A critical review of conceptualisations of positive leadership: towards an integrated definition
Positive leadership is needed in dealing with challenges that leaders face in organisations due to the constantly changing world of work. There has been a shift in organisations towards leaders who are positive and able to create positive work environment for followers, as well as build relationships through teamwork and trust. Although there are numerous studies on positive leadership, there is still confusion regarding the conceptualisation of positive leadership in literature. The aim of this critical review was to identify and synthesise literature on conceptualisations, definitions, descriptions, behaviours, characteristics and principles of positive leadership; to provide an overview of these conceptualisations; as well as to formulate an integrated definition of positive leadership. This critical review considered both quantitative and qualitative articles published in English that contained conceptualisations, definitions, descriptions, behaviours, characteristics, or principles of positive leadership. Only national and international articles published between 1998 and 2016, as well as seminal works published prior to this were considered in this study. Studies that did not conceptualise, define, or describe positive leadership, and that were not written in English, were excluded. Studies that were published before 1998 and that are not regarded as seminal works were also excluded from this critical review. Articles that were not published in the journal databases mentioned below were excluded as well. The search strategy sought to find published peer-reviewed literature on conceptualisations of positive leadership. Literature was identified via comprehensive searches on the following databases: EBSCOhost; Emerald Insight Journals; Google Scholar; JSTOR; Sabinet Online; SAGE; ScienceDirect; and Web of Science. Articles containing the word “positive leadership" were sourced and later assessed if they met the inclusion criteria. Each article was assessed by the reviewer prior to its inclusion, and then it was recorded in the flow chart of the study selection process. A total of 21 peer-reviewed papers − experimental, qualitative, quantitative and textual in nature − were included in this review, together with one textbook that was regarded as a seminal work. Due to the diverse nature of these papers and the aim of the review (which was to propose an integrated definition), meta-analysis of the results was not possible. For this reason, this section of the review was presented in a narrative form. Thematic analysis was used to analyse the data. The key themes that were derived from the data included a number of leadership traits such as optimism and a ‘can-do’ mind-set, altruism, an ethical orientation, and motivational characteristics, as well as specific leadership behaviours which include creating a positive work environment, building positive relationships, being results driven, and engaging in positive communication; which all resulted in certain leadership outcomes which were comprised of enhanced follower well-being, increased productivity as well as individual and organisational performance, and increased organisational citizenship behaviour. As a result of the analysis, the following integrated definition of positive leadership based on the existing literature is proposed: Positive leadership is an approach towards leadership that is characterised by the demonstration of leadership traits such as optimism and a ‘can-do’ mind-set, altruism, an ethical orientation, and motivational characteristics, as well as leadership behaviours that entail the creation of a positive working environment, the development of positive relationships, a focus on results, and positive communication with followers. These traits and behaviours in turn result in positive leadership outcomes such as enhanced overall productivity and performance levels, improved organisational citizenship behaviour, and enhanced follower well-being. The results of this study provide the foundation for future research aimed at operationalising the concept of positive leadership.