To some extent there is a global view that the world leading economies are beginning to show early shoots of recovery from the economic downturn. This is beginning to influence collective reality and optimism is being expressed more than the previous twelve months.
Optimism is a mental attitude that interprets situations and events as being best meaning that in some way for factors that may not be fully comprehended as to why the present moment is in an optimum state.
“The optimist says the glass is half full. The pessimist says the glass is half empty. The engineer says the glass is twice as large as it needs to be.”
Optimism is the ability to look at the brighter side of life and maintain a positive attitude, even in the face of adversity. Optimistic leaders can see the big picture and have a vision of where they are going.
Leaders with high levels of optimism are characterised by three attitudes:
- They look for the benefit in every situation, especially when they experience setbacks.
- They seek the valuable lesson in every problem or difficulty
- They focus on the task to be accomplished rather than on negative emotions such as disappointment or fear.
Optimists tend to see the glass as half-full when it’s half-empty. It’s an admirable quality, one that can positively affect mental and physical health. Optimism is often undimmed by experience with failure. Optimism and hope often go together.
“The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.”
James Branch Cabell, 1926
Entrepreneurs who start successful companies when responding to interviews; they often say that they really believed that they could succeed. Significant numbers new companies fail, so you have to have a really optimistic outlook in order to believe that you will beat the odds.
Life inflicts the same setbacks and changes on the optimist as well as on the pessimist, but the optimist weathers them better. The optimist bounces back from defeat, looks for the valuable outcomes from setbacks and changes. The pessimist gives up and falls into negative attitudes and sometimes even depression – characterised by absenteeism and ill health. More often because of resilience, the optimist achieves more at work, has better disposition and career prospects, has better health and may even live longer! Becoming an optimist is about learning a set of skills about how to talk to yourself when faced with setback and challenges.
Leaders at all levels of an organisation need to learn optimism. Consider the following questions:
- What are the implications for a team when a leader is high in optimism?
- What are the implications for a team when a leader is low in optimism?
Martin Seligman found that in adversity optimists bounce back and begin trying almost immediately; defeat is temporary and achievement is assured. Pessimists, on the other hand, are defined by their failures. They are a failure, and there is no point in a failure continuing to try. He discovered three main attitudes that distinguish optimists from pessimists.
Firstly, optimists view downturns in their lives as temporary blips in the graph. The bad times won’t last forever; the situation will turn around. Optimists don’t feel doomed to walk through an unfolding disaster movie of sadness, disappointment and underachievement. Basically they see troubles and difficulties as delayed success, rather than outright and conclusive defeat.
Secondly optimists tend to view the misfortune as situational and specific. Third optimists don’t immediately shoulder all the blame. This is in contrast to the pessimist’s three Ps: permanence, pervasiveness and personalising. Pessimists will tend to experience each and every setback as just the latest in a long line of past and future failures that they are fated to suffer.
Thirdly, optimists turn those three Ps around by disputing inappropriate self-blame and feelings of helplessness.
Martin E.P. Seligman, Learned Optimism