Leadership and Optimism

Leadership and Optimism

If you think about it, the mere mention of the concept of leadership insinuates optimism. Can you even imagine following a leader who was not optimistic? For you Winnie-the-Pooh fans, can you imagine following Eeyore? If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Eeyore is a character in Winnie-the-Pooh, an old gray stuffed donkey with a gloomy outlook who at best has a pessimistic outlook and would probably be diagnosed to have clinical depression. His most common quote is “Thanks for notic’in me.” Eeyore is perhaps a loveable, but not an effective leader. Effective leadership and optimism go hand in hand.

Have you ever noticed that many of the psychological studies you hear or read about involve attaching electrodes to either rats or undergraduate students to zap them with electrical shocks? Well, here’s another one!

Back in the 1960’s, psychologist Martin Seligman conducted a series of experiments where, that’s right, you guessed it, rats were subjected to painful and inescapable electric shocks. In the beginning, the rats tried to escape to avoid the shocks. Once they figured out there was no escaping, they gave up. They just took the shocks without resisting. Once they were conditioned to this, the researchers removed the rats from that setting and placed them in a different setting where they could escape the electric shocks. But guess what, they didn’t even try to escape! They had learned helplessness!

A similar study with a new group of rats provided a warning prior to applying the electrical shock. The rats quickly learned that the warning indicated pain was coming, and that by moving to a different area, they could escape the shock and avoid the pain. This group of rats fared much better.

Seligman and others went on to develop cognitive therapy. Just like rats, people can learn helplessness. The good news is that people can also learn hopefulness. Patients diagnosed with clinical depression can learn about their situations and identify a variety of techniques to react and respond more effectively providing hope. Hope for the future requires action and reflection.

From his research, Seligman also developed a framework of predictors of success. Companies who adopted Seligman’s predictors of success to filter job applicants discovered that optimism has a positive impact on revenue and profitability. One company experienced immediate results in improved earnings after implementing Seligman’s hiring procedures.

People who feel helpless usually give up. Optimists persevere. Optimists live in the present. Optimists take action, action in alignment with personal and organizational goals. Optimism is an attitude of success that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of success. Optimism is good for people, good for the organization and good for the bottom line.

Optimism in leadership is paramount to effective leadership. Effective leaders lead by example by being optimistic and creating and supporting an environment of optimism within the organization and amongst followers. Effective leaders inspire optimism, providing hope, which is always important, but even more important in uncertain times. In fact, leadership could be defined as the process of providing hope when there is uncertainty.

Is your leadership glass half empty or half full?

Have you ever experienced an Eeyore leader? Tell us your Eeyore leadership story in the comment section below.

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