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8 Reasons Why Optimists Are Better Leaders

8 Reasons Why Optimists Are Better Leaders

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily. “So it is.” “And freezing.” “Is it?” “Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.” ― A.A. Milne

All academic thought, science and philosophy on optimism confirms that a person who demonstrates the attitudes, beliefs and actions of an optimist will live longer, be happier and healthier than a person who does not.

If you want to be good leader then become an Optimistic Leader. This will guarantee you the success of leadership you aspire to.

So Why Is it That Optimists Make Better Leaders? Optimists demonstrate the behaviours and attitudes that support good leadership. Listed below are the 8 reasons why optimists are better leaders.

1. Optimists are Solution Focused

Optimists want to solve problems and improve the situation they are in. They will always focus on finding a solution rather than analysing the issues surrounding the problem.

The solution-based approach that an optimist leader uses promotes creativity and innovative thinking. An optimist is quite comfortable thinking outside of the square; in fact that is where they are their happiest.

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The key questions an optimistic leader will ask when seeking a solution are: What is needed? (Not; what is wrong?). What it going well? (Not: what is going badly?). What practical progress can be made to work toward implementing the solution? How can we measure that the solution is working?

2. Optimists Are Not Afraid Of Failure

Optimists do better than pessimists because their coping strategies are better. They are more resilient and able to quickly “bounce back” from failure and setbacks in life.

An optimist is a risk–taker and is comfortable making tough decisions. They accept the reality of failure and the possibility of making mistakes. An optimist will view failure or mistakes as an opportunity to learn and to make progress. They see failure and set backs in the workplace as a part of life. An optimistic leader is quick to respond and adapt to the situation at hand. They will want to get their teamsmoving forward and back on track as quickly as possible.

Optimists do not seek scapegoats or play the blame game. If mistakes are made they will want to know what went wrong and what could be done differently to avoid making the same mistakes.

3. Optimists Are Great Communicators

Optimists get their energy from people. They are good at creating and keeping long-term relationships. Optimists are comfortable communicating and sharing their desires for a better future or for better solutions.

Optimists understand the importance of engaging and motivating others. They have a commitment to succeed and will speak from the heart rather than using data, reports or research to back them up. To be a good leader you need to be a good communicator and effective at engaging others to share in your vision of the future.

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4. Optimists Are Future Orientated Thinkers

Psychologists have found that optimists are less likely to be controlled by the “Recency Effect”. This is a psychological term that states that the most recent experiences we go through are the ones that we remember. We assume that these experiences will continue in the future. For example if an organisation is experiencing the impact of a recession then taking risk or considering any growth initiatives would be dismissed. The focus would be on getting through the day-to-day activities to survive.

An optimist is a big picture thinker and has a positive view of the future. They would not be looking at what is happening right now or what happened in the past but will be looking at the possibility of the great things that could happen in the future.

5. Optimists Use The Language of Motivation

Sir Winston Churchill was one of the greatest optimistic leaders of all time. He was exceptionally skilled at using the language of motivation. He was able to turn the British people around, despite the fact they were losing the war, to believing in his vision for Britain’s future.

Winston Churchill was immune to the “Regency Effect” (see above). He was able to elicit the belief from the British people that they had a future and that they would win the war despite all odds against them. He gave them hope and made them feel brave. In his speeches he motivated and inspired the British public to believe that they were winners and that surrendering to the Germans was not an option.

Winston Churchill used a strategy in his speeches that was simple and very effective. The first thing he would do was assess the situation and acknowledge the reality of it. He then would present a strategy for overcoming the challenge. Thirdly he would create the vision of what the future would look like when they were successful.

Winston’s Churchill’s strategy was a strategy of an optimist. He believed that things would get better because he knew that he would make it better.

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6. Optimists’ Behaviours Are Infectious

In 2008 research was conducted by the University of California and Harvard called the “Emotional Contagion”. This research looked at happiness and how contagious it was. What the researchers discovered was that when people where surrounded by happy people they are more likely to become happy too. The research even calculated that happiness could spread and impact on people up to three degrees of separation.

Optimists are happy people. Optimistic leaders’ behaviours are infectious and they have a positive impact on the morale and state of happiness of the people they lead.

7. Optimists Value The Principle of Collaboration

Optimists do not like to work alone and will seek others’ thoughts and opinions before making decisions. They believe that the power to change or take action is greatest in a collective team.

Optimists will openly share information and knowledge with others to enable them to fully participate in the decision making process. An optimist leader seeks to have their teams engaged and working together toward a shared purpose and vision. An optimists style of leadership is not one of command and control but one where diversity and the expression of opposing thoughts and opinions are encouraged.

8. Optimists Have A Success Mindset

Optimistic people always focus on the positive aspects of a situation. Their view of life is different to that of a pessimist. The analogy that is used to describe the difference is, that optimists see a glass of water as “half full” whereas a pessimist will see the glass of water as a “half empty”.

An optimist has hope and a belief in a better future. They focus on opportunities instead of obstacles. They understand what motivates and inspires them to live a successful and fulfilled life. Negativity and fear do not belong in their world and in fact are inhibitors to their success in life.

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Research has shown that by having an optimistic view of life you are likely to have a more successful, happier and healthier life, than a person who has a pessimistic view of life. Leaders who are optimists have the ability to envision a better future and they are able to inspire and motivate people to work toward achieving that shared vision of success.

An optimistic leader does not allow their people to wallow in the dark and difficult times. They encourage them to acknowledge the reality of the situation, to plan ahead, take action and work toward a better and more successful future.

Anyone can become an optimistic leader, you just need to learn how. One of the best books I have ever read about how you can increase your level of optimism, is written by Martin Seligman . Martin Seligman provides fantastic tools and strategies for you to use to increase your level of optimism.

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

More by this author

Kathryn Sandford

Career Resilience Coach passionate about supporting others to grow and thrive in a complex world.

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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