Leadership and the enduring power of optimism

Bethan Hockey writes about how optimism can be an intrinsic tool for great leaders, helping them to envision the future and motivate those around them.

It’s November 2020 and all the challenges of this new decade would push even the most eternal optimists to tears – but what makes optimism so powerful is the belief that tomorrow can be better than today. To be optimistic is a proactive decision, made and maintained through life. More than a just way of looking at the world, optimism unlocks the ability to do. Entities that want to be leaders must lead with optimism.

Optimism is the human superpower

Optimism is the most powerful driver of the human spirit. It is at the heart of all human progress and the engine room that helps people move forward. Optimism unlocks resilience in times of hardship and gives people the courage and confidence to make an impact.

The belief that there is ‘something better’ has fuelled human progress from early man to colonial settlers. Optimism drives humans to expand across the world in search of something better. It has fuelled exploration and discovery providing the drive to climb the highest mountains, reach the end of the earth and even put a man on the moon. Optimism is the fuel of change. From Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ to Barack Obama’s ‘Yes we can’, and historic inventors to modern entrepreneurs, the belief in something better has inspired always action.

Optimism creates resilience and unites people in the belief that we’ll get through

Real optimism is not divorced from the realities of life; it supports persistence in the face of negativity. People intuitively understand the fundamental importance of optimism and action. The power and impact of optimism is amplified when shared with others. To be optimistic for others unleashes the power. In this sense, optimism is a tradeable gift that can be shared and received with others. There are two types:

  • Intrinsic optimism demonstrates understanding and is inspiring. Optimism is self-generated; it is a drive found within the individual and acts as the internal engine to motivate individuals. Intrinsic optimism is the fuel to keep going, to chase dreams and ultimately succeed. The stories of people using intrinsic optimism to overcome challenges and succeed is inspiring, but it makes people feel they must do it alone too.
  • Extrinsic optimism demonstrates leadership and action. Optimism that is found in the world and generated outside of the individual is a gift that is shared, given and received. Here optimism makes people feel connected to one another and is the antidote to feeling alone. Stories of extrinsic optimism are much more powerful because they restore faith in humanity, and make people feel like they are not alone.

The pandemic is challenging but is also fuelling optimism at the same time

COVID-19 is, of course, making us less optimistic in the short-term, but more optimistic about the potential over the long-term. It is making it easier for us to see extrinsic optimism – people doing good such as doctors, nurses, frontline workers and even our neighbours. This helps to restore faith in humanity and optimism for the future.

Our studies have found that COVID-19 is seen by many as a catalyst and a necessary reset to reconsider how we’ve been living our lives. And it has allowed people to talk about enemies of optimism that are deeply rooted in their lived realities. The pandemic hasn’t or will not change the enemies, it has just made them more tangible and made the need for change more urgent for the future.

As we look to 2021 and beyond, the search for true leadership has never been more crucial

The importance of optimism is a human truth, so talking about optimism in a unique way is challenging for any brand. To own a clear role in optimism we have to focus on extrinsic optimism and demonstrate clear leadership.

For example, can your entity celebrate the optimists that have an impact on the people around them? Can it give people the voice and the platform to share their everyday stories of extrinsic optimism that demonstrate the goodness in humanity, and the impact they’ve had on others?

Remember, optimism created the human species and powers human progress

Taking action or having a clear point of view to make people feel better about their tomorrow – that’s what is most powerful. To be optimistic for yourself is important, but to be optimistic for others unleashes the power and that is leadership.

Bethan Hockey is the associate director of consulting at Kantar.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash.