The Incredible Power of Optimism in Leadership

By Mark R Stephens: 

We've all had those days when the world seems to be against us and everything we do turns to dust. The last person we may want to meet is the eternal optimist who believes everything is rosy when all we need is a sympathetic ear to moan into.

But in truth, the optimist is really what we need. Because things are rarely as bad as they seem. And it has been proven that optimists get better results.

So what exactly is the value of optimism in leadership?

Nobody follows a pessimist

Optimism is an under-recognised quality of leadership. People gravitate towards optimistic people because they want solutions and forward movement rather than hesitation or backward steps.

The co-founder of Intel, Robert Noyce said that optimism is "an essential ingredient of innovation." Innovation is what brings the solutions to problems that people find attractive in leadership. It brings about positive change and adventure rather than inertia and inactivity.

Without optimism, leaders see problems, obstacles, and the impossible. With it they see solutions, ways around blockages, possibilities, and opportunities.

If you think about the great leaders in your own life, I bet they were always there to offer a positive solution to a problem you had in your life.

Optimists get things done

Because of an optimistic attitude, leaders get things done and go about life without fear. This tends to open many doors.

You'll find that optimists are entrepreneurs: they will be behind start-ups because they have actively sought our opportunities in the market. They will not be put off by a recession or a downturn but instead they see a way to evolve and move forward.

Optimists do not make excuses for inactivity. They find a way to get things done even when it seems to most that the conditions are not favourable. They are bright and imaginative in making things possible.

Optimists are risk takers and are not scared to make mistakes. It is no coincidence that most successful businessmen are optimists; they may have suffered many failures but always bounce back ready to have another go; they are resilient and tenacious in pursuing what they want.

Optimists say the right things

Another mark of a good leader is to be able to communicate effectively with his or her team, and to be able to motivate them. Nobody is motivated by downbeat words or poorly-communicated ideas. You'll find that optimists are able to rally the troops around by saying the right things at the right time. They inspire action amongst others and believe that their words make a difference; they use them to enthuse whoever is listening and to instill confidence and courage into them. They are persuasive.

A skeptic will always choose words that stifle and hamper action while the optimist will be focused on the reverse.

Optimists focus on the big picture

Optimists are often far more focused on the bigger picture than pessimists, who see the little obstacles in the way of the destination. Good leaders avoid knee-jerk reactions to situations and will make considered decisions.

You'll find that optimists will look to the long term and discourage acting on fear or panic, which are usually short-term reactions and "fight or flight" style responses to threats. Optimists are able to tap into their higher thinking more than pessimists.

The big picture focus makes optimists less prone to fear-based reactions; they don't automatically sense that a situation will lead to a disaster so the more primitive stress responses in their brains are not triggered as readily.

An optimistic attitude will therefore look at perceived "failure" as just one step in the process to getting a workable situation for the bigger picture, rather than the end of a project. They learn from their mistakes, don't take it personally and see it as a lost battle but know they can win the war.

A pessimist, on the other hand, is focused on the short term and will often take a lost battle as a personal affront, feel that the world is against them and that they should pack up and go home.

A pessimistic workplace full of skeptics will be less productive, less creative, and less successful, as it will focus on failure rather than achievement. Cultivating an optimistic attitude in the workplace is essential and it begins by leading the way with your own thoughts, actions, and words.

The team at NeuroPower is at the forefront of introducing new approaches to organisational development through the findings of neuroscience. We apply them to all types of businesses, developing high performing teams and enhancing leadership. Find out more at our website:

Date Posted: 
28 Jan 2015 - 5:00pm