Donald Trump, Boris Johnson & The Dangers of Excessive Positivity
Author David Collinson introduces a concept called Prozac leadership and writes about blind positivity.
Positivity is widely seen as an important quality for effective leadership. Upbeat and optimistic leaders can inspire commitment and creativity. But when taken to excess, being positive can become manipulative and counterproductive. In fact, has found that excessive positivity can be extremely dangerous.
Prozac leaders believe their own rhetoric that “everything is going well”. The wishful thinking of Prozac leaders can quickly cascade down managerial hierarchies, contaminating organisational structures, cultures and practices.
It does this by discouraging followers from raising problems or admitting mistakes. Important issues get ignored, leaving organisations – and sometimes even whole societies – unprepared to deal with unexpected events and threats.
In each case, these leaders articulated a hyper-optimistic discourse of male bravado, defining themselves as “strong men” and virile leaders who were personally invulnerable to the virus.
After boasting about shaking the hands of COVID-19 patients, Johnson experienced severe symptoms and was . Just hours before testing positive, and still refusing to wear a mask, that the end of the pandemic was in sight. These leaders’ excessive optimism was revealed to be dangerous to their citizens, their families and themselves.
Trump, for example, that, “I like playing it down, because I don’t want to create panic”. But he subsequently reverted to an excessively positive interpretation by saying that he actually “” by initiating travel bans. Although apparently inconsistent, these statements make more sense when you recognise that Trump’s primary concern is to be positive at all times. As he says:
“I’m a cheerleader for this country … I’m not about bad news. I want to give people hope.”
As a boy, Trump attended the Marble Collegiate Church of New York City where Minister Norman Vincent Peale from a book that he had written, The Power of Positive Thinking. One of the all-time best selling works of non-fiction, Peale’s treatise applied prayer, faith and positive thinking to overcome self-doubt by enhancing self-belief. Peale linked faith and spirituality to material success.
Many of Peale’s ideas have , and by psychologist Gabriele Oettingen has shown that optimistic dreaming about a desired future can, over the long term, make people more frustrated and unhappy and less likely to achieve their goals.
Speaking after Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis, his niece, Mary Trump, said that both the president and his father, saw illness as “a display of unforgivable weakness”.
She said Fred Trump “was unable to tolerate” his wife’s osteoporosis, adding: “…as soon as she started showing that she was in physical pain, he would say ‘everything’s great, right. Everything’s great.’” She said Fred Trump’s adherence to positivity “left no room for expressions of what he considered negativity of any kind…you know, sadness, despair, being physically ill”.
Trump’s own preoccupation with excessive positivity has led to recurring conflicts with medical health experts on issues like , and how COVID-19 can be treated by the use of the drug ( “very bright light” and “strong disinfectant”).
Those with a less rosy outlook often find themselves turned-on by followers of Prozac leaders. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has been criticised for being “too negative” and “alarmist”. Senator Rand Paul demanded “more optimism” from Fauci, and White House officials nicknamed him “Dr Gloom and Doom”.
One effect of these excessively positive messages is that many Americans have not taken the threat of COVID-19 seriously and have . It seems that millions may have been infected at least in part because the president wanted to send positive messages that calmed the markets and boosted his re-election chances.
A Politician for The Good Times
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is an archetypal Prozac leader. Invariably seeking to look on the bright side, Johnson presents himself as a jovial spreader of positive cheer and sunny optimism. Always keen to accentuate the positive, he is quick to dismiss any criticism as the “” views of “naysayers” and “doom-mongers”.
As a politician for the good times, the pandemic has been a profound challenge, even beyond the strain COVID-19 has placed on Johnson’s government and his own health. It has exposed a credibility gap between his hyperbolic statements of aspiration (for example, “”) and the experience of many employees – even in the NHS – who, unable to access a test, have been forced to .
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
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