I recently read Anthony Tjan’s HBR blog post, “Learning Optimism with the 24x3 Rule” on the characteristics of leadership; his focus on optimism as the key to being an inspirational leader really struck a chord with me.
When I first moved to North America for business reasons, having spent my entire earlier career working in Europe, I found that one of the greatest cultural differences was the sense of optimism I found in California – a stark contrast with the attitude in Ireland (where I was born). Not that the Irish are cynics, but our entire humor is built on sarcasm and self deprecation. While nothing is ever quite so black and white, I did see a significant difference between what I described as a glass half-full versus a glass half-empty mentality.
In Anthony’s article, he suggests waiting 24 seconds after you hear a new idea to consider the positives, then consider the idea again after 24 minutes, and once again after a full 24 hours. If you’re someone who does take a more critical eye to the world around you, this is going to be a technique that takes time and patience to master. Regardless of the approach you take to master “learned optimism,” the fundamental skill at the core of this strategy is listening. As a leader, if you take the time to truly listen to the ideas being presented to you at the outset, you are approaching the situation with an open mind. Furthermore, the parties presenting the ideas will likely be more willing to openly discuss their thoughts without fear of criticism. For any of us who are the presenters (as we all often are) – if you bring a new idea to the table and confidently present it in a positive way, rather than calling out any potential drawbacks outright, people on the receiving end will feel a sense of optimism toward the idea as well.
While initially the positive, “can-do” attitude made me incredulous at times, it began to grow on me. I realized that we actually do have a choice on how we act as leaders and as people. We either choose to view the world through the lens of cynicism as Anthony describes, or we train ourselves to believe that anything is possible. It’s an attitude that took me time to adjust to, but one I’ve felt firmly committed to over the years. Change is tough and the unknown is often feared, but with the right sense of optimism driven mainly by passion and positive energy, people will follow your lead and prove to you that your sense of optimism was actually well-placed.
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