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TRG in the Board Room Blog

You might be critical, but be an optimistic leader

Posted by Huy Tran on

If there were a one-litre bottle in front of you and it were filled with about 500 ml of water, how would you view the bottle?

  1. Half-full
  2. Half-empty

This is a typical question asked to assess a person’s behavioural tendency. Choose A and you are likely to be optimistic. Choose B and you are probably on the pessimistic side.

The argument is ongoing over whether optimism or pessimism is better for a leader. The most reasonable answer is, “a balanced mix of both”: A critical viewpoint is helpful when leaders assess a plan or performance, while being Mr. (or Ms.) Brightside helps lift employees’ moods and spirit.

But if you were to choose only one, which would you choose? Our choice would definitely be optimism (though we don’t recommend overusing it). This matters because of “explanatory style”—the way you explain how things happen. Pessimists usually look at good events as temporary and unlikely to repeat. Anything that goes wrong confirms this mind-set, and gradually, it creates in them a learned helplessness.

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Not just that, once pessimists are afraid of something, the fear of it happening again is formed and relayed to the subconscious to create an ongoing search for something to connect to it. Ultimately, you only focus on what you fear!

Optimistic leaders, in contrast, believe in the possibility of a positive outcome in any situation. Even if things go wrong, they are able to keep pushing forward and taking action towards improvement. Optimism is also the core lever for communication and influence. A leader has his own vision and uses it to persuade employees to follow. With optimism, he is capable of painting a rich picture with benefits and achievements that cater to employees’ interests. Optimistic leaders also make their employees feel better after each interaction due to their energy. This way, they are able to maintain team morale and engagement at a good level, despite possible hardships.

But nobody is born either an optimist or a pessimist. How you perceive things is your choice. You don’t need to worry if you are more pessimistic because you can hone your natural, hidden optimism. We suggest the following tips to develop optimism.

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  • Stay focused on your goals

You might encounter trouble on your way, but you should always remind yourself of the destination. Don’t take your eyes off goals, both professional and personal, because they give you the feeling of clear direction, even when things go awry.

  • Weed out negative elements

Elements include people and sources of information. Mood is contagious and much of the time, negative elements only infect you with negative thoughts and viewpoints. Of course, you can’t cut them out of your life completely, but you can limit your exposure and replace them with positive elements.

  • Adopt positive “self-affirmation”

As said previously, your brain receives the instruction from you to subconsciously search for things that connect to your beliefs. To reduce pessimism, remind yourself what is important to you and who you want to be with positive affirmations. Form the habit of saying, “Cancel, cancel,” every time you are about to dwell on negative self-talk to stop the negative flow.

“Leaders are dealers in hope.” Napoleon Bonaparte said this many centuries ago, but it’s still applicable today. As a leader, you need to provide your employees with positivity, vision and hope of a better future.

**If you want to find more information why and how to be optimistic is so critical, please join our webinar “What are SECRET ingredients of a great leader?”

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Topics: Talent Management, Leadership

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