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A Kind Word About Pessimism in Leadership

Posted by Brian Spence on Oct 3, 2018 8:00:00 AM

Pessimism, Leadership, Career AdviceLook on the bright side. See the positive in every situation. We can do this. You've got it. Smile. Be happy. Keep going. Failure is not an option. This is doable. Have a can-do attitude.

We have all heard this guidance in school, in sports, in the workplace and life situations. And optimism is a good thing, but it is not always the secret to good leadership. Leaders are meant to inspire, encourage and direct their teams to success.

But leaders who are hard-core optimists can sometimes have the opposite effect, and actually discourage others.

A self-confessed optimist, Liz Wiseman, says that her unwavering optimism turned out to be a "diminisher" when she was heading a large project with many people under her. In her book, Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Wise discusses the concept of multipliers and diminishers. The first group expands and improves the natural talents and competencies of their subordinates; the second deflates the energy and motivation of others and squashes possibilities with discouragement, although often unintentionally.

Wise saw that her optimism was not giving the desired degree of inspiration, but was actually lowering the chances for success. She realized that in her constant cheerleading she failed to acknowledge just how difficult the job really was. As Pollyanna, she was telling her team members that what they were doing really wasn't all that hard. They wanted her to know how much effort it took to bring the project to fruition. There were problems and glitches and mistakes and frustrations that had to be overcome, and that it was, in fact, hard work.

The truth was, Wise wasn't listening. They didn't need her to tell them everything would be okay. They needed her to tell them she heard what they said, and to validate their concerns. "One of our deepest human needs is to be understood and heard," says Wiseman, "and I think we need that a lot more than we need motivation or positivity."

For some realistic career advice and counsel, contact us to see what employment opportunities are available in the Behavioral Health, Education, and Healthcare fields.

For additional information on this and related topics, visit the Management & Leadership and Career Advice sections of our blog.


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Staffing Plus is a premier healthcare staffing firm that provides temporary, per diem, temp-to-hire and permanent Staffing Solutions for Behavioral Health, Education, and Healthcare settings. We have leveraged decades of experience to assist organizations with the challenges of managing their HR and Recruiting needs.