With a rollercoaster economy and political turmoil at every turn, these are indeed difficult and uncertain times. The future is an unsettling unknown. Interestingly, research finds that in times like these people become either pessimistic or optimistic (Rigotti, et al., 2011).
Pessimists recognize that we have lost many of the taken-for-granted comforts of the past. To the pessimist, that life as we knew and loved will return anytime soon, if ever. And what ‘will be’ brings unwanted change, adjustment, and sacrifice. In tough times, pessimistic leaders are more inclined to fondly reflect upon and cling to remnants of the past. They seek and hold dear the familiar and comfortable, rejecting the new and different. They have their teams ‘hunker down’ by growing leaner, more conservative, taking fewer risks, and attempting to ‘hold steady’ through turbulent times. Organizations with pessimistic leaders may survive but seldom thrive in challenging and changing times.
Optimists, in contrast, see uncertain times as ripe with possibilities and they want to be part of the transformation. Consequently, optimistic leaders actively pursue promising new opportunities for their teams and organization. Imagination and innovation rule their thinking. The optimist leader recognizes this is a time to master new skills, acquire fresh knowledge, and experience new adventures. Where the pessimist is stuck in ‘survival mode’, the optimist is in ‘growth mode.’
Between the two, it is the optimist leader who emerges from challenging times with, not only a healthy, happy attitude but tangible options for navigating what the future may offer. The optimistic leaders inspire their team to sow the seeds for future prosperity. Team members are more inclined to follow and support those who believe in and move toward a bright future. When leaders envision a brighter future and take action to make it happen, it helps their team to overcome the challenges of today and reap the rewards of tomorrow.
Rigotti, L., Ryan, M., & Vaithianathan, R. (2011). Optimism and firm formation. Economic Theory, 46(1), 1–38.