“Mojo” is that positive spirit toward what you are doing, and it’s a crucial mindset for leadership. “It starts on the inside,” shares Marshall Goldsmith, “and radiates to the outside.” While you might have some pre-disposition toward being a glass-half-empty person versus a glass-half-full person, we can all get a little better at leaning into optimism until it become more second-nature. “The highest performing leaders are more positive, grateful, and encouraging than lower performers,” concluded Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner after surveying thousands of leaders.
What is optimism? It’s the tendency to take the most hopeful and cheerful view of things and to expect the best outcome. I get a kick out of people who respond to my inquiry about how they are doing with, “I can’t complain.” I respond with, “Well, you could complain, but that wouldn’t do anyone any good, huh?” Sitting around and allowing yourself to get jaded by what’s going on is not going to do anything but make you dysfunctional.
However, the good that does come out of optimism? Risk-taking, creativity, hopefulness, cheerfulness, good spirits, confidence. Not to mention resistance to burnout, better physical health, quicker recovery from illness, and a longer life. I know I want more of all those benefits!
When leaders are upbeat and positive, their people bask in that sunlight. The team doesn’t run for cover when negative circumstances occur because they know from experience that you are going to respond with a search for the silver lining in that bad news. Adopt a “how-is-this-stressful-event-a-good-thing-in-disguise” attitude. There is just something contagious about a leader’s mood, and if it’s a mood that communicates, “We can do this!” or “We’ve got this!” then it can become an internal motivator for the team, especially when things could really look grim due to a challenging situation. Followers put a lot of stock in a leader’s example. Colin Powell agrees, when he shares one of his leadership maxims: “Optimism is a force multiplier.”
I am not talking about maintaining a Pollyanna attitude or living in denial that there are struggles, because we all know that a leader must be realistic in order to be trusted as relevant and in-the-know. It’s more about believing that a positive outcome can be brought about by how the whole team responds to whatever comes at them. Sure, you will have darker days than others, when you don’t feel well or more stress is coming at you than normal, but Powell says to tell yourself when getting overwhelmed, “It ain’t as bad as I think. It will look better tomorrow morning.” You will make things better with whatever strength and resources you have. Put things in perspective, or get with your coach, mentor or best friend to help you do just that.
Optimism does have to have a source. How you believe is how you behave. It will be a natural output of believing in yourself (and crushing those internal gremlins that are playing negative soundtracks in your head), believing in your purpose (keeping that personal mission statement in front of you daily and declaring it as an intention), believing you will prevail (you need hope in order to cope), and demonstrating passion and confidence (which then cues up passion and confidence in your team). Leaders must protect their thought patterns, because they are the root of all personal wins or losses. You wouldn’t keep garbage in your living spaces, so why would you keep negative thoughts in your mind?
Feeding your gratitude quotient is one of the best ways to be more positive. A thought of negativity cannot exist at the same moment in your brain as a thought of gratitude. A lot of journals are now providing space for you to start your day with things you are grateful for and space for you to end your day with things you are grateful for. That’s a positive sandwich that will help you respond to negative stimuli in more productive ways that don’t lay you out in discouragement.
Another way to become more optimistic is to hang out with positive people. You can decide who to spend your non-work time with, and I would recommend you choose people who are life-giving and affirming of your values. They pick you up when you are down and help you turn the corner to a brighter disposition. Got that friend that always makes you laugh? On the other hand, when you end up with an Eeyore companion at an event, try to spin the conversation to something positive in your life or that you’ve heard, or change the situation you are in. Usually a different action nets different results and a different mindset. Remember this when your leadership team meetings start becoming gripe sessions.
A third optimism-builder is to fill your life each week with what makes you happy. Viv Thackray suggests, “Focusing attention on what makes us happy builds positive emotions and provides a panoramic perspective that enables us to regularly take in the good.” Literally find one thing that fills your energy tank and makes you smile, and get it on your calendar. Then savor it! When one area of your life is going well, it tends to cast a positive shadow over the other areas that are struggling.
When you are in better control of your attitude, you then have the capability to help others do the same thing when they dump on you their problems. Happier leaders make for happier employees. You first empathize with them by trying to see “behind their eyes” and understand their feelings. Then you try to leave them in a better place than when they entered your presence. When you drive to work, put yourself in the mindset as a leader of “How can I bring joy to at least one of my team today?”
Consider also how to make the office a more fun place to work. Whether it’s giving swag to team members, planning delightful surprises they aren’t expecting, or giving a daily dose of affirmation, you can set a positive tone that brings smiles to your team’s faces when they come to work. And that translates to better customer service, better vendor interactions, and better community reputation.
“Your success and your happiness lie in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.” –Helen Keller Effective leaders feed their own and their team’s optimism to reap the benefits of a positive culture.
I interview a bunch of positive people on my local podcast: The Tri-Cities Influencer. Meet some great entrepreneurs, CEO’s and non-profit executives. Go over to the TCI Facebook page to LIKE it and get started listening at https://www.facebook.com/TCInfluencer/