From US politicians to Silicon Valley executives, many of society’s most successful leaders hold one characteristic in common: the value of optimism. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker makes the case for why we should feel confident for the future in his 2018 book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, which Bill Gates once cited as “his favorite book of all time.”
While some may confuse optimism for naivety, the opposite is true. Optimism doesn’t mean oblivion to challenges. Instead, an optimistic leader takes everything in perspective, expressing gratitude for every win. Pinker says an optimist “believes the world can be much, much better than it is today.”
Optimism is our conviction that we can make things better. We don’t just believe things will improve on their own; we apply those convictions, taking action toward our goals.
Professionals and students alike agree that optimism is fuel for achievement. According to George Mason University professor Dr. Beth Cabrera:
“Research has found a strong link between optimism and success at work…one study looked at the impact of positive thinking on performance of insurance agents working at MetLife. The researchers discovered that agents who scored in the top 10 percent on an assessment of optimism sold 88 percent more than insurance agents who scored in the bottom 10 percent.”
Optimism is a mindset we can all cultivate. Practices like gratitude journaling and perspective shifting are the building blocks of an optimistic mind. Barista get your order wrong? How nice to try something new! Feeling overwhelmed by tasks at work? How secure you must feel knowing your colleagues trust you to get the job done.
As leaders, we will always encounter challenges. When we take them in stride, optimistically knowing we can overcome them, we set an example for today’s employees – the leaders I will be searching for in the future.