Positive Thinking : A Winning Bet
Have you witnessed surges of optimism and solidarity in recent weeks? Although cynicism is more or less a common attitude, a few diehards maintain their optimism despite the anxiety-provoking side of the period we are going through. They have understood that their positivity ensures greater performance for them and their teams. Why is positive thinking a sure bet for you? And how can you make it a habit for your teams?
In early 2010, the French artist Elvire Bonduelle chose and cut out “positive” articles that appeared in the daily newspaper Le Monde (a title that means “The World”). The goal: to create an issue entitled Le Meilleur Monde (“The Better World”) made up exclusively of good news. It took Bonduelle more than three months to put together a whole issue (16 pages)—because scarcely 1 percent of articles in the paper were positive. And 10 years later, you do not feel that you are spared in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis by this generalized pessimism! Paradoxically, uncertainty and less and less predictable turbulences call for another attitude than withdrawal or negativity: in fact, perseverance, initiative, and creativity are the qualities that are unquestionably required in the workplace. These three values are deeply linked to your capacity to break with cynicism and fear, and shift the organization’s focus back toward optimism.
Developing your optimism is giving you the opportunity to believe in your chances
Contrary to a widely held belief, optimism is not an innate personality trait, but a state of mind that can be developed and drawn on in daily life. Optimists are not lucky by nature: they are simply much more receptive to the opportunities that present themselves. This requires being ready not only emotionally (positive thoughts) but also intellectually: you have to have set a precise direction for your ambitions to perceive how day-to-day happenings (meeting new people, events, etc.) can allow you to reach your goals. Desirable opportunities emerge when you pay attention to the potential of each situation. This openness rests, in large part, on the capacity to build networks, and thus to adopt a trusting stance toward others that puts mutual enrichment at the heart of every relationship. To be able to seize new opportunities, you yourself must be an opportunity for others.
It means also fighting against your pessimistic tendencies
Within companies, criticism, sarcasm, and pessimism are often considered good form. This is how you prepare for the worst, to avoid disillusionment and being seen as dangerously naïve. But it is possible to turn this state of mind around, as Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, testifies: “I was always somebody who saw the glass as half-empty. As I saw it, pessimism was just realism. I thought it was part of my temperament—an unchangeable personality trait. Worrying was a way to stay alert about anything that could go wrong.” However, he became aware of the opportunities that he stood to miss out on because of this negative perception of the world, which tended to paralyze him. To change his state of mind, he decided to create a simple ritual that consisted of systematically envisioning a positive outcome when facing a problem, instead of a catastrophic one. When he lost his job at the beginning of the 2000s, his first question was “Okay, what is the most optimistic possible story that I can tell myself right now?” The result: he created his own motivational consulting firm and today believes that the loss of his job ten years ago is the best thing that ever happened to him.
Spread the optimism in your teams by focusing on your team members’ strengths…
What do you have to do to create a culture of optimism? As a model, opting for optimism enable you to adopt day-to-day behaviors that will positively influence your teams. You must perceive each team member as a reservoir of positive resources with:
• Strong points: skills to be exercised and cultivated
• Points for improvement: skills to be acquired or developed
Do not linger on weak points, but seek to neutralize them with the extreme development of other strong points. In this way you increase the self-esteem of your team members and, in the end, your own optimism in the face of difficult situations.
… Prefer partial solutions and create a right to make mistakes
While pessimists worry about the causes of a problem and search for justifications and culprits, optimists prefer to look for alternatives as soon as a difficulty arises. They thus choose to sidestep obstacles rather than wasting energy trying to get through them. Moreover, rather than searching for ideal solutions, they look for solutions that are effective at a given moment, when faced with a specific event. “Optimists create the psychological and relational conditions for perseverance.” They allow their team members to innovate, question the status quo … and thus to make mistakes. The only constraint: making sure to have alternative plans in place if things go wrong, and allowing everyone the right to make further mistakes, in advance.
Do not forget to celebrate stage wins
Optimists, although they keep an eye on the overall goals, always take time to celebrate stage wins: an obstacle overcome, an effort that paid off, a new client, etc. These collective rituals are an excellent way to develop your teams’ optimism by showing them that successes are linked to their own action. A strong sign that there is no reason that it shouldn’t happen again.
“Optimistic managers are stupid, naïve, or unconscious!” Shawn Anchor, founder of the Good Think consulting firm and who has taught positive psychology at Harvard, has observed that this belief is widespread in many Fortune 500 companies. “In truth, negative emotions stem from the most primitive part of the brain that responds to fear and threat. Seeing the negative is easy; formulating a cognitive strategy about how to positively respond to challenge requires much higher-order functioning in the brain.” But costly: he cites one study, for example, that showed that optimistic salespeople made 37 percent more sales than others.
* A Kick in the Attitude, Sam Glen, Wiley, January 2010.
Using positivity to unite around a collective vision
“The acceleration of the world and various changes, the loss of familiar landmarks and of visibility on the future, the fear of skills becoming obsolete and of professional exclusion, the fear of the unpredictable in all its forms: these are the ingredients for doubt and loss of self-confidence in society, which makes fertile ground for collective pessimism,” observes Philippe Gabilliet. He emphasizes that in this context, optimism is an excellent way for managers to respond to employees’ new expectations.
• Reassurance: optimistic managers are managers who believe in the value of their colleagues.
• Persuasion: optimism shows that leaders have confidence in their own actions.
• Invitation to action: a positive working atmosphere counterbalances difficult times and exacting objectives.
Based on Éloge de l’optimisme : quand les enthousiastes font bouger le monde [In Praise of Optimism: When Enthusiasts Move the World], Philippe Gabilliet, Saint-Simon, November 2010; “Why It Pays To Be an Optimist,” Martha E. Mangelsdorf, MIT Sloan Management Review, December 2010; “Lead with Optimism,” Anthony Tjan, Harvard Business Review Blogs, May 2010 ; “How I Became an Optimist,” Tony Schwartz, Harvard Business Review Blogs, April 2011 ; “Are Happy People Dumb?” Shawn Achor, Harvard Business Review Blogs, March 2011.