How to Lead Positive Change by Using the Power of Negative Thinking

‘If you are going through hell, keep going’ — Winston Churchill

Negative thinking (fear, doubt, worry) is a fact of life … and of business. As a veteran leader, advisor and coach, I am a motivator, mentor and facilitator. I am also an expert worrywart.

My job is to overcome obstacles and keep people productive — regardless of circumstances. In 25+ years of corporate life, I have led operational growth and organizational change, and have worried … a lot. And I am not alone. Whether it’s a large corporation facing major change or a start-up facing the ambiguity of the new, fear and doubt are there: for me, for management, for employees. What we feel (and fear) is real. And it’s powerful.

You can’t stop negative thinking from entering in the workplace, but you can stop it from limiting you and your team.

I use negative thinking as a catalyst in the change process. I worry out loud with a team. I acknowledge fear and doubt and give them the respect and attention they deserve. If behavior is belief turned into action, then as a leader, you need to understand beliefs before you can change behaviors. Change is much more successful when you respect and engage the beliefs and behaviors of the people who will actually execute it.

So, how does this process work?

First: Lay it all out for your team — everything you know and don’t know, and what your concerns are. Provide the view from the top: the priorities, goals and expectations. Never operate under the assumption that employees know what they need to know.

  • Know that an informed team minimizes time and energy wasted on guesswork and rumors that run wild during change.
  • It helps the team open up and connect to you, and humanizes the challenges the company faces.
  • Everyone begins to feel part of something bigger.
  • It gets the team focused and thinking about solutions.

Next: Get feedback. Ask questions. Ask for help. Worrying aloud means listening too. It gets peoples’ concerns heard. And it reveals important information that helps you plan because problems announce themselves before they arrive. Think of it as a team building exercise as well as an early detection device.

  • The team feels a sense of control because they are involved in the planning process, the problem solving and the decision making.
  • No one feels alone in their thinking as they hear similar fears out loud.
  • It connects team members to each other.
  • You learn things you need to know and can put their perspective to work towards change.

Finally: Define the future together. Move forward by replacing worry and fear with planning and action.

  • Prepare the path by deciding what success looks like and what’s needed to get there, i.e., new schedules, training, workflows, processes.
  • Break big goals into attainable milestones.
  • Draw from your strengths and build on what works. Leverage off each other: who can help who.
  • Stay energized. Use humor. Have patience. And celebrate even the smallest victories.
  • Discover collective courage, confidence and acceptance. There is nothing like it.

It is then that you replace what you fear with what you know.

Managing change means managing negative thinking — including your own. True transformation works best when it is driven by emotion and by support, and by believing everything will be OK, after you worry that it won’t.

And you may be surprised: I’ve often found that when I worry out loud with a team, their efforts to calm my fears actually calm their own.

Now that’s what I call making a positive out of a negative.


  1. Reply

    What a great view of how to address fear and worry in business. Being able to work through these “negative” types of thoughts with a team is such a better alternative to letting the stress consume you so that you can’t see a way to overcome the situation. Team collaboration is so necessary in the business world! Thanks for sharing!

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