How to be Positive when things are Negative

Image source

“Leaders need to be excited about what is possible rather than managing what is,” Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup.

The context of Leadership:

During our second conversation, Doug explained that, “Leaders are called in when problems are big.” People look to you when things aren’t working.

Doug shared his recollection of a speech Rudy Giuliani made after 9/11. Giuliani said, “There are two choices, optimism or pessimism – we choose to make New York City the safest city in the world.”

Being positive about the negative:

“Leaders need a balance between idealism and pragmatism.” Doug continued, “Acknowledge the reality of what is while you aspire to the ideal. Leaders are hungry to make things better.”

I asked Doug how he acknowledged the reality of problems without coming across negatively.

“Don’t publicly talk problems until you can offer solutions.”

How much is enough:

Doug shared that Jim Collins helped him with confronting the brutal facts. He went on to say, “You have to confront the brutal feelings as well.

When things are dark, “You don’t have to go all the way to bright – just make it better today.” In addition, Doug shared, “Help people believe you can make it better tomorrow, too.”

Positive in the blood and guts:

Doug recalled an illustration he’d read in, “The Art of Thinking,” about nurses. “They roll up their sleeves to deal with the blood and guts while trying to get to a better place – healing.”

Final word:

You face challenges every day. People come to you when things are dark and problems complex. Confront the brutal facts. If you don’t people will think you’re out of touch; they won’t have confidence.

Focus on the best solution you have; you don’t have to go all the way – make things brighter today.

What have you learned about leadership and optimism?


Don’t miss a single issue of Leadership Freak, subscribe todayIt’s free.  It’s private.  It’s always practical and brief.

Go to the main page of Leadership Freak by clicking the banner at the top of this page, look in the right-hand navigation bar, enter your email and click subscribe.  Your email address is always kept private.  Note:  if it doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter for a confirmation email.


Other installments of my conversation with Campbell’s Soups last CEO, Doug Conant:

Doug Conant Explains the Power of “And” — When I hung up the phone, I thought how often I’ve been an “either/or” rather than a “both/and” leader.

Doug Conant on Office Politics — “Create environments where people believe they will be honored.”


Doug’s Book: