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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, Author of "Optimism: The How and Why"

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 that 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.  It's 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 opportunities based on that self-knowledge.

Best wishes in your realistic and infectiously optimistic leadership.

Read More: Infectiously Optimistic Leadership 

Other Insights


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. Optimism is the fuel for the certainty and commitment a leader needs.”


Uschi Schreiber

“Optimism is inherent to good leadership - it’s all about creating a vision for a better future and instilling that optimistic view in others.”


Rabbi Pini Dunner, Senior Rabbi of Young Israel of North Beverly Hills

"In order to be a good leader, one must inspire by being a shining example of positivity and optimism. Particularly in times of adversity, this is the mark of true leadership."


Dr Muhammad Naseer Akhtar, Senior Lecturer in HRM and People Analytics at the University of East London

"Good leadership supports talented people in an excellent system with a strong vision directed by a sense of optimism. Such leadership will never encounter the dark and will become a beacon of optimism."

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