Don’t Forget About The Silver Lining by JC Winkler on Flickr
[Part 1 of 2 – Next week: How to Infuse Optimism Into Your Culture and Your Life]
Optimism is a highly underestimated quality in workforce culture.
Optimism drives our global and national economy. It also drives our personal economy. Optimism increases the likelihood of success.
100 studies agree that optimism contributes to:
- Improved problem solving
- Enhanced motivation
- Higher performance and productivity
- Lower stress
- Better mental and physical health
- Increased resilience
- Better income
Lack of personal optimism leads to depression, illness, and addiction.
A lack of optimism, also known as pessimism, skepticism, or cynicism, is justified considering the widespread disparity between the world we want and the one we live in, which extends beyond our professional outlook and pervades all facets of our lives – health, financial, political, environmental, etc. However, it just doesn’t serve us to be more skeptical than optimistic, although there is critical place for realism, which you might think is the opposite of optimism, but it’s not.
The opposite of realism is idealism, and there is a distinction between idealism and optimism, but there is an application for both of them.
You can reverse engineer a better solution by assuming an ideal outcome is possible. Consider if Roger Bannister assumed he could not break the 4-minute mile just like all runners before him. Then consider how many after him aimed to run even faster, with well over a dozen succeeding.
Contingency planning, disaster recovery, cybersecurity professionals and other people in your workforce who assess and analyze risks, as well as those veterans in your workforce who have experienced prior failures can prevent future failures and losses. Every organization needs these people. However, our human nervous system was not intended to stay on high alert for prolonged periods of time. What an organization can do to protect the wellbeing of these professionals it to train these employees on healthful stress management and to make sure give them ample time off. There also need to be protocols in place to make sure that, even in a culture of optimism, their expertise is tapped and considered during strategic planning and tactical execution. I will get more specific next week.
In an organization, a lack of optimism fosters an environment of distrust, which will inevitably leads to:
- Interpersonal conflicts
- Unmet obligations
- Unproductive suspicions and drama
- Lower morale
- More instances of mild to serious illness
- Increased turnover
Careful of optimism bias. If you are oriented toward optimism, you will naturally create a bias that this orientation is better than any others. If you choose only to hire those who are optimistic, however, you have a talent chasm, not just a talent gap.
You’ll find it much easier to hire if your talent strategy is more based on candidate coachability, values, and skills (in that order) and then imbue your culture with training and practices that promote increasing optimism among your workforce. [We will talk more about this in the next post.]
All the places where optimism is critical for proper engagement and retention of your talent:
- Optimism that there is a future career path in the company
- Optimism that your company’s services/products deliver what is promised to clients/customers.
- Optimism that vendors will deliver
- Optimism that performance will be recognized and rewarded
- Optimism that the organization’s leaders are ethical, moral and making good decisions
I’m not an optimism elitist, and I’m not always optimistic. However, based on the science, which I didn’t cite in my usual style because 100 studies were too much to cite, but I can point you to Dr. Mark Waldman’s NeuroWisdom: The New Brain Science of Money, Happiness, and Success for a comprehensive compilation of such citations, I make optimism a practice and aim to be more and more optimistic and less and less pessimistic. I have been accused of being idealistic before, and it was assumed when I was a younger professional that I would grow out of it, as if becoming more experienced and wise means being more pessimistic. Again, based on science, this just doesn’t serve me.
It is because of Dr. Waldman’s book and the science he has promoted that I know that there are multiple mini-practices that you can promote in your organization and in your life that will strengthen neural pathways for optimism. I will share a few of them next week. Until then, keep hoping!
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