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Book Summary: Positively Energizing Leadership – Virtuous Actions and Relationships That Create High Performance

Positively Energizing Leadership (2022) offers organization leaders and workers a practical guide to understanding and harnessing the power of positively energizing characteristics and interpersonal approaches. With empirical data and how-to advice, it aims to boost innovation, profits, and compassion in the workplace and at home.

Introduction: Learn how to harness the empirically validated value of positive energy and virtuous practices.

We live in serious times. Society is riddled by fear, mistrust, racial injustice, climate disasters, and the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic – all of which have sowed a climate of violence, outrage, and conflict. As a result of this culture of despair, the power of positive thinking has mushroomed as an industry. There are thousands of books out there promising to guide you to happiness, and each year more and more are published.

Book Summary: Positively Energizing Leadership - Virtuous Actions and Relationships That Create High Performance

But the problem with what Kim Cameron calls “happiology” is that it encourages us to put a smile on our faces while inside, our teeth are gritted and our jaws are clenched. The thing is, all lives are complex – and they involve loss, sickness, and death. You can’t avoid hardship and sadness. Glued-on positivity and pretending to be happy just do more harm than good, both for individuals and organizations.

This summary to Cameron’s Positively Energizing Leadership offers a different approach. Through empirical evidence, it focuses on the ways that positive energy and light are linked – and how leaders can use both to spark people and groups to flourish.

Positive energy helps us take positive action – but conscious effort is needed to tap into its full power.

A 2005 study discovered that pain levels were significantly lower for surgery patients recovering in a sunny room filled with natural light, compared to those placed in an artificially lit room. Similar findings on the restorative traits of light have been found for people suffering from depression.

The ancients knew about the healing properties of light, too. Systematic sun exposure has long been used medicinally by Buddhists as well as in Egyptian, Greek, and Indian cultures.

Light is a form of positive energy – of heliotropic energy, or energy that supports and sustains life. Virtue is another. In fact, light and virtue are deeply intertwined not only metaphorically but also, some scholars argue, biologically.

For example, scientists have found that light is the key to regulating our circadian rhythms, which keep our bodies healthy and balanced. Sunlight keeps our levels of hormones such as melatonin (which controls sleep) and leptin (which controls our ability to feel hunger) in check, while disruptions to our sleep can cause a variety of conditions including cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Similarly, virtue is associated with positive physiological effects such as healing, brain activation in children with ADHD, and lower cortisol and pain levels.

But if positive energy is such a powerful thing, why do our lives seem dominated by dark, negative energy? Well, it’s an interesting question. A study by Wang, Galinsky, and Murnighan showed that we spend more time thinking about negative relationships than positive ones – and that we consistently seem to need much less information to confirm a negative trait vs a positive one in other people. But despite this, they also found that our behavior is most powerfully affected by positivity. In other words, while our emotional and psychological reactions tend to be more sensitive to the negative, our behavior is most amenable to change when positive things happen.

What this means is that we don’t need much assistance in internalizing negative energy – but we could all use a little help to focus on pursuing positive, life-affirming energy. After all, it’s through this energy that positive change happens. In the next section, we’ll get started on showing you how you can do this.

Generosity and altruism are the foundations of heliotropic energy.

We’ve just learned that virtuous and positive behavior drives physiological healing in individuals. But that’s not all. It also produces positive outcomes for interpersonal and group relations. Simply put, encouragement, recognition, security, and support help people thrive.

Think about it – do you feel motivated to perform better when your boss sends you a harshly worded email listing all the things you did wrong? Or do you try harder when they praise, thank, and highlight what you did right, then gently and tactfully suggest small tweaks to what might be improved? The former tends to degrade relationships, while the latter reflects compassion, generosity, gratitude, and kindness – all of which are essential for maximizing positive impact, performance, and energy.

Even more powerfully, studies show that people who give more positive energy than they receive tend to reap the rewards of heliotropic energy all the more. A study by pioneering social psychologist Jennifer Crocker asked college freshmen to articulate their annual achievement goals. The goals were distinguished between those that were achievement-oriented – such as getting high grades or being popular – and contribution-oriented – such as helping to make a difference. At the end of the year, researchers found that focusing on giving back to the community was a much more powerful predictor of success across multiple areas than more competitive, achievement-oriented goals.

