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5 ways to become the optimistic leader your team needs


Do you think of yourself as an optimistic person? What about an optimistic leader?

Although optimistic people do have a “glass half full” outlook on life, optimistic leaders have more than the ability to view life through rose-colored lenses.

Being an optimistic leader is not about rainbows and roses, blind optimism or going wherever the wind blows and believing that everything will work itself out. Instead, it’s an intelligent approach to reframing how you think about business.

Optimistic leaders aren’t necessarily the perkiest people in the room – they aren’t going to gloss over issues or sweep them under the rug in an effort to be Pollyanna-esque at all costs. But they exhibit a different way of thinking about work (and executing it) to make their teams the best they can be.       

Traits shared by optimistic leaders

Many of the traits inherent to an optimistic mindset are shared by great leaders – and may be part of what makes them great in the first place. Those traits include:

  • Open-minded and focused on opportunities: Optimistic leaders aren’t afraid to take risks. Their attitude is likely to be, “What can we do? We can all do more; together we become the best.”
  • Willingness to embrace new ideas: Optimism looks at how to be successful from all angles, which includes being open to new ideas and encouraging others to do so as well.
  • Ability to roll with the punches: Optimistic leaders reframe “no” by stepping around roadblocks to figure out alternatives to accomplishing the goal. Instead of abandoning hope, they look for ways to accomplish what others say they can’t.
  • Persistent and proactive: Optimistic leaders don’t give up easily, and they anticipate challenges before they happen. This broadens their horizons and helps them find solutions that step outside the expected box.
  • Team coach: Optimistic leaders serve as a team coach, finding ways to energize, motivate and show confidence in their teams to help employees grow and develop.    

Leadership doesn’t come from a title

Anyone can demonstrate optimism and leadership qualities. Leadership is about influencing others – regardless of the job title – and creating harmony in an environment where people work together successfully.

Optimistic leaders paint a vision of the future that can inspire others to do whatever it takes to get there. They don’t try to hog the glory – instead, they give credit where credit is due. They also treat others equally and in the way they want to be treated themselves.

We all face the challenge of trying to motivate others at some point, and the tried-and-true method of reward and punishment isn’t so effective anymore. You may not feel you’re an optimist by nature, but you can retrain yourself to become more optimistic and use that to improve your leadership skills.

That’s right – you can make optimism a habit with a little effort.  

How to become an optimistic leader

Take a hard look at yourself. It’s easy to point out when someone else isn’t doing well. But instead of blaming others or making excuses for leadership difficulties, learn how the best leaders use optimism to help them – and consequently you – become better leaders.

1. Practice better communication

You can’t motivate if you’re not a good communicator. And a large part of communication, both positive and negative, involves the language you use.

If you’re always the negative voice – “We can’t do that,” “We’ve tried that and it didn’t work,” “We’ve always done it this way” – adjust your mindset and your words to “How do we make this work?”

Ask why something failed. Suggest trying it again on a limited basis or with a smaller audience. Gather feedback instead of shooting ideas down. Give your team the space to think outside the box. The craziest idea may just be the best idea.

2. Realign your environment

As it turns out, your mom was right when she used to tell you, “Sometimes, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.”

So, take her advice. Try to view negatives in a different light. If you’ve received negative feedback, for example, that you need to make your team aware of, be conscious about how you relay the message.

“We’re getting hammered with negative reviews” comes across much differently than, “We’ve received three negative reviews that we need to address.” “Getting hammered” can be demoralizing to your team and make them feel they’ve failed. It can affect their energy, their enthusiasm and ultimately their productivity.

In contrast, “issues we need to address” is a doable task they can tackle. You’re trying to find solutions, not crush egos.

3. Find a coach

Learn optimism from optimistic leaders. Ask them for help. Put yourself in their shoes to learn how they approach problems and communicate with others. Learning to be optimistic is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and it won’t happen overnight. But a good coach can mentor you and help build your confidence and competence.

Ask your coach to sit in a couple of meetings with you and provide feedback on how you communicate, including your body language. Are you open and relaxed, welcome to the team’s ideas, or are you closed in, arms crossed over your chest and ready to shoot down ideas you don’t agree with?

Be open to constructive feedback from your coach. Learn from it and, most importantly, use it.

4. Practice patience

If you tend to have a negative outlook, becoming an optimistic leader is not going to be a quick fix. It takes practice and time, but the trait can be learned.

Do you tend to make snap judgments and dismiss opinions quickly? Stop shooting from the hip, which can negatively affect your team, and take some time before you issue an opinion or edict. Breathe, internalize what you hear, and take a little time before making decisions.

You can always say, “I need to give this more complete thought, so let’s adjourn and regroup soon to discuss it in more detail.” This gives you time to reframe the situation so you can head it toward a positive solution.

Your team will respect the approach, versus having their idea shot down as soon as they make a suggestion you don’t agree with or like.

5. Use your new skills in your personal life

If you’re not an optimist at work, you’re probably not an optimist in your “real life,” either.

Your family may have learned to cope with your negativism, but you can change that dynamic. It may actually be fun to see how your interactions and relationships change for the better when you intentionally approach them with an optimistic attitude.

Part of being optimistic is learning to manage or ignore things you can’t change. When setbacks occur or situations don’t go your way, learn to recognize when you’ve hit that wall. Sometimes you have to ask yourself, “Is this worth the time, energy and frustration I’m giving it?”  You have to pick your battles, and you won’t win all of them.

Summing it up

When you boil it all down, what’s the most compelling reason for trying to become a more optimistic leader? It’s simple, really: Optimistic people, particularly those in leadership positions, paint an obtainable idea of the future – and that’s a positive for any business.

To learn more about becoming the leader you’d like to be, download the Insperity guide to leadership and management.