Sunday, March 13, 2016

Optimism, a “force multiplier” for leaders

During this primary season, I have been struck time and time again by the breadth of candidates who are critical or concerned about the state of our country and our union.  While the rhetoric has been broadly negative and at times rude/angry/mean spirited & bullying, I am struck by the lack of a vision of hope, opportunity and most notably “optimism” emanating from the candidates and their campaigns.  I am not going to focus this essay on today’s political landscape, but instead center the discussion on this idea of “optimism” as a priority for leaders in business.

 Across my professional career, now spanning more than thirty years and numerous senior executive leadership roles, I have seen the impact of “leadership optimism” (or the opposite, “leadership pessimism/cynicism”) up close and in person.  I have had the chance to work for numerous positive/”optimistic” leaders across my career, as well as working for a few of the opposite “ilk.”  There is no debate in my experience of the organizational impact of “optimistic” leadership qualities vs. a more pessimistic approach. 

Teams will rally behind a leader if she/he “believes” that an objective can be accomplished; and communicates that belief honestly and personally.  Organizations look to their leaders to understand and validate THEIR optimism and confidence in achieving a goal, or overcoming a significant hurdle.  If a leader is “optimistic”, positive and hopeful about the future results and achievements, the broader team is much more likely to be engaged and “optimistic” as well.  Unfortunately the opposite is equally true!  Leaders that exude a negative, critical, and pessimistic approach have little chance to inspire and energize a positive, engaged, “optimistic” organization.

In a previous essay, titled “ Optimism… a priority for leadership and life”  (, I comment on the importance of “optimism” and quote former Secretary of State Colin Powell,

In closing I want to quote former Secretary of State Colin Powell, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” This idea that optimism can and will enhance the impact and success of an organization rings deeply true to me. The idea of “perpetual optimism”, the concept that an optimistic outlook and approach is not episodic, but continual or uninterrupted, is powerful and challenging. The question isn’t whether we will face challenges/issues/problems/setbacks in our work or our lives; we will! The opportunity for all of us is to face these moments with an eye to an “optimistic” approach, always working to have our approach be guided by the facts of the moment AND the possibilities that lie ahead.

While I wrote that essay back in 2011, with our economy still mired deep in the “great recession” and the political landscape in gridlock going into the last presidential election, the need and opportunity for all of us to be more hopeful and “optimistic” today in 2016 again rings true!  This concept of using “optimism” to multiply your leadership impact is a powerful idea.  While former secretary of state Powell is linking this idea back to his distinguished military career, it is equally relevant in the context of business.  It requires us to be intentional in our approach and tone across all the leadership impact moments we might face.

This does NOT mean that we as leaders can be na├»ve or “Pollyannaish” about the competitive landscape or the business challenges ahead.  We must be candid in our assessment of the business, and then work hard to build clear and decisive plans for the future.  Once those plans are clear and important strategic decisions have been made, execute with energy and “optimism.”  Let everyone see and hear your positive energy and “optimism” for the plan!

As the primary season grinds to a close over the next few weeks and we turn towards the general election in November, I remain hopeful (and I am sincerely trying to be “optimistic”!) that the political dialogue will pivot to one focused on the opportunities for our country ahead, and our potential future leaders’ confidence and “optimism” for those better days to come!  In light of the past few days, with anger and violence regular elements of some candidate’s campaign rallies, this need for hope and “optimism” is required NOW!

Regardless of that potentiality, we all as leaders have the chance to make a more positive and “optimistic” impact in our organizations today.  Don’t wait for some one else to set the tone, or “lead the charge.”  Take action TODAY with your team, your department, your function or your company and lead with a greater sense of hope, potential and “optimism.”  I am confident that you will see the impact across your organization and in the business results to come!