Is Your Team Fueled By Optimism Or Pessimism

When going for a drive, my beloved Grandpa often stopped to fill up for gas, even though the tank was still half full.  A twist off the old adage, he would say “It is just as easy to fill a tank when it's half-full as when it's half-empty”. 

When it comes to viewing things as half-empty or half-full, the teams you lead likely area a mix of both pessimists and optimists.  In fact, research has shown that both view points are important to provide a balanced and realistic perspective on the challenges and opportunities that teams encounter.

Research studies from Abigail Hazlett and colleagues found that optimists prefer to focus on and think about how they can advance and grow.  Whereas, pessimists tend to preoccupy themselves with concerns of security and safety.  They also found that optimists were more persistent and performed better when they were able to think positive thoughts about their performance, while pessimists persisted and performed better when thinking negative thoughts.

Traditionally we think that having a more optimistic view on life is better, because it helps us to be satisfied with life and its possibilities. However, a pessimistic attitude can keep us discontent and rational about our present circumstances, and thus compel us to improve our circumstances.  Either way, we are motivated to perform.

Motivational speaker Les Brown put it this way, We change our lives when we say, I’ve had it.”   In the book, How Full is Your Bucket, authors Tom Rath and Donald Clifton put it this way, “We need to stay both happy and hungry.”  

So, when your team is navigating through change, be sure to balance both perspectives.  Be willing to listen to and encourage dialogue from both the optimists and the pessimists.  If you have to be the deliverer of bad news, don’t overshadow the negatives or the positives.  Communicate both the challenges and the possibilities.

I once watched a presentation from a leader who painted a "good news" story even though the results were pointing in a different direction.  He lost credibility as a leader within his team.

What we really needed to hear from him was the truth.  "Here's the results. This is what's bad about them.  This is what's good.  And, here's our plan to move forward."  That's exactly the picture the next leader painted, and he quickly gained respect from both the pessimists and the optimists on the team.

As for my Grandpa, from a pessimistic viewpoint of filling up the tank when it was half-empty, it prevented him from running out of gas.  By ensuring his gas tank was never lower than half-full, he had the joyful spirit of an optimist. He was able to look forward to where the road may take him.  Oh how he and my Grandma loved their drives. 

Lisa Holden Rovers, MSc, CPHR, PCC, is the Founder of Workplace Matters. Since 2005, she has been coaching small and mid-sized business leaders to grow their influence and inspire their teams to thrive. With her data-driven coaching and training approach, Lisa helps clients improve collaboration, productivity, and well-being. As a certified leadership and team coach, Lisa utilizes solutions like Everything DiSC® and The Five Behaviors® to help clients leverage their strengths and build high-performing teams.

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