Does Strategic Optimism Help Leaders Lead?

Information from over ten years of research in the areas of Positive Psychology and Positive Organizational Psychology are being used in businesses and organizations to create Strategic Optimism.

Strategic Optimism means having a positive expectation for the future that contributes to flourishing and well-being. Human flourishing is described as the sum of positive emotions, positive actions and positive meaning.

Kim Cameron outlines four strategies in his book, "Positive Leadership: Strategies for Extraordinary Performance" (2008) that directly contribute to flourishing and Strategic Optimism:

  • Positive Climate
  • Positive Communication
  • Positive Relationships
  • Positive Meaning

Optimism is part of Emotional Intelligence that can be learned. It helps you be more effective in your career and have a more fulfilling personal life. Research shows the benefits of optimism to be linked to:

  • Perseverance
  • High morale 
  • Effective problem solving
  • Academic, athletic, military, occupational and political success
  • Positive mood
  • Good health and a long life

You may be wondering what role negativity or pessimism has. Research indicates that it can lead to:

  • Depression
  • Passivity
  • Failure
  • Social estrangement

However, there is a type of pessimism called Defensive Pessimism that is a strategy some people use when they are anxious. It can help manage their anxiety so they can be more productive. It does this by lowering their expectations to help them prepare for the worst. When doing this, they play through all the bad things that might happen. This helps them focus away from their emotions so that they can plan and act effectively. If they try to raise their expectations or avoid playing through a worst-case analysis, their anxiety increases, and their performance suffers.

In addition, there really are bad things that can happen in the world. Denying them or their importance is not helpful. When they occur, people need the courage it will take to get through the difficulty. That is a time for giving encouragement.

Strategic Optimism sets high expectations that actively let you avoid thinking much about negative things that might happen. This allows you to take action on your goals. If strategic optimists set lower expectations or play through possible outcomes too much, their anxiety increases, and their performance decreases.

Moods and emotions are contagious. They impact leadership, job performance, decision-making, creativity, turnover, teamwork and negotiations. The kind of optimism that is most beneficial for leaders is referred to as Strategic Optimism. It works best when anxiety is low or not present. Leaders need to be positive. The future can be changed by being Strategically Optimistic.

How can you begin to practice using strategic optimism? Think about the next several weeks. What is one thing that may be challenging? Write down 3 positive expectations or ways you will benefit from the challenge. Then begin to think of the steps you need to take to successfully work through the challenge. As you move forward, make sure you have the resources and support you need to be successful. Be patient with yourself as you develop this new skill.

Comment below on how this mindset works for you.

Until next time,


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