Another study compared two groups of older patients with high blood pressure. One group was instructed to spend $40 a week on others through gifts or charity, and the other was instructed to spend the money on themselves. Two years later, the researchers found that the blood pressure of the first group – the one spending money on others – had gone down much more than that of the group spending money on themselves. What’s even more amazing is that it decreased to a degree that matched the effects of medication and prescribed therapies like physical exercise! A similar study found that older adults contributing to others’ lives were able to reduce their mortality risk by a whopping 47 percent.

How can we apply this awesome power to our daily and professional lives? Let’s take the real-life example of a parent who had a young daughter who hated going to school. Each morning, she would cry and cling to her mother’s leg, begging her not to leave. The daughter’s teacher suggested that the mother ask her daughter to tell her the best thing that had happened each day. Things got a little better, but the daughter still resisted going to school.

Then the mother decided to shift the question. She asked, “What’s the best thing you did for someone today?” This small shift made all the difference – instead of throwing a tantrum before school each day, the daughter became excited to report back on the positive impact she’d made.

What can leaders learn from this? That it’s important to create opportunities for employees to mentor or coach others. You could ask an employee to lead a weekly staff meeting on a rotating basis, and to present something they specialize in. This way, employees can both learn something new and get the chance to teach their craft and skill to others. You’ll cultivate heliotropic energy – and you’ll grow the strength, happiness, and skills of your team.

Integrity + Sacrifice = Trust

In 2020, as nation after nation closed up to avoid Covid-19, one country managed to sidestep a full lockdown. Many argued that Sweden avoided a complete lockdown because of its culture of high trust in institutions and civic society. Evidence from other countries would bear this out. In the US, by contrast, where rates of Covid deaths were astronomically high, levels of trust are astonishingly low: only 8 percent of the nation trust political parties, 12 percent trust big companies, 22 percent trust their employers, and 34 percent believe that other citizens can be generally trusted.

Without integrity and trust, positively energizing leadership becomes impossible. Relationships break down, as do institutions and communities.

Trust is instilled from birth by the ways that caregivers nurture their infants. Loving, caring for, and cuddling children sets the foundation for trust to flourish. In contrast, trust can be tarnished by the neglect and withdrawal of caregivers – which, in the case of infants, very literally endangers their ability to survive and thrive.

Nurturing trust requires two chief components. The first ingredient is integrity. Integrity is not simply honesty; it’s also displaying consistent patterns of transparency, accountability, and reliability. Think of a leader who not only speaks with honesty, but also practices what she preaches. For instance, she openly shares potentially dangerous insights into the organization’s finances, risks, or mistakes with the team.

The second ingredient you need to build trust is sacrifice. In this context, sacrifice is when individuals give up something desirable or easy for the good of another. A good way to think about the link between sacrifice and trust is through the metaphor of an emotional bank account. Let’s imagine acts of kindness, like careful listening or expressions of love and gratitude, as deposits. On the other hand, violations of expectations, a lack of courteousness, and criticism can be thought of as withdrawals. In trusting relationships, both parties consistently and regularly deposit emotional energy into the account; even if it’s costly or inconvenient to do so, there are more deposits than withdrawals.

You can apply this metaphor across your personal and professional life. Consciously decide to make more deposits than withdrawals in the relationships that are most important to you – and see what happens! Your life just might change.

What to do with someone who exudes negative energy

Remember those terrifying, wraithlike creatures called dementors from Harry Potter? One Hogwarts professor described them as “the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them.” In the story, anyone who gets too close to a dementor is drained of all their happy memories and feelings.

You might know someone in your life or workplace who fits this description – who is toxically divisive, abrasive, and negative to the point that they seem to suck all the light and life out of a room. So what can you do when you’re confronted with them? Here are a few strategies.

First, try to understand their concerns or perspective by listening and responding supportively. If you can, offer descriptive feedback that is authentic and distinguishes the person from their dementor-like behavior. If you approach a conversation with authenticity and good intentions, you’ll avoid making them get defensive, and you’ll stand a better chance of sparking a positive relationship.

In some cases, you might want to go a step further than listening and giving gentle feedback by offering them training, coaching, or growth tactics. If that fails, it’s time to move up a gear. Make the individual more marginal in your life or workplace. Isolate the negative virus by narrowing the chance for interaction and spread. Of course, always remember that the objective here is not to punish the individual but rather to distance yourself or the team from the effects of their behavior.

