Optimistic Leaders

This summer, TIME magazine published a cover article on the “Science of Optimism.” In it, the article states that people have a “bias for optimism.” On average, we expect things to turn out better than they are now; people hugely underestimate their chances of getting divorced, losing their job, or being diagnosed with cancer. We expect our children to be gifted, we envision ourselves achieving more than our peers and we usually over-estimate our life span.

According to scientists, this “optimism bias” resides in every race, region and socio-economic bracket. Most would guess this is true for children, but even in adults, studies show 60% see the glass “half full.”

I’ve always believed that adults tend to get pessimistic or jaded as we age. I expect this optimism to erode after years of news reports of war, terrorism, crimes, violent hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters. And it’s true. These tragedies do take their toll on our view of the world. But—not our view of ourselves.  Collectively we can grow pessimistic about the direction of our country or the ability of our leaders to improve education or reduce murders. But private optimism about our personal lives remains strong. A survey conducted in 2007 concluded that 70% thought families in general were less successful than in their parents’ day, but 76% were optimistic about the future of their own family.

The fact is, a growing body of scientific evidence points to the fact that optimism may be hard-wired into our brains. The science of optimism, once ridiculed as only a pep rally of emotions and rose colored glasses, is now taken seriously. According to the TIME magazine article, we are “hard wired for hope.”

Napoleon Bonaparte once remarked, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” I believe one chief reason people follow leaders is their desire for someone they respect to align with their dreams and desires. We want to be hopeful. I believe it’s part of our make up. But—most people need someone to confirm it and affirm it. Hope leaks.

May I suggest some simple steps to become a dealer of hope:

*  People forget. Take time in meetings to remind team members of their growth and progress.

*  Tell stories. Choose one story a week to share about a person who took a risk and it paid off or who chose to serve and it led to a blessing.

*  Celebrate victories. I often fail to do this because I hurry off to my next goal. On Monday’s our team celebrates the improvements made the prior week.

*  Find fresh ways to communicate the “big picture.”  Team members need to be reminded of how their seemingly small tasks play a larger role.

*  Keep dreaming together. Do creative planning. Hope and action both stem from envisioning a brighter future.

So, how are you instilling hope and optimism in those who follow you?


Optimistic Leaders