Eleanor Roosevelt, American diplomat, writer, and U.S. First Lady once said, “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.”
My book, Growing @ the Speed of Change, was built around the fundamental choices of leading, following, or wallowing. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see its core model contrasting these three choices.
The basic foundation of leading is optimism. Wallowing is rooted in pessimism. A rapidly multiplying body of research clearly shows the pay-offs of developing the habits and skills of optimism are massive.
Here’s a few studies showing just the tip of a very deep research iceberg:
• Teaching 10 year old children the skills of optimistic thinking cut depression during puberty in half.
• Optimistic insurance salespeople had 56% higher sales.
• Positive support rooted in optimism dramatically increased the chance that married couples won’t be divorced.
• The Mayo Clinic found that optimists had much higher levels of physical and mental functioning.
• Optimists lived up to 19% longer than pessimists (and enjoyed the extra time a lot more!)
• Optimistic men had up to half as many heart attacks as pessimists.
Having studied, applied, delivered workshops, and written about the power of optimism for decades, I was delighted to see Joe Folkman’s recent leadership research on optimism. In his Forbes column, “The Plague of the Pessimist Leader: 8 Tips to Make You More Optimistic Today“, he shows a sharp contrast in leadership effectiveness between leaders perceived as pessimists and those viewed as optimists. Leaders seen to be the most optimistic (top 10%) were rated over four times higher in their effectiveness as the most pessimistic (bottom 10%).
Many of my books have focused on building the optimistic skills of personal, team, and organization leadership. Joe’s eight tips to increase optimism align very well with the rapidly growing body of research on Positive Psychology:
• Make mistakes momentary.
• Seek to find solutions rather than place blame.
• Accentuate the positive.
• Value different perspectives.
• Emphasize long term goals.
• Push and pull.
• Be open to negative feedback and criticism.
• Give honest feedback in a constructive way.
It’s been said that we can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust our sails. The wallower curses the wind, the follower waits for it to change, and the leader adjusts the sails. Optimism won’t guarantee smooth sailing but leaders who have developed their optimism skills lead everyone through life’s storms much more successfully.