Do you see the world around you as half empty or half full? Your view on the world, and the environment in which you live and work, matters in leadership. The best leaders throughout time have been those who can maintain a positive outlook, regardless of their circumstances. How can a leader create a vision and motivate others to follow them if they have a negative outlook on the future?

Effective leaders are optimistic and confident by nature, and they can convey their optimism to others in ways that are inspiring.

Leading with optimism, however, requires a grasp on reality. What does this mean? Optimistic leaders focus on what is within their control and on solving problems, not complaining or making excuses. Because the truth is, we never really know what the future may hold. Circumstances will always be out there that are beyond our control. Lead with a positive demeanor and effect change on what you can control.

Distinguished Harvard professor and winner of numerous teaching awards, Shawn Anchor, delivers lectures on positive psychology. Shawn says ’90% of your long-term happiness is predicted, not by your external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.’

People view the consequences of events or situations in unique ways.  An optimistic person sees the positive in every situation, and tries to capitalize on possibilities.  Leaders with an optimistic nature, versus a pessimistic one, tend to be more resilient when incidents in their world don’t go well. In their gut, they trust everything will work out for the best.  The optimistic leader has faith that negative incidents are transitional, not permanent conditions of one’s reality.

As the owner and CEO of a small business, you should know your employees want to be led by an optimist. It is innate in the human psyche. People want to follow a leader who keeps going, and keeps them going and motivated, through the natural ups and downs of the business cycle.  It is distressing and de-motivating to have your boss continually harping on what is wrong, what bad things are going to befall us all. The pessimistic leader instills in their workforce, a feeling of helplessness in challenging situations. No one is inspired to dig deep, work hard, stay committed when they feel powerless to effect change.

If you are someone who has a tendency toward a more pessimistic outlook, the good news is you can learn to be more optimistic. In doing so, you are also doing yourself a favor because being optimistic has a positive impact on your health. Books have been written on how to become more optimistic, such as Martin Seligman’s “Learned Optimism: How To Change Your Mind and Your Life.”

Finally, in the face of adversity, try to smile. Neuroscience shows it will make you feel better and it will definitely make your employees feel better.


(Source: Sharon Macaluso, Area Director, UGA SBDC in DeKalb)