Optimism: The Great Motivator

A New Year’s resolution suggestion: be optimistic and expect the best, then work as hard as you can to make it happen.

Every day your attitude and behavior are reflected throughout your organization. Your response to challenges and reaction to everyday issues creates an attitude and helps define the culture of your organization. This is the year to be an optimist and help spread that positive thinking throughout your organization.

Be aware that optimism is not always welcomed in an organization. In fact, some people will tag an optimist as a person out of touch with his surroundings, a person who chooses not to face the seriousness of her present situation. These descriptions of this word are definite shortcomings of character and judgment, but they also are not a trait of a true optimist, who is realistic as well as optimistic. I’m not talking about a person who leaves things to divine chance, fate and generally in the hands of others. I’m instead referring to someone who trusts in their decisions and those of the people they hire.

It starts inside you
Optimism simply means to expect that things will work out and then to do everything within your power to create conditions to achieve this expectation. Companies, as well as individuals, create their own internal expectations of optimism or pessimism. It starts with their basic belief about the world – good or bad. The suspicious and distrusting see everything through the eyes of suspicion and negativity. I call this the “yeah, but” mentality. These people will be found driving themselves, and those around them, crazy with second guesses, hostile criticism, killer statements and generally a tense state of being. My guess is that these folks are also basically miserable inside themselves, maybe even clinically depressed. They often speak with the “if only I’d” phrase, describing some missed opportunity. They rarely take people at their word. They are usually looking for the hidden meaning. This attitude of distrust and suspicion can dominate a person or an organization. Don’t confuse this state of confusion with good analytical decision-making if the person constantly challenges, rather than contributes, ideas.

Being a realist
One of the most common criticisms of a “dyed-in-the-wool” optimist is that of being out of touch with reality. Realism is a state of mind, or an edited view of the world in which you see only what you consider pertinent data or critical information. The misconception may come from those who fail to thoroughly weigh or acknowledge downsides. At the same time, there are people who concentrate on the problems and others who look for someone or something to blame. Optimists look for the solution, usually by sifting through pertinent data and polling others. In other words, optimists get on with it!

Handling your critics
When a true optimist is faced with difficulties and things aren’t going so well, he can be sure to confront naysayers all too willing to point out problems. They will challenge the ideas of success. Every point of confidence will be dampened by some sort of critical comment. Remember that the goal of the critics is to stop you from achieving. They desperately want to bring you down to their level of achievement. I have found the best response to these people is to understand what they are doing and to ignore their efforts to influence you. Engaging them in a discussion or trying to explain your actions only feeds the engine of the critic. You have now allowed yourself to be distracted from your goals. In other words, they win!

The power of optimism
In defining optimism, we can say that strong optimists:

  • Have a bias towards “Yes”
  • Trust people and are trustworthy
  • Make objective decisions
  • Trust their gut
  • Expect the best
  • Act decisively
  • Ask “what if” often

I have yet to meet a winner, champion or high achiever who didn’t first of all think themselves able to achieve at a high level. High achievers play a program in their mind that envisions success. At the same time, they acknowledge setbacks but do not stay hung up on them. Success becomes their expectation and their behavior follows. This same set of circumstances can take place for an entire organization with the right type of leadership.

Actions to take
CEOs/managers should be role models for optimistic and upbeat behavior. Employees tend to do as you do, rather than doing as you say. Here are some optimistic actions that will speak louder than words:

1) Focus continually on measurable goals with deadlines that help the company grow and prosper.
2) Display large and colorful charts around the office to highlight the progress on goals.
3) Find solutions for each problem that arises.
4) Deflect employee whines, moans, and complaints by acknowledging their concern and asking them to propose three solutions to the issue.
5) Start meetings with a roundtable discussion of what is going right in the company and accomplishments of individuals and departments.
6) Give employees positive acknowledgement for their contributions

Acting with optimistic tendencies is both a great complement to leadership and a positive point of leverage for leaders.

Vistage speaker Vince Langley is a corporate leader, national speaker, consultant and cowboy. Langley’s work with Nordstrom’s in the retail sector, Boeing Commercial Airplane Co. in manufacturing, CH2M Hill in professional services and hundreds of other companies has led to an extensive understanding of the difficulties of implementing the tools of continuous improvement.

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