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Foster Realistic and Infectiously Optimistic Leadership

The best leaders are realistic and infectious optimists and lead their teams to discover greater optimism, resilience and self-mastery.  

by Victor Perton


We are all called to lead from early childhood to our death-bed - at work, in family and in community.

In most of my speeches and presentations, I ask the audience to shout out a mantra “The Leader looks like the person in MY mirror.”   I ask them to look into the eyes of the person next to them and say "The leader looks like the person in your mirror."

It's evocative and usually stirs smiles, laughter and joy in the group.  I suggest using lipstick or post-its, people write on their mirrors at home and work, “The Leader looks like the person in MY mirror.”  

So the idea is it's not "them", it's "me" the leader who needs to step up and take action.

As a song says we don’t need another hero - the times call for realistic and infectiously optimistic leadership.  

The Centre for Optimism is, in part,  the result of thousands of interviews on leadership and especially Australian leadership through the Australian Leadership Project.  After the interviews and scientific cross-referencing, we concluded the leadership is pretty good characterised by egalitarianism, self-effacing humour and no bullshit plain speaking.

So even after thousands of interviews, conversations and contemplation, I remained perplexed by the negativity around leadership in Australia at every level. 

The Eureka moment came in late 2017, it's not the problem of leadership, per se, it's a fog of pessimism.

Media or culture?  The zeitgeist in the global news media is pessimistic and cynical and for most people the news is a filter to what's happening in national and global affairs.  The reality of lived life is most happy and positive.

How do we find our way out of the fog of pessimism?  We need beacons of optimism.  We need infectiously optimistic leaders and that's you.

So I went back through my interviews and research and found a common thread.  The best contemporary leaders are infectiously optimistic and grounded in reality.  This conclusion is underpinned by global leadership research at organisations like McKinsey and Korn Ferry.  Its verified by the lived experience of leaders like Nelson Mandela.

The best leaders are realistic and infectious optimists and lead their teams to discover greater optimism, resilience and self-mastery.  

At the Centre for Optimism, we work around self-driven optimism and infectious optimism.  We are explicitly realistic focusing on action and opportunity countering negativity and fear.

In our corporate and institutional work, we ask senior leaders to open up conversations right across the business on what makes the team members optimistic.   It's not the rah-rah speech from the front, it's the leader who empowers the optimistic leadership of people across the whole team.

The most important thing to do is to ask yourself and to ask others, what makes you optimistic?  Then write optimistic strategies and plans, take action and seek opportunity based on that self-knowledge.

Best wishes in your realistic and infectiously optimistic leadership.


Who Supports our Call for Realistic and Infectiously Optimistic Leadership?

Robert Masters, Chair, Centre for Optimism

“Leadership and optimism are the two key elements the community wants in today's unsettled world. Leaders must have optimism as the foundation for all their policies; and they must deliver it through sound, confident and stable leadership. Growth, employment, equality, innovation, tax, health, education, security all require this thinking. Communities not only expect it, but also deserve it.”

Denis Henry, Chairman of the Royal Flying Doctor Service

“Optimism about the future and about the essential goodness in the majority of your community and workforce is the fuel for the certainty and commitment a leader needs.”

Dominic Barton, emeritus Global Managing Director, McKinsey

“Optimism is at the very core of leadership. The best leaders I have encountered in my career are those that remain optimistic –- and ambitious -– for their organisations even in the face of great adversity. They are those whose optimism enables them to recognise the potential in others, and help them develop to be leaders themselves.”

Nelson Mandela

"I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed towards the sun, one’s feet moving forward."

James Strock, Serve to Lead and Member of The Centre for Optimism Advisory Board

‘Vision is the ultimate source of all leadership. Optimism is vision girded for battle. Optimism can be a shape-shifting and protean force, moving like water past all obstacles, breaking a path of love, expressed in courage.’

IndonesianPresident Joko “Jokowi” Widodo

“A leader should convey ‪optimism and encourage his or her people, even though there are many difficult challenges.”

“There is no country on earth that prospers without optimism”

David Collinson, Distinguished Professor of Leadership & Organisation, Lancaster University

"Effective leadership combines optimism with informed critical thinking; positivity with a willingness to confront difficult realities; and an upbeat vision with a capacity to listen to alternative voices. This approach to leadership empowers people and, more importantly, does not place them in harm’s way."

Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and the dangers of excessive positivity

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