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Dr Marko Divjak: Teachers as "positive leaders"

02. august 2021

Positive psychology is a few decades old scientific discipline, which, unlike the traditional and clinical psychological doctrine, focuses on the optimal functioning of individuals and communities. It examines the factors and circumstances to “flourish and grow” (e.g. strengths/virtues, realisation of own potentials), i.e. to contribute to a subjective well-being and a more fulfilling life. The findings of positive psychology are also being used in human resource management in companies and organisations.

Positive leaders

Positive leaders encourage and direct employees towards the achievement of organisational objectives, while also striving for their well-being and personal development. They see to the realisation of their potentials and their “flourishing on the job”. They help employees reach levels of performance that they would otherwise have difficulties reaching on their own (Cameron, 2012). One of the key tasks of positive leaders is also to strengthen (positive) psychological capital of employees.

Psychological capital

Psychological capital is a part of positive organisational behaviour and can be defined as the psychological condition of an individual’s growth and development (Luthans, Youssef and Avolio, 2007). It is also understood as the “individual’s personal capacity” for effective tackling of day-to-day (professional and personal) challenges. Numerous studies have shown that individuals with highly-developed psychological capital are more effective and satisfied in their job, demonstrate higher levels of company loyalty, are happier, and express a higher level of well-being (Krasikova, Lester and Harms, 2015). Investing in the development or enhancement of employees’ psychological capital undoubtedly brings numerous positive effects.

Psychological capital is a multidimensional construct associated with the following components: hope, self-efficacy, resilience, and optimism. Hope is the cognitive process of goal-directed thinking, which consists of the motivation to plan and achieve the objectives and the ability to generate the (different) paths needed to achieve the set objectives. Self-efficacy is the confidence a person has in their ability to achieve positive outcomes and to realise the set objectives. Resilience or stress resistance is reflected in the ability to overcome problems and obstacles or persist in a currently challenging situation and is a key skill of “surviving” in the modern working environment. Optimism refers to positive future expectations and the use of a positive (optimistic) explanatory style of attributing causes to events (summarised from Smole, 2015). Psychological capital can be developed or enhanced by influencing one or more components of psychological capital.

Strengthening students’ psychological capital in online learning    

Regardless of the fact that the concepts of positive leadership and psychological capital were founded in the work/organisational context, certain parallels can also be drawn with the field of education, in particular with online learning, which has its own specific characteristics. Given that in online learning the fulfilment of obligations is largely based on continuous work (taking of one course at a time, preparation of weekly assignments), it is very important that the courses are properly structured, while the quality of the teacher’s communication and interaction with students (e.g. in giving instructions and providing guidelines and feedback) is especially important due to the lack of face-to-face contact. At DOBA Business School, we influence the development and enhancement of students’ psychological capital and, as a result, increased educational performance, at two levels: (a) with the preparation of content, materials and activities in the context of the courses, and (b) through communication with the students. In this context, teachers assume, at least to some extent, the role and responsibility of positive leaders of students in the educational process.

Teachers as positive leaders

When preparing the courses, learning content and weekly assignments, teachers strive to ensure that the courses are well-structured, that learning content is sensibly connected, and, above all, that the underlying course objectives and the individual steps to achieve these objectives are clearly defined. This strengthens hope, i.e. the motivation to achieve the set objectives and to find the most appropriate way to achieve them, and optimism, i.e. the expectation of positive outcomes. The detailed preparation of instructions for the weekly assignments also enhances students’ self-efficacy, i.e. strengthens their confidence that they will be able to meet the grading criteria.

Another important aspect to strengthening students’ psychological capital in online learning is the day-to-day communication between teachers and students. Students often turn to teachers with different problems and challenges, e.g. in coordinating the time dedicated to studying, understanding materials, teamwork, and they expect us to find a solution. By encouraging them to think about the possible solutions or activities to address the challenges that studying brings, we strengthen their resilience and self-efficacy.

Similarly important is also the way how feedback on the weekly assignments is provided. It needs to be provided in real-time, i.e. as soon as possible after the deadline for the submission of the assignment, as this strengthens (or maintains) the motivation to achieve the final objective, i.e. hope, and it is all the more important that feedback is properly prepared in terms of content. In addition to the “sandwich method” (first highlighting the positive aspects, then commenting on the errors/deficiencies and concluding with what has been done well), it is particularly important that negative feedback is formulated in a way that encourages an optimistic explanatory style of attributing causes to failure. Optimists are more likely to attribute negative events to external factors (e.g. “I didn’t have enough time for in-depth literature studies”), which is why they perceive them as temporary (e.g. “I was unsuccessful in this assignment but the next one will be much better”) and situation-specific (e.g. “The applicative weekly assignment has caused me some difficulties but I’ll excel in the online test in the coming week”), allowing them to maintain their positive expectations for the future (Luthans et al. 2007). In this respect, it is important that feedback on the completed assignments, in particular feedback of a negative nature, is as concrete as possible (What exactly was wrong?), with clear guidelines and recommendations for improvement.

Teachers at DOBA Business School thus go beyond the traditional framework of teachers as “passive knowledge carriers” and increasingly take on the role of leaders, which is reflected in providing advice and guidance to students, promoting and enhancing their potential, and developing transferable (“soft”) skills that are essential for personal and career success.


  • Cameron, K. (2012). Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance. Revised Edition. San Francisco: Berrett Koehler.
  • Krasikova, D. V., Lester, P. B. and Harms, P. D. (2015). Effects of Psychological Capital on Mental Health and Substance Abuse. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 22(3), pp. 280–291.
  • Luthans, F., Youssef, C. M. and Avolio, B. J. (2007). Psychological Capital: Developing the Human Competitive Edge. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Smole, M. (2015). Vloga pozitivnega psihološkega kapitala pri doseganju ravnovesja med zasebnim in poklicnim življenjem. Magistrsko delo. Ljubljana, Filozofska fakulteta. Retrieved on 25 May 2017, from  
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