various locations in Japan, mostly in Japanese.

Positive Leadership and Organizational Psychology

The program establishes and underlines the principles of Positive Leadership, which I also touch upon in the Positive Organizational Psychology course I teach at Temple University Japan, Continuing Education Program.

The course content today reminded us of the link between Positive Leadership and the requirements of a Post-DX phase we are starting to see.

The link between Positive Leadership and DX is not direct. However, when thinking about all the factors needed to win in DX, not as a one-time “big bang” implementation but in a long-term, self-sustaining way, it is important to create an organization that is agile enough to keep changing and adapting while monitoring for risks and taking decisive steps to stay competitive in a high-paced environment (Saldanha, 2019). What kind of leadership is needed to create such an organizational culture? When we look at what Positive Leadership is, we see that it can be one of the enablers.

What is Positive Leadership?

Positive Leadership stems from the tenets of Positive Psychology, a branch of psychology that focuses on the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. According to Kim Cameron, a key proponent of Positive Leadership, this approach emphasizes the development of human capital. Positive Leadership practices include fostering an affirmative bias, promoting a culture of trust and cooperation, encouraging resilience, and emphasizing the meaningfulness of work (Cameron, 2012).

Positive Leadership is not about being “happy” or in “high” celebration mode all the time. It is about being supportive and encouraging while being authentic and still holding people, including themselves, accountable. The challenge is to achieve a balance between these seemingly different approaches.

According to Gordon (2017), Positive Leaders create and share a positive vision, have confidence and a dose of realistic optimism, unite teams, and make collaboration a “must,” not an option. They aim for excellence in themselves and others, are driven by purpose, and commit to delivering results. Dutton (2014) emphasizes that they ensure people in the organization thrive (as opposed to survive). This requires recognizing the strengths of employees, and encouraging them to continuously improve their skills through coaching.

Linking Positive Leadership to Digital Transformation Success

  1. Fostering Innovation and Creativity Digital transformation requires a high degree of innovation and creativity. Positive Leadership fosters an environment where team members feel safe to experiment and propose new ideas. Research indicates that positive work environments can enhance creative problem-solving and lead to higher adaptability in dynamic markets (Amabile & Kramer, 2011).

  2. Building Grit Digital transformation involves navigating uncertainties and setbacks. Positive Leaders build grit by promoting an optimistic outlook and encouraging team members to learn from failures rather than fearing them. This level of grit fosters a robust organizational culture that can withstand the pressures of transformation (Gordon, 2017).

  3. Encouraging Collaboration and Trust Trust and collaboration are foundational for digital transformation, as these initiatives often require cross-functional teamwork. Two prerequisites of post-DX success, being agile and monitoring for risks, are not fostered in siloed and protective environments. Positive Leadership encourages open communication and trust, thereby facilitating smoother interdepartmental collaboration and integration of digital processes (Zak, 2018).

What Should Leaders Do?

Positive Leadership is not a panacea or the sole remedy for post-DX success, but it is a style of leadership that is closely aligned with factors that are attributed to sustainable success. Positive Leaders can facilitate the smooth adoption of new technologies and innovations necessary for transformation.

Organizations aiming to thrive in the digital era should consider which aspects of their work align with Positive Leadership and which do not. Various types of assessments and evaluations and the development of strengths through executive coaching can eliminate blind spots.


Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. (2011). The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. Harvard Business Review Press.

Dutton, J. E. (2014). How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Gordon, J. (2017). The Power of Positive Leadership: How and Why Positive Leaders Transform Teams and Organizations and Change the World. Wiley.

Saldanha, T. (2019). Why Digital Transformations Fail: The Surprising Disciplines of How to Take Off and Stay Ahead. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Zak, P. J. (2018). "The Neuroscience of Trust." Harvard Business Review.


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