Prozac leadership and the limits of positive thinking

From Leadership

Positivity is now so embedded, ubiquitous and taken for granted in popular Western cultures that it is rarely questioned in theory or practice. Positive narratives in leadership can be transformational, facilitating innovation and enhancing teamwork. This article critically examines excessive positivity in leadership. Drawing on the metaphor of ‘Prozac’, Prozac leadership encourages leaders to believe their own narratives that everything is going well and discourages followers from raising problems or admitting mistakes. Prozac is used to denote and symbolize a widespread social addiction to excessive positivity. Problems can occur, particularly if this positivity is seen to be discrepant with everyday experience. For example, if leaders repeatedly promise that ‘things can only get better’ but over time this does not happen, followers can become increasingly sceptical and cynical. This article warns that Prozac leadership, whether in corporate, political or other settings, can damage performance by eroding trust, communication, learning and preparedness.

Abstract

This article critically examines excessive positivity in leadership dynamics. It argues that the tendency for leader positivity to become excessive is a recurrent but under-researched medium through which power and identity can be enacted in leadership dynamics. Drawing on the metaphor of ‘Prozac’, it suggests that leaders’ excessive positivity is often characterized by a reluctance to consider alternative voices, which can leave organizations and societies ill-prepared to deal with unexpected events. Prozac leadership encourages leaders to believe their own narratives that everything is going well and discourages followers from raising problems or admitting mistakes. The article also argues that followers (broadly defined) are often quick to identify leaders’ excessive positivity and are likely to respond through various forms of resistance. It concludes by considering the extent to which excessive positivity also characterizes leadership studies, and raises additional questions for further critical analyses of Prozac leadership.

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Article details

Collinson, D. (2012). Prozac leadership and the limits of positive thinking Leadership, 8 (2), 87-107 DOI: 10.1177/1742715011434738

     
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