Why positive states are the high performance states

 Positive emotions augment the success of individuals, leaders and companies. This piece overviews the reasons why positivity delivers, and the scale of improvement that’s available.

I came up with the acronym CREAM for the five main improvements positive states deliver:

Creativity & solution finding

  • Like all higher functions, these skills sit in the cerebral cortex which functions best when we are relaxed. When e.g. stress goes above the tipping point, functions like creativity suffer.
  • Providing a relaxing calm and work environment is smart and what many super-performing companies do.


  • …is built during the time spent in positive states. People who spend more time in positive states are more resilient.

Emotional intelligence

  • We are more aware of the emotions of others when in a positive state
  • In a negative state we are blind to them
  • It turns out that the aspect of empathy that is concerned with being aware of another person’s emotional state is one of the two keys to excellence in leadership
  • Multiple research studies have shown that resonance is the second key

Analytical reasoning skills

  • How smart we are varies with our mood. Think of the intelligence behind the things we sat when we are angry.
  • Negative emotional flooding reduces our intellect for up to 8 eight hours
  • Even the casual use of negative words has been shown to impede our abilities
  • Positive emotional states enable us to deploy all of our intellect and accelerate the rate at which we find solutions.


  • One of the many ironies of our social evolution outstripping our biological evolution is that exactly when we need our motivation it deserts us
  • You will be able to think of many examples of not being motivated to do the very thing which will give you the turnaround result you are craving such as
    • going out and seeing friends when lonely
    • going to the gym when we feel lethargic
    • applying for jobs when being out of work
  • Positive emotional states deliver high motivation. It’s so easy to hit the gym, the call a friend when we are feeling happy and positive.

 CREAM can also be used for companies deciding which leadership values they want to adopt:

  1. Don’t be fooled by negativity
    1. Some people use negative motivation to succeed
    2. However, research tells us that
      1. They would do even better being positive
      2. Their impact is always mitigated by positive lieutenants clearing up the emotional detritus they create
    3. Research shows that companies whose cultures create positive emotions in their people perform better. For example, Boyatzis, an American organisational theorist found that profits of businesses with resonant CEOs outperform those with dissonant CEOs by 110% to 390%
    4. Studies have long proven positive emotions work better and have lasting effects on behaviour.

 People generally think that things like positive leadership values were nice things to have, but not essential. This is because negative leadership style comes more easily to many people, and makes it quicker for anyone to get their message across.  And it takes no courage.

However, we have to remember what the evidence tells us. Positivity is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have if you want to compete as an organisation and fulfil your potential as a leader.

The important thing to remember is that we are not helpless about how much positive emotion we experience, there’s a lot we can do. Increased optimism and hope is the key, optimists experience more positive emotion, and these are not traits we inherit, they are behaviours we learn.

Inspirational business psychologist Graham Keen is CEO of New Impetus International Ltd, an independent company with bases in Cheshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Copenhagen.  He founded the company in 2000 to create and deliver services solidly based on hard evidence. The firm now works with 140 clients worldwide, including many household names, mostly in the UK, Continental Europe, and a bit in the USA and Middle East.

An Oxford University Engineering Science graduate, Graham trained in positive psychology with Prof Martin Seligman in 2003, which taken together with his earlier experience as plc CFO and corporate finance practitioner, brings a unique view of business.

Graham is an energising tutor and speaker. He is warm but direct, passionate, and occasionally hilarious. He has the knack of telling surprising and uncomfortable truths in a way that inspires acceptance and ignites action.

He has a 20 year track record of winning even reluctant people’s buy-in to change, and consistently improving patterns of organisational behaviour.