Is the glass half empty or half full?
You’ve undoubtedly been asked this rhetorical question before. Apparently how you answer is supposed to quickly reveal whether you are an optimist or a pessimist – and perhaps a lot more about your inner worldview.
I’m not sure what the “right” answer to the the glass question is – although I always think it should somehow depend on what’s in the glass to begin with. But when it comes to being an optimist, I’m am sure of this: optimists are in high demand.
A vision is normally the first step for any change initiative. You’ve got to develop a clear picture of what the future could and should look like. But if you don’t believe you can bring the vision to life, why even bother to get started? That’s why leaders must be optimists. It’s not that they can’t see problems for what they are, but they use problems to fuel their vision of a better future.
You’ll Never Be Completely Sure
Can’t we just settle for being realists? After all, some of the criticisms of overly positive people is that they are naive, have their head in the clouds and are unrealistic. Author Mark Miller addresses this in The Heart of Leadership. He says expecting the best doesn’t mean ignoring the facts. We need to have as clear a grasp of reality as possible. The problem is that we’ll never be 100% sure of anything. There will always be uncertainty. That’s where optimism comes in. At the end of the day, each decision should be a calculated guess. But if you believe it will fail, you’ll never be able to enlist the support you need to pull it off.
Leaders must be optimists because of uncertainty, not despite it.
People Need It
In his book Winning, Jack Welch observes that upbeat managers with a positive outlook naturally tend to have teams made up of… upbeat employees with a positive outlook. It’s a fact that people respond positively to positive expectations.
But to take this a step further, probably the best tactic in human relations is to believe the best about people. Napoleon said that people are dealers in hope. A little hope doesn’t just go a long way. It could make all the difference in the world. Think about the teachers, coaches or bosses you’ve worked the hardest for. Chances are they saw what you could become and challenged you along the way.
Will you ever be wrong? Will people ever let you down? Of course they will. But that won’t stop you if you genuinely believe the best about them – for their sake, not yours.
No One Wants to Follow a Pessimist!
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shared in an interview at the Leadercast seminar in 2013 that leaders must be optimists simply because no one wants to follow a pessimist! This is really the bottom line. If you want to be a pessimist, that’s fine, but don’t expect people to line up behind you.
So where does that leave us: glass half empty or half full? I understand we all approach the question from a different stand point. Being positive can be a challenge sometimes, but when it comes down to it, optimism is a choice.
Will you make the choice to be an optimist today?
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.