If things don’t improve, the next stage is to terminate the relationship. Again, such acts should not be viewed as punitive. Instead, they’re a gentle nudge that communicates, “If we continue together in this way, neither of us will flourish. Let’s help you find the place where you will thrive.”

Stay humble, and be grateful.

Gratitude and humility go together – one necessitates the presence of the other. Both gratitude and humility imply a sense of recognizing and appreciating other people’s strengths and unique abilities. They reflect a willingness to view one’s own contributions – both mistakes and strengths – with accuracy. They also show a tolerance of others’ capacities and weaknesses, and an openness toward feedback and instruction.

And research has revealed a connection between gratitude and evolution. Psychologist Kristin Bonnie and primatologist Frans de Waal discovered that gratitude is universal, across not only languages and cultures but also species. Studying both young children and primates, they found that gratitude is biologically inherent in monkeys as well as human beings.

So what’s the evolutionary basis? Humility and gratitude are correlated with organized patterns – better heart health, increased cognitive processing abilities, improved filtration and absorption functions in our skin tissues and capillaries, and neurological flexibility and creativity. In short, they both boost our health and longevity.

In a series of empirical studies conducted by psychologists Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, college and high school students were told to keep a journal. One group was instructed to write down the best thing that had happened to them or what they were most grateful for that day. Another was instructed to write about events, challenges, and interpersonal interactions they’d experienced. At the end of one semester, the students who’d recorded daily gratitude had higher rates of attention, optimism, energy, focus, and alertness. They also reported fewer colds and headaches; displayed more altruistic behavior; experienced better quality of sleep; and had a greater sense of social connectedness.

The scientific findings line up with the tenets of all major philosophies and religions. Hubristic pride, competitiveness, arrogance, and self-centeredness are condemned across the board. Humility and acknowledgement of mistakes are universally praised as virtues.

How can we apply the benefits of gratitude, humility, and positive recognition to enhance positive relational energy in the business context? Try beginning your next staff meeting by giving each member one minute to share something that they feel celebratory about – and make it a habit to open gatherings with gratitude and good news.


You might have an instinctive allergic reaction to the suggestions outlined here – maybe it feels too saccharine or touchy-feely for the culture of your organization; or irrelevant for the challenges your firm faces; or too expensive. Maybe you think the methods for producing positive energy feel absurdly delusional, or that they’re a distraction from more serious matters.

But the research – specifically, a meta-analysis of 500 empirical studies – shows that positively energized organizations have higher creativity, motivation, health, and self-regulation, along with lower absenteeism and turnover. Mainstream press coverage and the positive practice trend may raise an eyebrow. But even the most challenging circumstances can stand to be greatly boosted by the wide-ranging benefits of positively energizing leadership.

About the author

Kim Cameron is professor of management and organizations at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship, and professor of higher education in the School of Education, all at the University of Michigan. Previously, Cameron served as dean and professor of management in the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University and associate dean and Ford Motor Company/Richard E. Cook Professor in the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University.


Mindfulness, Happiness, Leadership, Corporate Culture, Religion, Spirituality, Business Culture, Workplace Culture, Business Management, Motivation

Table of Contents

Introduction: Leading through Positive Relational Energy
1 Forms of Energy and the Heliotropic Effect
2 Positive Energy in Organizations
3 Attributes of Positively Energizing Leaders
4 Developing Positively Energizing Leadership
5 Examples of Positively Energizing Leadership
6 Yeah, Buts: Objections and Responses
Conclusion: Principles and Action Implications
Measuring Positive Energy
Examples of Activities and Practices
Discussion Questions


This practical guide, the first to show how leaders can achieve extraordinary results through the positive energy generated by virtuous interactions with employees, is written by one of the giants in the study of positive leadership.

This book reveals one of the most important but frequently ignored factors that lead to spectacular performance in organizations. Kim Cameron, a true pioneer in the study of positive leadership, offers validated scientific evidence that all individuals are inherently attracted to and flourish in the presence of positive energy, a principle known in biology as heliotropism. Further, he shows that the positive relational energy generated by leaders’ virtuous behaviors—such as generosity, compassion, gratitude, trustworthiness, forgiveness, and kindness—is tightly linked to extraordinary organizational outcomes like greater innovation, higher profits, and increased engagement and retention.

