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How to Lead with Authenticity Instead of Toxic Positivity

The school climate today has changed drastically since the onset of the global pandemic. As school leaders, it’s our job to encourage staff, families and students when times get tough. Authentic leaders place passion, empathy and resilience at the forefront of everything they do—but that doesn’t mean they become blind to the actual problems plaguing our schools.

That’s where toxic positivity comes in, which can start off as a good attribute that soon turns sour. When you spend months, or even years, breaking down a huge metaphorical brick wall, it’s normal to feel defeated when the brinks continue to rebuild despite your efforts.

Leaders will use phrases like “pivot our approach” or “come at it from a different angle,” when certain endeavors don’t go the way they planned. From an employee's perspective, these positive team-building activities and words of inspiration lose their value. Toxic positivity comes off as disconnected and tone-deaf from the palpable experience our staff is living. Although it can feel like lighthearted support, toxic positivity can set leaders back in making true change in the workplace.

Built-Up Your Leadership Toolbox with Authentic Optimism

The part of toxic positivity that makes it toxic is pushing a “can-do” attitude when there are circumstances or outcomes out of your control. School leaders are admired as experts, mentors and confidants. However, it’s more effective to be realistically optimistic with staff, especially if you notice that morale is low.

Instead of putting on a face of toxic positivity, transition into authentic leadership strategies. This helps you build up your toolbox with genuine, actionable resources that benefit you, students and staff. Leaders aren’t expected to have all the answers, or always be the happiest person in the room. However, authentic leaders are expected to be both a support system and a guiding force for staff members.

It’s time to rid yourself of your best fake smile and guide with your true selves—that’s what eradicates toxic positivity from the workplace and creates lasting professional relationships. Most importantly, authenticity promotes a value-driven work ethic. Employees can sense that you’re not putting on a façade; therefore, all of your efforts for change are well received, instead of disregarded.

The Importance of Learning to Listen and Adjust

Authentic leaders don’t feel the need to pretend to be someone they aren’t. As a result, they create real relationships with staff, instead of pseudo-work relationships. They understand when to provide advice, when to take action and when to simply listen. If you need to address some heavy topics in a meeting, don’t disregard any coworkers that might be struggling with the transition.

Don’t stand on the podium and preach words you yourself don’t even believe in. Instead be honest, and authentic, and create a safe space for opinions to be expressed. Through it all, you can still instill uplifting and motivating energy in your staff, just not with the harmful approach of toxic positivity.

Unlock Your Transformative Potential as an Authentic Leaders

Toxic positivity has no place in schools, however, at ADS, we believe this would never be a problem if school leaders felt they could be themselves. Authentic leadership allows you to find confidence in what makes you uniquely valuable in the workplace. You are able to help those around you because you helped yourself first.

Everyone in a leadership position deserves support and guidance to help them find true fulfillment in their professional role. The greatest gift of authentic leadership is the freedom and confidence to be yourself.

I am a former leader and now support leaders to have autonomy and purpose in their careers. Consequently, leaders are able to increase their productivity and enhance their mental well-being. They are able to lead with authenticity and reverence, instead of toxic positivity.

If you are looking for professional school leadership coaching or consulting, book a free discovery call with ADS today. We offer transformative coaching services for individual leaders and leadership teams. We can’t wait to help you get the MOST out of your career so you can make the impact you’ve always dreamed of!


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