If you worry about everything that can go wrong, you would never do anything. You’ve got to be able to focus on the things that really matter and not lose too much sleep on the rest. Julia Gillard, Deputy Prime Minister Australia
Last week, we kicked off this leadership series with a critical technique: Authenticity. Today, we look at another pivotal leadership strategy: Optimism. How you frame your story, and the energy you exude, enables you to walk more fully into your leadership potential.
Optimism has several perks – a positive attitude not only motivates you but also motivates those who follow you as well as provides you with an ability to bounce back after a set-back.
First, what can you do when faced with set-backs? Start simply. Accept that failure from time to time is going to happen. In fact, failure is often the catalyst to more fully develop your leadership skill sets like coping, rebounding, learning from mistakes, and pressing on. Optimism helps you separate the person, you, from the end result. This is where you can become more resilient.
I heard a former CEO say, “I’m suspicious of somebody who’s never failed, because you don’t know how they’re going to react when they do. Everyone is born to fail. Everyone is going to break down. What matters is not how often you have been on the canvas, but whether you get up, how you get up, and what you learn from it.”
An article I read, Mandating Women at the Leadership Table: Why the Time is Now, spoke to this optimism-fueled resilience: “Women leaders show a higher degree of resilience and assertiveness than their male counterparts. This coupled with their flexibility and interpersonal connection helps them shake off negativity and setbacks, learn what they need to from the experience, and use the setbacks to fuel their drive to succeed and overcome challenges.”
Next, is the important ability to cultivate a baseline of optimism in order to effectively lead and encourage others. You can have a transforming effect on your team by encouraging others that they have the ability to achieve levels of performance beyond those they thought possible. Leaders can paint an optimistic and attainable view of the future for their followers. With a well-communicated, optimistic vision, you can move people from “how things are done around here” to “how things could be done better.” Personally, strong leaders learn to rise above petty thoughts and self-defeating inner dialogue. Leaders that have control of these strategies and skills are more likely to remain cool and in control in a crisis, not let negative influences bring them down, and not find themselves spinning in self-defeating cycles that can cripple the best of leaders.
How Remarkable Women Lead, emphasizes how important it is to practice optimism. Psychologists believe that you can learn optimism, particularly if you learn where pessimism comes from so that you can stop the downward spiral. “Every woman leader we met was an optimist, and it really doesn’t matter who was born one and who developed the skill. With a little bit of practice, it will be your skill, too, and not just one to deploy at work.” While a happy disposition can be largely hereditary, you can gravitate toward the top of your own bandwidth of natural tendency. More importantly, if you can find things that you liked as a child, things that make you passionate, or recent activities that gave you tremendous fulfillment, then you can begin filling your life with things that are more inclined to provide you with an optimistic and energetic disposition.
To Take Away: Whether you are naturally an Eeyore or a Tigger, you can train yourself to positively frame your life messages. Optimism does not translate to delusional for those of you natural pessimists looking at this section quizzically. Nor does it mean idealism, as some skeptics suggest (though a measure of idealism may help you lead). It means you do not allow failures and setbacks to derail your trajectory. After allowing yourself to feel the sting of not reaching the achievement you set your sights on, move on. Find out what lessons you learned from the experience and explore the next opportunity. Optimism also means you get back to doing things that bring you joy. Find how to incorporate those things that brought you joy earlier in your life into your life today. True joy and fulfillment are attainable, and they are also contagious and will allow you to build a base from which you can lead.
Take time out this next week and listen to yourself interact with those around you. How do you speak about things? Do you see the negativity from a situation seeping into all aspects of your thinking and speaking? Can you begin by taking simple steps to reframe the negative voice you hear internally with factual and unemotional responses? Once you are working on what you hear internally, or what you are exposed to externally by counteracting it, your interactions with others will begin sounding more optimistic too.