Leading (and Following) with Optimism
|August 1, 2011||Posted by M. P. under Management|
Do you practice optimism?
Admittedly, I am not an exceedingly optimistic person and (based on a few family anecdotes about my smaller self) that may be by nature rather than choice. However, I recall a period of my adult life when I was disconcertingly pessimistic in nearly every way. While that perspective may have made me feel secure in my abject readiness for the next shoe to drop or piece of the sky to fall, it certainly did not make the people around me feel confident or comfortable.
Luckily, time, experience and many discussions with people who have more of both those things than I, encouraged me to begin cultivating a kind of purposeful optimism. I accepted the reality that bad things would happen, that mistakes would be made and injustices would occur regardless of our attempts to do everything right. Over the next few years plenty of shoes hit the ground impacting people and places I cared about, but in most cases, with time, everyone survived or even better – thrived.
Dan Rockwell at the Leadership Freak Blog posts about a conversation with a colleague who was challenged by his professor (management consultant extraordinaire) Peter Drucker, for a seeming lack of optimism toward client organizations. A couple of decades later that very colleague, Dr. Justin Menkes, wrote a book about realistic optimism, or the kind of grounded, reflective, authentic optimism a leader should practice.
That post had me thinking all weekend about optimism and authenticity, both in our leaders and as leaders ourselves. In leadership, even in dire circumstances, there has to be some recognition of what is going right. This means being able to find a sliver of what your staff and volunteers are doing best even in the proverbial worst-case scenario. A wake-up-call meeting around the newest red numbers in the face of the latest funding cuts does not need to leave those around the table demeaned or disengaged. Focusing only on the negative, or next ten negatives lurking around the corner, makes staff (or client agencies) tense, fearful, defensive and even angry – none of which are going to help motivate them for the hard work that will be required to face the bad news head on and come out better for it.
What do you think about realistic optimism? What kind of optimism do you (or others) actively model in your organization?