Seizing the moment and identifying opportunities despite the difficulties

Joanna Swash of Moneypenny says now is the time for (cautious) optimism, not pessimism.

Seizing the moment and identifying opportunities despite the difficulties

Joanna Swash of Moneypenny says now is the time for (cautious) optimism, not pessimism.

Let’s be honest. It would have been easy to allow pessimism to rule during these past couple of years. With a worldwide pandemic, as well as economic, social and mental wellbeing issues, many people and businesses have been constantly firefighting, re-planning and evolving. Yet, in these times of uncertainty and upheaval, it is up to the leaders to harness optimism and it’s those with a positive mindset who have tended to succeed the most.

Winston Churchill once said: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity, while an optimist sees an opportunity in every difficulty.” It is all about acknowledging challenges that come your way, but still approaching them as manageable, temporary kinks on the road to success. It is about seeing the glass half-full and then channelling a can-do attitude.

The importance of identifying benefits out of adversity

In a world where change is the only thing we can guarantee, the ability to look beyond immediate events – and focus on what can be achieved to overcome these concerns – is a sure thing for business survival and success. And it demonstrates just how critical it is to foster optimism in our leaders, and our businesses, as we look to the future.

Look at the stats from boundless research carried out by eminent psychologists, organisations and institutions across the world. They conclude that optimistic people benefit by enjoying better mental and physical health. They suffer less anxiety, adapt better and recover quicker. They also live longer. And it’s also vital to nurture this mindset in your most important asset – your people. In doing so, not only do you have a healthy, positive workforce, but you have a healthy, positive business.

Furthermore, optimistic people tend to be more productive and resilient. They accept that failure is part of the learning process and this will help them to achieve their goals.

Lead with optimism and avoid ‘bad optimism’

People are naturally drawn to leaders who are upbeat and have a positive attitude. A key role as a leader is to engage with your people. Connect with them through values and strategy, and lead them on the pathway to success. Ergo optimism enhances your leadership toolbox.

As always, communication is the key. It’s about telling positive, balanced stories. Be open about unwelcome news, and counter this with good news. In doing so, you are showing people that there is a clear way through this current situation. This motivates people to make plans and move forward.

But remember, there is such a thing as ‘bad optimism’. And sometimes there is a fine line to tread. I have written about belief in yourself, and the importance of making mistakes, and of trusting your gut. It is about being realistic and backing it up. An optimistic leader is one who is willing to take a calculated risk to reach the ideal outcome. They are less afraid of failure, and are also more resilient.

On the other hand, however, there is unrealistic optimism. This is someone who simply believes that things will turn out alright in the end, and this is not the kind of approach you want to foster. It just needs a little training to balance that eternal optimism with a realistic assessment of the situation.

How to cultivate optimism

Inevitably, there is the debate over whether optimism can be learned. Nurture versus nature. For some it comes naturally, but the good news is that optimism can be mastered. And it’s highly contagious. Optimistic leaders can empower their businesses and their people by walking the walk. Yet, they still engage with people directly and facilitate positivity, within a safe environment.

Fostering a positive and optimistic culture begins with connecting. A leader needs to connect with his or her people, and needs to create a culture in which the people connect with the business. Optimism needs to be integrated into the DNA of the organisation, while measuring it, rewarding it and celebrating success. 

Cultivating optimism is about embracing multiple, diverse perspectives, including both the pessimistic and optimistic. It is about looking at a situation from all angles and being open to alternative ideas. Then, it is about identifying what you can change going forwards, while focusing on what you do well. That is not to say you ignore what you can’t change. This must be acknowledged, but must not divert your attention.

Similarly, be careful who you listen to. To remain optimistic, and even the most positive leaders experience moments of uncertainty, they need to limit contact with the naysayers. Adapt your outlook and be careful about the language you use. How many times have you used the word ‘but’ already today? Play devil’s advocate, share crazy thoughts and cultivate spontaneity.

Final word

The world has a way of telling us who is boss. We have all stumbled along the journey but we are always learning. It is now time to search for the positive aspects. Optimism is a mindset. It is an outlook on life that will assist leaders, and their organisations, while it adapts to change. An optimistic culture not only contributes to the wellbeing of your people, but it also contributes to a positive business strategy of problem-solving. It nurtures resilience and enables progress in the future.

Joanna Swash
Joanna Swash

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