Last week I decided to complete a psychological personality profile. It had been about 10 years and I had asked a leadership team to complete them for a workshop, so thought it was only fair that I participate too.
You know the drill, 190 questions that you must answer truthfully and there is not right or wrong answer, don’t sit on the fence and pick what you are likely to do in the majority of situations. Okay – got it. Then I came across questions like “I feel a bit nervous of wild animals even when they are in strong cages” and “I admire the beauty of a poem more than that of a well-made gun”. Hmmmmm okay, I’ll give it a go and hope for the best! The little voice in my head said ‘yeh right, as if this is going to be an accurate assessment!”
Well, it turned out that I have high extraversion, an independent streak, a strong inner belief, assertiveness, transparency, honesty and confidence. The org psychologist said, “you’re a true optimist by nature”. Am I? Glass half full? Yes, perhaps I am. I haven’t ever described myself that way. It got me thinking….how did this happen? When did I decide to see the best and not worry about the worst?
In my business career, one of the biggest moments was setting up a new business from scratch in October 2001 after September 11, the Ansett collapse and business confidence was extremely low. I had people around me saying I was crazy to risk setting up a business in an already saturated market in such a climate. Honestly, I didn’t think about those external factors, they didn’t worry me, I was excited by the prospect of creating something great and I had an inner belief that it would be a success.
It’s this theme of ‘worry’ and ‘what if’; I see a lot of clients struggle with. The constant fear, the sleepless nights, worrying, the inability to take action because “ what if…” Then there’s the negative self-talk “of course this won’t work, it was a fluke, I won’t get that promotion and they’ll soon figure out I’m a fraud”. It goes on in the heads of some very senior and successful people. It is this worry and perception of situations and what others think, that can cause a glass half empty approach to life. Being able to let go of this, change your thinking and work out that in the scheme of things – it really doesn’t matter what other’s think.
The moment I gave up worrying about what others might think and focused on what I thought and what I wanted to do – is the moment I become a true optimist. Acting without the worry of what others think. A defining moment for me was creating a culture of flexibility in an industry renowned for long hours and high expectations. I took on the attitude that said “I don’t care what other’s think”. I knew it was what the business needed to attract and retain talented high performers long term. For me to get to this point of feeling okay about flexibility I learnt what was holding me back. I felt others would judge my work ethic. I had to let go of my belief that if I wasn’t working a traditional 60 + hour week, then I wasn’t demonstrating a strong work ethic. It took me a long time to be okay with that – but as an optimist, I knew it would deliver the right outcome. (My blog “winning respect – 10 ways to give up wanting to be liked” talks about strategies to let go of this worry as a leader).
Wikipedia describes optimism as an attitude that interprets situations as being best and extends to include that of hope. I am often heard saying in recruitment terms “hope is not a strategy”. If you are hoping that you are picking the right candidate or you are hoping that they will perform in the role, you have a real problem – as hope is not strategy. However, hope gives situations attraction, meaning and belief because sometimes no matter how great a strategy, you need positive belief in a situation. This optimism attracts, inspires and ultimately delivers success.
Try being an optimist – act without worry, believe the best outcome will surface and give things a go because as Henry Ford said, “whether you think you can or you can’t – you’re right”.