A quote attributed to Colin Powell provides insight into his numerous accomplishments: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. While there are manifold attributes people would associate with a stellar soldier and public servant like General Powell, optimism might not make the list of character traits in many individuals’ minds. However, Powell’s positive outlook not only allowed him to attain four-star status but also achieve many other personal and professional successes, including being appointed the 65th U.S. Secretary of State. This “ force multiplier” offers today’s leaders an invaluable lesson about the advantage optimism can have on their life and legacy too.
Take a few minutes to consider some of the optimists you’ve encountered over the years. Those individuals tend to make life much better because they look for silver linings where none seem to exist. They point out positive attributes in others, and, quite often, help us do the same. Yet while optimists are pleasant additions to our personal and professional lives, could there be, as Colin Powell believed, something powerful in their positivity? And, if so, is there a possibility of improving our own level of optimism so we can also become “force multipliers”?
Let’s begin by addressing the first of these two questions. It turns out that one of the greatest advantages of optimism is its impact on personal well-being. According to the Mayo Clinic, “the positive thinking that usually comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits” (see https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/positive-thinking/art-20043950). In his 2019 Forbes article, Mark Travers reported on a Boston University School of Medicine study where researchers “discovered a strong association between the personality trait of optimism and ‘exceptional longevity’—that is, living to the age of 85 or older” (read more at https://www.forbes.com/sites/traversmark/2019/09/21/optimism-the-key-to-longevity/).
As if living healthier and longer weren’t advantageous enough, a study entitled “Optimism and Its Impact on Mental and Physical Well-Being” reveals that this vital characteristic is also “associated with greater flexibility, problem-solving capacity and a more efficient elaboration of negative information” (to find additional details about this study, go to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2894461/). Dealing with negativity more effectively while increasing flexibility and problem-solving abilities sound like three invaluable skills that would benefit 21st century leaders, especially while striving to adjust to the changes caused by a global pandemic.
Now to address that second question, that is, can our level of optimism be improved upon? At LEADon®, we have not only witnessed that possibility but also observed the positive impact developing one’s level of optimism can have, personally and professionally. As an essential EQ (Emotional Quotient) characteristic, optimism can be defined as “persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks.” Before working on developing such persistence, we recommend utilizing LEADon®’s proprietary online metric, the Developing Emotional Competency Questionnaire, (DECQ®) to identify your strengths and weaknesses in all twenty-five EQ characteristics, including optimism. After taking the DECQ®, you will receive your EQ scores and specific recommendations for online courses at www.LEADonUniversity.com that will target any areas that need improvement. Additionally, the DECQ® can be implemented at intervals so you can benchmark your growth and development over time.
Many of the strategic approaches LEADon® recommends for improving your level of optimism are found repeatedly in research literature, and one of the simplest steps you can employ is this: think more positively. This paradigm shift means taking time to see the silver lining or ray of sunshine in any circumstance, especially during seasons of difficulty. As an example, in a 2015 Entrepreneur article, Zach Cutler explains the benefit even the most challenging times can have: “when things go bad, our world gets shaken up, which requires us to grow, see new things, and start afresh” (read Cutler’s “The 5 Benefits of Being Optimistic” at https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/246204).
In a blog post entitled “Optimism Impacts Your Emotional Competence,” the LEADon® team recommends another tactic for improving your level of optimism: cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Each morning find something you can be thankful for and reflect upon this blessing throughout the day. Afterall, it’s hard to be impacted by negative thinking when you are focused on what’s going right in your world.
A third step toward increased positivity is this: create a ‘Culture of Appreciation’ in your personal or professional families. While we explain this concept in greater detail in Chapter 7 of The LEADing Edge: 9 Strategies for Improving Internal and Intentional Leadership (Wilke & Wilke, 2019), the essence of this approach involves sharing how much you value others. Your attempt at showing appreciation increases everyone’s positive outlook, which can’t help but improve your level of leadership too. As Cutler reminds us, “optimistic leaders can help motivate and engage (others)… a positive team will be driven to accomplish goals and work together to move things forward.”
So many people in leadership positions are looking for that unique advantage that will optimize their efforts. As leaders like Powell have discovered, an optimistic approach can become an incredible force multiplier. This means that developing your level of optimism can boost your health, increase flexibility, enhance problem-solving skills, and improve how negative information is processed. If you would like to explore these benefits that will have profound impact on your leadership and legacy, please contact the LEADon® team at 858.592.0700 or at www.LEADonUniversity.com.