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Positive Intelligence: Why It's Essential for Executives

Executive performance is not only about making strategic decisions or leading teams effectively. It’s equally about managing one's thoughts and emotions to enhance performance and overall well-being. This is where Positive Intelligence (PQ) comes into play, offering a framework for improving mental fitness—a concept often overlooked yet crucial for executive and leadership success. Executive coaches armed with the knowledge and techniques of PQ are uniquely positioned to guide leaders toward professional success and personal satisfaction and resilience. This article delves into the concept of Positive Intelligence, its importance in executive coaching, and practical strategies for coaches to implement.

Understanding Positive Intelligence

Positive Intelligence is a concept developed by Shirzad Chamine, which posits that PQ is the measure of your mental fitness, specifically, your capacity to respond to life’s challenges with a positive rather than a negative mindset. Central to PQ is the premise that every individual has both a 'Sage' and a 'Saboteur'. The 'Sage' represents the part of the brain that promotes more positive responses, characterized by emotions such as empathy, curiosity, and creativity. Conversely, 'Saboteurs' are the voices of self-doubt, fear, and criticism that disrupt emotional and mental well-being (Chamine, S. (n.d.)).

The Science of Positive Intelligence

Research in neuroscience and psychology supports the principles of Positive Intelligence. Studies show that individuals with higher PQ are better at managing stress, more creative, and more effective in their interactions and decision-making. This is because a positive mindset enhances the functionality of the brain's prefrontal cortex, the region responsible for executive functions like problem-solving, emotional regulation, and focus.

In a comprehensive meta-analysis encompassing 225 academic studies, researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener uncovered a directional relationship between life satisfaction and successful business outcomes. Their research supports the idea that maintaining a positive mindset can significantly enhance performance across various metrics including productivity, creativity, and engagement. This phenomenon, which Shawn Achor, the Chief Experience Officer for BetterUp,  refers to as the “happiness advantage,” suggests that happiness actually precedes success, not the other way around, contradicting the common belief that success brings happiness (Achor, S. (2012, January)).

The concept of the "happiness advantage" is closely related to the importance of Positive Intelligence (PQ) in that both emphasize the transformative power of maintaining a positive mental state to drive better outcomes in life and work. Positive Intelligence highlights the ability to shift our mental responses from negative to positive through the control of our own mind. This mental fitness strengthens our capacity to handle life's challenges with a positive mindset rather than succumbing to stress and negativity.

The "happiness advantage" underscores that when individuals prioritize their happiness—by cultivating a positive mindset—they perform better across various dimensions. This is because a positive brain is more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive. Similarly, PQ teaches that by mastering your mind (overcoming negative thoughts and enhancing positive ones), you can achieve a sustained state of happiness and effectiveness.

Therefore, the correlation found in the meta-analysis provides empirical backing for the principles of Positive Intelligence. It illustrates how essential PQ is, as it equips individuals with the tools to not only increase their life satisfaction but also to enhance their professional performance, thereby leading to more successful business outcomes.

Why Positive Intelligence Matters for Executives

For executives, the stakes are particularly high. The demands of leadership can exacerbate stress and provoke the 'Saboteurs', leading to impaired decision-making, reduced collaboration, and ultimately lower performance. High PQ equips executives with the resilience to navigate these pressures, fostering a leadership style that is more adaptive, empathetic, and visionary.

Enhanced Decision-Making

Executives with high PQ can better manage their emotional responses and assess situations more objectively. This clear-headedness results in more strategic and thoughtful decisions, crucial in high-stakes business environments.

Improved Team Dynamics

Leaders with high PQ foster positive emotions like trust and respect in their teams. This can lead to enhanced teamwork and communication, as well as a more inclusive and supportive corporate culture.

Increased Resilience

The ability to bounce back from setbacks is critical for sustained success in any executive role. High PQ enhances resilience, helping leaders maintain their composure and confidence in the face of challenges.

The Role of Executive Coaches in Cultivating Positive Intelligence

Executive coaches play a pivotal role in enhancing an executive's PQ by helping them identify and weaken their 'Saboteurs' while strengthening their 'Sage' powers. This involves a range of strategies:

Awareness and Identification

The first step in improving PQ is for the executive to become aware of their own mental patterns and identify their 'Saboteurs'. Coaches can facilitate this through assessments and reflective exercises. For example, consider taking the Positive Intelligence Saboteur Assessment.

Developing Self-Command

Coaches can teach executives techniques to enhance their self-command, enabling them to shift from 'Saboteur' responses to 'Sage' perspectives more quickly. This might include practices like mindfulness, controlled breathing, and cognitive reframing.

Building PQ Habits

Incorporating PQ-enhancing practices into daily routines is essential. Coaches can assist by setting up structured routines that include dedicated times for reflection, journaling, and other PQ exercises.

Implementing Positive Intelligence in Executive Coaching

To effectively integrate PQ into their coaching practices, executive coaches could consider the following approaches:

Tailored Interventions

Coaches could aim to understand the unique challenges and 'Saboteurs' of each executive and tailor interventions accordingly. This personalized approach increases the relevance and impact of the coaching.

Continuous Learning

Coaches themselves should engage in ongoing learning about advances in neuroscience and psychology that relate to PQ to keep their coaching methods fresh and effective.

Measurement and Adaptation

Regularly measure the impact of PQ coaching on an executive’s performance and well-being. Use these insights to adapt coaching strategies over time, maximizing effectiveness.

The main takeaway

For executives, mastering Positive Intelligence is not just about improving their professional performance—it’s about transforming their approach to both challenges and opportunities. Executive coaches equipped with the tools and understanding of PQ are invaluable allies in this journey. By fostering a positive mindset, they not only enhance the immediate effectiveness of the leaders they coach but also contribute to a more resilient, creative, and emotionally intelligent business culture.

This comprehensive approach to PQ in executive coaching can lead to profound changes in leadership effectiveness, making it an indispensable element of modern executive development strategies.


Achor, S. (2012, January). Positive Intelligence. Harvard Business Review.

Chamine, S. (n.d.). Positive Intelligence.

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