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The Power of Optimism in Leadership
Optimism is a mindset focused on solutions, communication, collaboration, and ultimately, success. And like any mindset, it shapes behavior.
An optimist sees opportunity in adversity.
Optimism is truly the faith that leads to achievement. I would define it as the practical expression of hope—the spark that ignites the engine that propels you toward your goals. As such, it is one of the indispensable character traits of intelligent leaders.
How does optimism fit in with leadership skills in general? How does it complement them, and how does it shape leadership behavior?
Optimism and Leadership Maturity
In my book Intelligent Leadership, I have associated leadership maturity with a powerful sense of optimism. I have also defined optimism as the ability to persistently pursue goals, despite setbacks.
Optimists are problem solvers, and their strong belief in a better future makes them more than willing to take action. When it comes to solving problems, they are creative and willing to innovate and move ahead.
A mature leader knows that within every setback there is an opportunity and a lesson. Therefore, a mature and optimistic leader will never allow scapegoating or for the focus to be on what could go wrong. Such leaders shift into practical progress mode quicker than others do in the wake of a disappointment.
Optimism and Risk-taking
A person who believes in favorable outcomes is more than willing to take a chance to bring about that outcome. Since failure is part and parcel of innovation and progress, people willing to embrace this path are less afraid to fail and are more resilient. They are also more mature.
Optimistic and mature leaders understand that they cannot meet challenges without falling short now and then, and they know how to deal with these setbacks. By accepting failure, they demystify it, thus stripping it of its power to intimidate and paralyze.
Optimists Focus on the Future
Optimists are not only mentally capable of looking past unfavorable current circumstances, they have a proclivity for exercising this ability.
Too often, we find ourselves bogged down by the harsh realities of current events that may not be in our favor. Under such circumstances, immature leaders typically retreat into damage-control mode and fail to spot the opportunities current hardships may harbor.
An optimist, on the other hand, is aware that the current situation will not persist. Change will come, and given the right leadership attitude, it will be for the better. Such leaders see the big picture, and they view trials and tribulations as a small part of something bigger and favorable.
Optimism is Contagious
The underlying neural mechanisms of optimism are intricate. Its power is difficult to measure. Scores of scientists have attempted to accomplish just that, however, over the years. What they have found is that optimism, like any other emotional state, is highly contagious.
According to Sigal G. Barsade’s 2002 study on emotional contagion, individual-level attitudes influence group processes to a statistically significant extent.
Optimism empowers and motivates. It is also contagious.
Given their positive outlook on life, optimists are happy people. Being around happy people will make a person feel happier too, and thus, more likely to adopt the attitudes that define optimism.
Optimistic Leaders Empower their People
A mature and optimistic leader can empower his or her employees simply by leading by example. Extolling the virtues of a positive mindset is not enough. Leaders need to engage with their people directly and get involved in the processes that facilitate positive thinking and optimism. To this end, leaders should aim to:
- Connect with their people
- Make positivity-oriented changes routine and integrate them into the organizational culture
- Measure results and celebrate successes
- Reward acts that promote positivity and optimism
In the context of intelligent leadership, you should always aspire to be an optimistic leader. Optimism may not be a guarantee of leadership success, but it can certainly enhance your leadership skills.