Optimism – The Key to Effective Leadership

“Optimism” – a simple word and yet oh, so powerful. Optimism can increase productivity, enhance employee morale, reduce conflict and have a positive impact on the bottom line.

Optimism is vital when leading organizations. Leaders who set themselves apart are optimists. They have a good understanding and high level of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and they are able to convince others about possibilities and opportunities, which transforms how people around them see the world – “how you frame it, gives it perspective”.

If you want positive results – you have to start with a positive outlook.

Along with optimism comes innovation and creativity. To be innovative, you need to be open to new ideas, possibilities, willing to take risks and able to encourage others to take risks. If you tend to have more of a pessimistic outlook, you tend to respond to new ideas and possibilities with “it will never work”, “we tried it before”.

Optimism affects the bottom line, for example –

  • A study showed that new sales personnel at Metropolitan Life who scored high on a test on optimism sold 37 percent more life insurance in their first two years than pessimists (Seligman, 1990).
  • Technical programmers demonstrating the top 10 percent of emotional intelligence competency were developing software three times faster than those with lower competency.
  • A Dallas-based corporation indicated that productivity was 20 times greater among workers with higher emotional intelligence scores as compared with those scoring low in emotional intelligence
  • A large hospital reduced turnover of critical-care nurses from 65 to 15 percent within 18 months of instituting an emotional intelligence screening assessment  (Poskey 2005)

Perhaps more significant are the countless studies that have shown that people with an optimistic outlook have healthier relationships, enjoy better mental and physical health and live longer.

So, are we born optimists or pessimists or can it be learned? Some of it comes naturally – according to leading psychologist Sonya Lyubormirsky, genetics accounts for about 50% of the variation in happiness across populations, 10% is affected by gender, ethnicity and the environment you are born into and the good news is the remaining 40% of how you view the world can be changed by differences in thought patterns and behaviors. By changing the way you see the world, you can become more productive, happy and healthier in life.

What helps increase your level of optimism is understanding perspective. Looking at problems and setbacks and putting things into perspective. Identify what you can change and proactivity find ways to do something about it. If you have no control over something, there is no point in worrying about it. Benjamin Franklin said, “While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.”

It is also important to look for the possibilities and opportunities that present themselves in every adverse situation. We will be remembered not for the problems we faced, but for the decisions we made. The ‘silver lining’ does exist, if you look for it.

Encourage others to succeed, to be creative and to dream. We are often afraid to talk about our dreams, for fear of what others might say. We need to dream, we need to be innovative and not be afraid of new ideas. With creativity and innovation comes spontaneity – embrace it. Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone and being spontaneous can help develop an increased level of optimism.

Of course it is important to sometimes think negative thoughts, especially when there is a risk of serious negative consequences. It is not helpful for a pilot whose engines are failing to think “no worries, we’ll be fine”. It’s also not helpful for the same pilot to think “aargh, we are all going to crash” without exploring possibilities first.

Winston Churchill said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

How do you see the world?

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