3 February 2006

Perpetual Optimism is a force multiplier

In my experience, organizations have a tendency to dwell on the negatives. How many coffee bar discussions have you run into or have been part of – where the basic theme was “why we are not doing things right” or “why this manager / executive is totally screwed up”? Surely many more than the ones which talk about the company wins or what the organizations are doing right.

As I think back on this, there are three things I believe I have learnt…

1. Negative news travels much faster than positive news: Have you seen how sales “loss” stories are known by more people faster than the “win” stories? How some negative press about your company is on more desktops of your employees than positive press? You would think there is almost a salacious side to all of us that focuses on the “gossipy” side of events for this to happen. Organizations behave as if negative news is more “urgent” than positive news.

2. “My self-worth is tied to how I can prove others are screwed up”: I believe when people – in a work as well as a social environment – engage in pointing out how and why things are screwed up, there is an inherent human psychology working that is trying to portray that “I know better”. I also believe that there is a side of us that is convinced that others will think that we “know more” if we can show the imperfections than if we talk about the perfections.

3. Positive people have a remarkable effect: Although rare, I have indeed come across people who can always see the brighter side of things. Who can focus on the things that are going right. And I am not talking about “spin” marketing. Though such leaders are few and far between, people tend to agree that such people are “better” leaders than your run of the mill ones.

This is probably a great pointer to many of us who aspire to become great leaders some day and leave a mark in this world. I loved it the way Colin Powell put it – “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”. My personal experience has been that it takes time to get organizations to share your level of optimism. But you can do that by being sincere, acknowledging that there is work to be done but repeatedly focusing on the wins. Once you do that, organizations grow a natural tendency to follow you as a leader.

In a previous environment that I worked, where we were clearly losing path as a company, it was remarkable to note how the “optimistic” leadership statements, while bought by rank and file initially, was quickly seen to be spin and insincere since that is exactly what they were. Ever since, I am convinced, that as a leader, you first establish your sincerity – then focus on the positives. That is an amazing combination that can energize organizations. The “can do” attitude is very infectious. Once the leader exudes it, the whole organization exudes it.

I would like to end by quoting from Colin Powell again which best articulates my theory on this topic…

The ripple effect of a leader’s enthusiasm and optimism is awesome. So is the impact of cynicism and pessimism. Leaders who whine and blame engender those same behaviors among their colleagues. I am not talking about stoically accepting organizational stupidity and performance incompetence with a “what, me worry?” smile. I am talking about a gung-ho attitude that says “we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best.” Spare me the grim litany of the “realist,” give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.

Please let me know if you have any thoughts on this. Or what your experience has been.


Posted February 3, 2006 by Rajib Roy in category "Reflections

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