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Are You Harnessing The Power Of Optimism?

June 03, 2024

I'm reminded of the adage often attributed to Winston Churchill: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." Optimism means acknowledging challenges that come your way but approaching them as manageable, temporary kinks on the road to success. It is about seeing the glass half full and channeling a can-do attitude.

The Benefits Of Optimism

In today’s ever-evolving world, the ability to look beyond immediate events and focus on what can be achieved to overcome them is a sure indicator of business survival and success. And it demonstrates just how critical it is to foster optimism in our leaders and our businesses.

Boundless research papers from eminent psychologists across the world conclude, pretty unanimously, that optimistic people benefit from better mental and physical health. They suffer less anxiety, they adapt better and recover more quickly and they live longer. Furthermore, optimistic people tend to be more productive and resilient. They accept failure as part of their learning journey to achieve their goals. Nurture this mindset in your most important asset — your people — and not only will you have a healthy, positive workforce, you'll have a healthy, positive business.

Optimism And Leadership

People are naturally drawn to leaders who are upbeat and have a positive attitude. One of a leader's key roles is to engage with your people, connect them with your values and strategy and bring them with you on the path to success. Ergo, optimism enhances your leadership toolbox.

As always, communication is key. Tell positive, balanced stories: Be open about bad news and counter it with good news. In doing so, you show that there is a way through the current situation, motivating people to make plans and drive forward.

I’ve written about believing in yourself and the importance of making mistakes, and yes, there is always an element of trusting your gut, but you must also be realistic. An optimistic leader is one who is willing to take a calculated risk to reach the right outcome.

Of course, there is such a thing as unhelpful optimism. And sometimes it's a fine line to tread. Unrealistic optimism, simply believing that things will turn out all right in the end, is not the kind you want to foster. Work on balancing optimism with a realistic assessment of the situation in order to create a way forward.

Cultivating Optimism

There is a debate over whether optimism can be learned — nurture versus nature. For some, it comes naturally, but the good news is that optimism can be mastered by anyone. And it is highly contagious.

Optimistic leaders empower their businesses and their people by walking the walk. Extolling the virtues in this article is a pointless exercise unless I engage with my people directly to facilitate positivity and a safe environment. Fostering a positive and optimistic culture begins with connecting, first as a leader with your people, then connecting your people with your business. It is about making optimism routine, integrating it into the very DNA of your organization, measuring it, rewarding it and celebrating success.

As a leader, cultivating optimism also means embracing multiple, diverse perspectives, including both the pessimistic and the optimistic. It means looking at a situation from all angles and being open to alternative ideas. Think about sharing those out-of-the-box thoughts and cultivating spontaneity. Then identify what you can change and proactively going forward, focusing on what you do well. That is not to say you ignore what you cannot change; acknowledge it but do not let it divert your attention.

Similarly, while we can learn from negative viewpoints, be careful whom you listen to. Even the most positive of us have moments of uncertainty — we are only human, after all. To stay optimistic and effective as a leader, limit your time with naysayers. Adapt your outlook and examine the language you use. Just out of interest, how many times have you used the word "but" already today?

When call volumes went down as lockdown began, it was optimism that saw my company through — optimism that we could rise to the challenge and see the opportunities in the difficulty. We used this time to listen to our clients and our people and the result was a raft of new product launches. Not all of them were commercially successful, but all went toward helping clients through difficult times and became part of our continuous learning culture. When your back is against the wall, having a number of good ideas to help you get out is useful.

Practice Makes Perfect

The world has its ways of telling us who's boss. We have all stumbled along the way, but we are always learning. Now it is time to reframe and look for the silver linings. Optimism is a mindset, an outlook on life that can assist leaders, and their organizations, in adapting to change. An optimistic culture contributes not only to the well-being of your people but to a positive business strategy of problem-solving and resilience, enabling progress and a focus on the future.

Joanna Swash, Contributor © 2024 Forbes Media LLC. All Rights Reserved This Forbes article was legally licensed through AdvisorStream.