Some people believe that we are all either pessimists or optimists. We cannot change. We are who we are, and while we might want to be either more pessimistic or more optimistic, we can’t change who we are. This is not entirely true. We do have a tendency to be more pessimistic or optimistic based on our personality type, but we can work to be more optimistic, or to moderate our optimism with a small dose of pessimism. Optimism is a powerful tool for a leader. Optimism allows people to inspire growth, think outside of the box, inspire others, and enjoy life.
Optimism inspires growth. If we thought we were doomed to fail, why would we ever bother with starting a business? Leaders have to have a healthy dose of optimism to step out on a limb and create their business and intentionally form a healthy culture. There are risks involved in leadership. You might not succeed, but an optimist looks at the challenge as an opportunity. What if you succeed beyond your wildest dreams? In an article in The Atlantic Home, researcher Michael Scheier said, “We know why optimists do better than pessimists. The answer lies in the differences between the coping strategies they use. Optimists are not simply being Pollyannas; they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation . . . Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to deny, avoid, and distort the problems they confront, and dwell on their negative feelings. It’s easy to see now why pessimists don’t do so well compared to optimists.” Leaders who embrace optimism inspire their teams, business units, and companies to embrace the present and look for opportunity in the future.
Optimism inspires innovative ideas. Innovators have to consistently look for solutions that are outside of the box. In order for true innovation to occur, leaders/innovators must go through a design process, which usually includes a long series of prototypes and evaluations before they find the answer they were looking for. As Robert Noyse said, “Optimism is an essential ingredient for innovation. How else can the individual welcome change over security, adventure over staying in a safe place?” Without optimism, leaders would be discouraged over the failures they encounter along the way, or they may never even take the chance and lose an opportunity to be the leader the world needs. Optimism allows leaders to have an open mind to possibility, not only for themselves, but for their companies.
Optimism inspires others. Optimistic leaders inspire others to greatness. These leaders have confidence in themselves, as well as their teams. They set high expectations for themselves and their teams, and they trust that their people will meet those expectations. Healthy optimistic leaders do not approach the world with a Pollyanna attitude that overlooks adversity, rather they look at a problem and see it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and empower their people to solve that problem. They recognize that their will be struggles along the way, but they call their people together to be collaborative, innovative, and empathetic to create solutions that work to move the company into the future. Optimistic leaders are charismatic and genuinely appreciate the work that people do. They want to help everyone rise, and typically create teams that are naturally more positive, creative, and productive.
Optimism allows you to enjoy life more. People who are optimistic generally enjoy life more. As a leader, this allows you to be more creative because your brain is not operating in fight or flight mode, and you have more access to higher levels of thinking. As a leader, being optimistic and enjoying life allows your people to be more optimistic and enjoy life more. You are better able to hear and understand their needs. Also, optimism and happiness can be an emotional contagion, which is defined as “the tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person’s and, consequently, to converge emotionally” (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994, p. 5). This means that when people are around people who are happy, they have a higher likelihood of being happy as well. This holds true for negative emotions as well, so happy, optimistic leaders have a higher likelihood of creating enjoyable and optimistic workplaces than those that are unhappy. Don’t you enjoy working in a happier work environment than an unhappy one? Optimism can help you create a more innovative, inspiring, and enjoyable workplace.
Optimism is a powerful tool for leaders. It allows you to inspire growth, inspire innovative thinking, inspire others, and enjoy life more. If you are reading this and thinking that you can’t be more optimistic, take heart, you can become more optimistic. When you notice yourself struggling with pessimism:
- Become your own coach
- Listen to inspiring music or content
- Recognize progress you have made
- Suspend judgement
- Focus on solutions rather than problems
- Recognize your successes