Peter Drucker: Stop Focusing on What’s Wrong
You can learn a lot about a person in a short time. That’s how I feel about my conversation with Dr. Justin Menkes, bestselling author and executive assessment expert. Our call was briefly interrupted when his car arrived – he was flying home early from Spencer Stewart offices in NYC to surprise his wife.
When I asked why he doesn’t go by Dr. Menkes, he said his family teases him about not being a “real” doctor – there are Medical Doctors in his immediate family. His comment made me imagine family banter bouncing around the dinner table.
Justin studied under the late Peter Drucker and earned his Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Claremont Graduate School.
Drucker told Dr. Menkes he focused on what’s wrong in organizations too much and not enough on what they are doing well.
Justin pushed back by saying if he went in telling them how great they were they wouldn’t need his consulting services.
Nearly 20 years later, Justin writes in Better Under Pressure that high performing CEO’s possess realistic optimism. He said it took him several years to fully appreciate what Drucker was trying to teach him.
Realistic optimism is confidence without self-delusion; the ability to pursue audacious goals while remaining cognizant of challenges.
6 Capacities of Realistic Optimists: (From Better Under Pressure)
- See the world as it is –don’t hide your head in the sand.
- Let the world see you for who you are. Don’t feel shame around personal failure and imperfection.
- Be sensitive to and aware of others.
- Reject overconfidence.
- Enjoy self-reflection.
- Embrace agency – confidence your experiences and outcomes are within your control.
Can you become a realistic optimist? The thing that makes the biggest difference is believing you can make a difference.
How do you cultivate realistic optimism both personally and organizationally?
Realistic optimism is stretched ability of a leader. I agree that setting target beyond reach is no target or unrealistic target, and that is what most of the leaders do in the organisations. I believe that leaders can cultivate realistic optimism by being real. They should understand the limitations of people and systems. They should focus on people development rather than self development. Realistic optimism is possible when organisations and leaders use their capability to the fullest. Unfortunately, today, leaders are so promotion centric that in order to impress others, they set target that is highly impossible to achieve. They also brag about their actions, and the fact is that unrealistic target put unrealistic pressure on people and eventually missed target lead de motivation. It turns into employees’ turnover and increasing organisational cost. But the fact is that, leaders get promotion. It is prevalent where organisations have practices of show off, creating issue, harassing employees. Leaders in such organisations try to look committed but they are not.
“Realistic optimism is confidence without self-delusion; the ability to pursue audacious goals while remaining cognizant of challenges.” –
I like this balance, I think it recognizes the environment of today (which is not as opportunity rich as fifteen years ago) yet encourages the individual to be upbeat and a seeker.. It also includes an “others-centeredness” that I find refreshing (the general trend is counter to this.. fewer opportunities, more selfishness justified by “survival.”)
Realistic optimism can also be termed as the degree of confidence of meeting the pre-set goals. True leaders pick up the opportunities to express their preparedness to achieve the high goals and march ahead with positivity. They are day dreamers and
build their success castles by creating teams of achievers.
Realistic optimism leads to practical solutions and calls for quick decisions to tap good opportunities with calculated risk. It’s a real good quality that every leader should possess to motivate the followers or employees at all levels to perform and contribute per management expectations.
Pragmatic optimist probably fits as well as it incorporates experience and theory.
Personally, seems to need to be a core value or else why are we on this little marble. The Eeyore alternative is also there, but not much fun to be around.
Organizationally more of a challenge due to Eeyores of the workplace. If they are not deeply invested in that perspective, you can often joke/tease (with respect) them out of that cracked half empty glass. The sadly entrenched are a different story and different approach…can vary from ignoring (sans audience) to very direct heart to heart talks. “I am sorry you are not happy here, if you were happy here, what would it look like? (magic wand) And of course pointing out impact on others.
All in all, tude is a choice.
Agree with the post, its okay not to have all the answers. The Rah Rah approach rarely translate well in a multinational and cultural company.
We also need to be cognizant that when we focus squarely at fixing what is wrong, we end up changing the dynamics of the organization and things that worked get upset and overall momentum is lost.
Dan, I enjoyed the read as always.
I consider myself a realistic optimist so here is my 2 cents on what it means in terms of leadership.
Realistic optimism rejects the extreme of “pie in the sky” optimism or pessimism, factors in as much data as is available to perform a SWOT analysis with the goal of informing the most likely outcome.
Become a realistic optimist by analyzing a decision’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities (optimism) and threats (pessimism) for a more holistic and pragmatic outlook.
Nice stuff, as usual.
I think one is never consistently one thing, but a pendulum swinging about. We can swing from pessimism to optimism and back, and in my book, having it hang a little on the optimistic side sure can help.
Ideas often come from those dissatisfied with the way things are and reflection is useful to identify both issues as well as opportunities.
Drucker sure had a lot of good things to say. Wish more people thought that way. And I am liking what Dan Pink is saying a great deal, but I do think he gave short shrift to Alfie Kohn and his work around the punishment of rewards.
Me, I would rather simply have a good feedback system in place.
Dan — what are your thoughts on the current feedback systems in place in business that support high performance? I know Drucker as well as people like Tom Gilbert sure supported that more than rewards…
Or, am i just being too optimistic .
Hi Dan. A thought-provoking topic as always, and some good follo-up comments from a number of others already as well.
One thought I had while reading all this, was the need to balance both a shorter-term and a longer-term perspective, and maintain a ‘realistic optimism’ about what is achievable within each of these frames, and within the limitations of the current structures and operating environments in place.
The economy we have built is, at times, all-to-easily enchanted by short-term wins without adequate consideration of their longer term implications for the sustainability of organizations. In this context, an important challenge for leaders is to appropriately manage relationships with investors and others that often have differing (and sometimes conflicting) views of what is most important in the short-term vs in the long-term. This is particularly difficult when leaders by definition must have an eye on the future beyond the present.
Measuring the true effectiveness of leaders is often impossible until well after the fact, but unfortuately leaders’ pay-packets and benefits are too closely linked to immediate financial performance goals (or perceived performance).
Ultimately, the legacy effective leaders leave is strong, sustainable, and historically resilient organizations. But, the road to effective leadership is paved with situations where a steadfast conviction to stay the course is often required in the face of situations where the tangible personal rewards (read salaries & benefits) are seemingly miniscule in comparison to the individual risks involved in leadership.
As Colin Powell said, “Perpetual Optimism is a Force Multiplier” Nice post Dan.
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I like the way that last tip is stated- embrace agency- confidence experiences and outcomes are within your control. Thanks!
“Reality” and “optimism” can work together hand-in-hand. The key is to take 100 percent responsibility for how we choose to respond to life.
If we take 100 percent ownership of our responses to life…no matter what events or challenges we face…we have the ability to shape and mold the outcomes. This truth is what allows us to face reality with optimism.