Cameron has not written a feel-good tome about the power of positive thinking, “happiology,” or unbridled optimism. This research-based explanation shows how to achieve performance that exceeds expectations. He provides practical suggestions, assessments, and exercises showing how leaders can improve their own positive energy and increase positive relational energy in their organizations. Positively Energizing Leadership is a major contribution to the theory and practice of leadership.


“As someone who has won at every major level of basketball, I know the competitive advantage created by positive leaders that outwardly believe in their team, and the energizing effects they have on team members. Kim Cameron’s book proficiently describes the outsized production that is available to every team or group through promoting virtuousness and positive relational energy. It is a championship-level, worthy strategy.” —Shane Battier, 1997 Naismith Boys High School Player of the Year; 2001 Naismith Men’s College Player of the Year; 2001 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship; 2012 and 2013 NBA Championships, and Vice President of Basketball Development and Analytics, Miami HEAT

“Kim’s work with our staff and teams over the past several years has had amazing results. Our best teams referenced his research several times in our successful runs in the postseason. This book is a must-read for anyone in a leadership position who wants to enjoy immediate and lasting positive change.” —John Beilein, former Head Coach, University of Michigan Men’s Basketball and Cleveland Cavaliers

“In my role as the CEO of EOS—the technological leader in industrial 3D printing—I have discovered the extraordinary impact of positively energizing leadership. This book showcases how to achieve impressive top- and bottom-line results by empowering team players, honest feedback, and virtuous leaders.” —Marie Langer, CEO, EOS

“I have encountered many challenges in my career as the founder and leader of several pharmaceutical and biotech businesses. Focusing on the heliotropic effect has helped me become a virtuous leader by utilizing positive relational energy. This book is the first to explain what this is and how it can make a profound, positive difference in your personal and professional life.” —Roger Newton, former Senior Vice President, Pfizer Global R&D; founder and former CEO, Esperion Therapeutics; and Director, several life sciences companies

“In my leadership role at Bosch, I continue to be inspired by the extraordinary impact of positively energized leadership. This book is a valuable resource to assess and identify how and why this kind of leadership produces dramatic bottom-line results for organizations and their employees.” —Charlie Ackerman, Senior Vice President of Human Resources North America, Robert Bosch GmbH

“During my forty years of research on the science of well-being, I have seen a lot of hype passed off as positive psychology. Kim Cameron’s book is very different. Both scientists and practitioners will learn a lot from this book. I highly recommend it!” —Ed Diener, founding Editor, Perspectives on Psychological Science; former President, International Positive Psychology Association; distinguished professor emeritus of psychology, University of Illinois; professor of psychology, University of Utah and University of Virginia; and Senior Scientist, Gallup

“The role of positive energy, positive relationships, and positive leadership in organizations is expertly outlined in this book by Kim Cameron, who shows how companies can grow through challenging times and make the most of success factors during good times. I have been following Dr. Cameron’s research for more than three decades, and he never disappoints. This book offers the perfect balance of science and practice. It is transformative and should be on the desk of every leader.” —Dr. Lea Waters, AM, PhD, organizational psychologist; member, Order of Australia; Inaugural Gerry Higgins Chair in Positive Psychology, Centre for Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne; former President, International Positive Psychology Association; registered psychologist, AHPRA; and member, Australian Psychological Society

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Appendix: Attributes of positively energizing leaders


  • Help other people flourish without expecting a payback.
  • Express gratitude and humility.
  • Instill confidence and self-efficacy in others.
  • Smile frequently.
  • Forgive weakness in others.
  • Invest in developing personal relationships.
  • Share plum assignments and recognize others.
  • Listen actively and empathetically.
  • Solve problems.
  • Mostly see opportunities.
  • Clarify meaningfulness and inspire others.
  • Are trusting and trustworthy.
  • Are genuine and authentic.
  • Motivate others to exceed performance standards.
  • Mobilize positive energizers who can motivate others.


  • Ensure that they themselves get the credit.
  • Are selfish and resist feedback.
  • Don’t create opportunities for others to be recognized.
  • Are somber and seldom smile.
  • Induce guilt or shame in others.
  • Don’t invest in personal relationships.
  • Keep the best for themselves.
  • Dominate the conversation and assert their ideas.
  • Create problems.
  • Mostly see roadblocks and are critics.
  • Are indifferent and uncaring.
  • Are skeptical and lack integrity.
  • Are superficial and insincere.
  • Are satisfied with mediocrity or “good enough”.
  • Ignore energizers who are eager to help.
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