Almost every leader thinks of themself as an optimist. And why not? We’re constantly exposed to stories of successful leaders who are optimists. And who wants to be thought of as negative? But are you as optimistic as you think you are?
About Your Business
Quick: when you think about how your company is positioned in today’s business environment, does your mind first go to the opportunities or the obstacles? Yes, you should think about both, but where does your mind go first?
When considering an opportunity, do you first think, how could we make it work? Or does your thinking begin and end with why it won’t work?
When thinking about an obstacle outside of your control, do you disregard it simply because you can’t control it? Or do you ask yourself how you can exert influence to exploit or mitigate what is beyond your control?
When you’re in the midst of taking action in a challenging situation, do you tend to be optimistic, pessimistic, or detached and analytical? For top performance, research suggests you should be detached and analytical when preparing for or reflecting on a challenging situation, but optimistic while you’re in the midst of taking action.
When you have an employee who isn’t performing at the level required, how do you engage them? By expressing doubt? Or by expressing belief and confidence? Do you criticize the employee or do you challenge the employee?
People will often live up or live down to your expectations! If they sense you don’t believe that they’re capable, they’re likely to fulfill that expectation. On the other hand, if you convey a strong belief that they have the capabilities to succeed and will succeed, they may surprise you and live up to those expectations. This doesn’t mean you should ignore poor performance or not hold people constructively accountable. It means you should show confidence in them until they clearly prove you wrong.
This isn’t about blind optimism. It’s about eyes-wide-open optimism. An optimism grounded in reality and oriented towards the possible.
When I think of optimism I like to adapt the words that Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic, used to describe hope:
Optimism is not a prognostication. It’s an orientation of the spirit.
Make it happen.
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