Sunday, October 23, 2011

Optimism: the Ultimate Motivator

Pollyanna was a fictional character from a book of the same name written in 1913. The plot is a about a young girl who always finds something to be glad about in every situation. She has an overwhelmingly and infectiously positive attitude. Her bright personality combined with infinite optimism changes other peoples' lives for the better. As a manager, does the plot seem silly and old-fashioned to you?

Modern management cynics typically view Pollyanna and people like her as naive and ineffectual. Today's managers are supposed to be tough, heads-down misanthropes. But Colin Powell, former leader of the most powerful army in the world, was a Pollyanna. His most famous quote is "Optimism is a force multiplier." He fought in Vietnam in some of the most difficult military operations of the war and he learned the value of optimism under rather grueling circumstances.

Managers often overlook the value of optimism. For example, what employee would prefer to work for Scrooge instead of Pollyanna? Optimism paints a positive picture of the future - it gives staff something to believe in. Optimism creates energy and enthusiasm. Misanthrope managers claim they never have enough staff to get the work done. Optimistic managers may have the same workload and same headcount, but they're looking forward to continuously greater accomplishments with staff who relish the opportunity.

How do you create optimism? As a manager do you just put on a sunny disposition and act happy all the time? Should you hope your clients and staff simply believe there is a silver lining in every cloud because you tell them so? Optimism without substance is hollow and destructive. Successful optimism has two feet firmly planted in reality. The first foot is in rooted in today's immediate success. The second is in tomorrow's long term success. Create faith in the ability to succeed today. Then build faith that today's success will continue. Confidence in today's success builds unshakeable faith in the future.

Start with small successes. Complete small high profile projects that not only exceed your clients' expectations, but your staff's own expectations too. Build confidence that the team can win against local competition before going on the road to play in the big leagues. When you have created self-confidence in the team you can create deep-seated optimism through bigger changes.

The bigger successes take time, but have a lasting impact on your culture. For example, I ran a large organization where we genuinely hired from within. Every director and manager who worked for me was promoted internally. Over time this approach created a sense of opportunity and confidence that personal growth within the organization is possible. When staff see management positions being filled internally they see hope for their own future in the organization. Doing this consistently creates trust in management. Trust + opportunity = optimism.

Once your team has unshakeable optimism, they can accomplish anything.



  1. Excellent post Mark.....thank you.



  2. Great post Mark. I use Mary Poppins "for every job to be done there is an element of fun" and "a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down" as motivators. It's best to find a career at what you enjoy doing, but even then, there will always be challenging times. So, find the positive in even the most trying situations, and do your best and keep positive. A positive attitude will go a long way and rub off on the non-committed and be a counter to negative directions.