People and organizations thrive on hope and optimism. Hope helps to orient people toward the future and inspire hearts and minds to action. Optimists choose to see the proverbial half glass full, and look for opportunities with a spirit of positivity.
Regarding optimism, Winston Churchill noted: “For myself, I am an optimist—it does not seem to be much use being anything else.” Similarly, Churchill declared: “An optimist sees an opportunity in every calamity; a pessimist sees a calamity in every opportunity.”
Biblical authors also point to the power of hope noting that because of the love of God “hope does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5).
Hope is powerful. It holds a vital place in the life of organizations and the work of leadership. But hope alone is not enough. Hope and optimism must be blended with realism for leaders and managers.
One of my guiding leadership principles is this: Manage with Realism—Lead with Optimism.
Manage with Realism
Pessimism is exhausting. Always seeing the glass half empty and only looking at problems drains life from people and organizations.
But realism is an alternative that need not be pessimistic. Organizations benefit from managerial attention to details. Engagement with detail is best carried out from a place of realism—engagement with real strengths, real weaknesses, real opportunities, and real threats (…a “SWOT” analysis with realism). Healthy leaders and managers do not avoid reality, they face it. Healthy leaders and managers need to manage with realism.
Lead with Optimism
The story does not end with facing reality and managing with realism. Leaders and managers also need to inspire hope and optimism in the hearts and minds of people. Leaders and managers need to manage with realism and lead with optimism.
Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is a light despite all of the darkness.” Managing with realism is not the end of the story. Leaders help their people see light in the darkness and hope in the midst of reality by leading with optimism.
As Helen Keller noted, “optimism is the faith that leads to achievement,” and “nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” To inspire our people toward achievement, leaders must inspire with hope and optimism.
Rather viewing realism and optimism as being at odds, organizational success depends upon leaders and managers attending to both. How are you doing on these fronts? How is your organization doing? Are you managing with realism and leading with optimism?