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John Kolm on Optimism

John Kolm:  I have been working in teamwork, leadership and morale with some of the world's biggest organizations - and also the smallest - for 25 years with passable success, and here is what I have learned.

One of the biggest areas in most people's lives in which they feel diminished optimism, ranging everywhere from mild frustration to crushed spirits, is in their experiences at work.  And yet the best psychological and psychiatric advice for mental health is to be employed - simply to have a job of some kind. A great many people at work feel powerless over events, feel a lowered sense of self-worth, and often have an indefinable sense of dread that something bad is about to happen. These are symptoms of mild depression. 

They are also the source of cynical comments about life at work, and the wellspring of the humor in movies like Office Space, cartoons like Dilbert and TV shows like The Office.

Not nearly enough focus is placed on the importance of happiness and optimism at work.  What focus we see is superficial, and often written by consultants trying to sell products.

Serious leaders, though, know that – to quote Colin Powell - "optimism is a force multiplier."

How to create optimism in the reality of most workplaces, where the great majority of people are working for someone else and don't get to set the direction, is the great challenge of the post-industrial age. It’s being said that unless you’re the lead sled dog, the view never changes - yet somewhere in there we have to find the human spirit and a little bit of love and a little bit of enthusiasm and enjoyment or the spirit dies.

Victor Perton: What about retirement, John?

John Kolm: "Retirement is an invention of the industrial revolution. Farmers didn't retire before the industrial revolution, they just got old and became consultants to family, young people and other farmers. They never really quit, and that accounted for a lot of their happiness and optimism. Industrial age jobs age out differently.  What's coming is the gig economy, and we'll see a drift back toward pre-industrial styles of work. As you age out of one job, you might easily pick up on something else. Or you might really retire. We’ll see a far greater diversity of choice than we do in our own generation."


Read John Kolm's conversation with Victor Perton  on Australian Leadership

"Dry humour, often so dry that it’s not well understood in other cultures, is a badge of good Australian leadership.  It covers the whole workforce, ranging from ditch-diggers to middle managers to Prime Ministers.  The more dire the situation, the drier the humour.  It’s where Australian leaders get their reputation for remaining calm in a crisis."

John Kolm on Australian Leadership

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