In A World That Values Optimism, When Should A Leader Be A Pessimist?

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As a leader, should you always be an optimist? The answer is “yes”…and “no”…and “sometimes”…

The reality is, there are times when a leader must be a grim-faced pessimist, while in other times it requires being a cheery-faced optimist.

How do you know? Here’s a basic guideline to help you navigate this.

A leader must be a PESSIMIST when…

…making financial forecasts in a challenging season.

If the current economic climate has pulled the rug out from under your organization, it’s time for the leader to put on the demeanor of a pessimist.

Perhaps a better word than pessimistic is “cautious”. Any leader who has led a turnaround will tell you that the first step is to stop the bleeding by taking a worst-case scenario approach to budgeting.

A leader must be a REALIST when…

…developing the team.

In order to develop each member of the team to their full potential, you need to start with an honest assessment of their current capacity. 

Nothing will crush the spirit of a rising leader quite like giving them too much responsibility too soon. Instead, effective leaders must be realistic when it comes to each one’s potential, and then design their role accordingly.

A leader must be an IDEALIST when…

…casting vision.

Ideals have gone out of fashion in our culture. But  effective leaders must embrace the ideals of their organization’s mission and vision and describe them with authentic passion.

Why does the organization exist? What difference will it make in the world? These are the organization’s ideals, and the leader must espouse them eloquently and proudly.

A leader must be an OPTIMIST when…

…building a healthy culture.

When the going gets hard, the team wants to know essentially one thing: “Is all of this work worth it?”

The leader’s job is to remind the team that things are going to get better…That the mission is worth pursuing…and that a better day will come.

So, should you as a leader be an optimist?

The answer really is, “yes”…or “no”…or “sometimes”. Leadership requires understanding the season and the circumstance, and then bringing the most appropriate approach to the table.

Making these shifts is not being inauthentic.

It’s leadership.

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.

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