7 Ways to Avoid the Pitfalls of Optimism
There’s a dark side to Oz. The wizard is a fraud. Optimism doesn’t cure every ailment. It causes some.
An optimistic novice is like an idiot with a box of fireworks standing by a campfire.
7 ways to avoid the pitfalls of optimism:
#1. Focus more on near-term goals.
Ask people to explain what it takes to succeed today. Optimists irritate people who actually know what hard work is.
#2. Accept reality.
When someone shows up with their hair on fire, don’t tell them it’s not a big deal. It might not be a big deal to you, but it’s a big deal for the person who feels the heat.
#3. Stop cheerleading.
Cheering from the sidelines – when people are in the mud every day – makes you a drunken cymbal player in a symphony of one.
#4. Get dirty.
You don’t have something better to do when the wheels fall off the wagon. Don’t do people’s jobs for them. How can you make hard work easier?
#5. Have more time for details.
An optimist who ignores details is a three-legged donkey in a four-legged race. Ask, “What am I missing?”
You don’t need to know everything. But at least get an idea of day-to-day challenges.
#6. Respect difficulties.
An optimist skips the bunny trail and rides the ski lift to the top of the mountain. “It can’t be that hard.”
#7. Buckle up for the long haul.
Stop telling people this will be over soon.
There are months to go before current turbulence settles down. By the time this turbulence subsides, new storms will arise.
Have confidence you will prevail, but don’t believe it will be over soon.
Real optimists don’t believe hard things are easy. (Stockdale Paradox)
The real question is how will we succeed in the storm?
How might leaders avoid the pitfalls of optimism?
This has helped me find a balance…
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
I default toward optimism, it doesn’t make the bad times go away, but it does influence where I point my flashlight to move forward. Leading others demands it.
It all boils down to the difference between unbridled optimism and a positive, upbeat attitude. The former is looking at the world through rose-colored glasses: everything is great and there’s nothing to worry about. The latter is being realistic: this is going to be tough, and I know we can do it if we all do our part.
There is a fine line between too much and too little optimism.
Too much optimism! Everything will be great. We don’t need a backup plan.
Exaggerated optimism can cause you to ignore the warning signs of trouble.
Overly optimistic leaders often have the attitude that everything will be easy. In truth, change is hard work! Some things look easy until you try to do them.
Too little optimism! Our presentation probably won’t be that good.
Blah, blah, blah! Some leaders project very little optimism for their mission and plan. People think—If my leader isn’t excited about her ideas, then why should I care?
Leaders who only focus on the obstacles and things that can go wrong drain the energy out of the room.
Doom and gloom! You can’t influence and inspire people with negativity.
Leaders need to be realistic and project an appropriate level of optimism for the situation (challenges & resources) that they are in.
In my current consulting work, I often find that excessive optimism undermines accurate risk assessment as a part of policy development. “Nothing like that has ever happened here!” becomes “Nothing like that will ever happen here!” in the minds of the overly optimistic.