Learning Leadership: Optimism

on October 4, 2012

A few weeks ago we published a blog about the power of words. This article will talk about the power of our non-verbal actions. I’ve been reading a number of books about leadership lately and one of the common themes is how to remain optimistic.

Often you can tell the level of a person’s optimism by their non-verbal language. As leaders, we have the responsibility to remain optimistic.

From the Book:

Napoleon once said, “Leaders are dealers in hope.” If you look at many of the most influential leaders in our history, you see one common theme – optimism. Lately, I’ve been reading a book called, “The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham.” It takes a historical look at some of the most important characteristics that allowed him to shape a global movement. In that book, there is an entire chapter on optimism. Many of the thoughts below were inspired by this chapter.

Long before Dwight Eisenhower became president, he projected the positive as a critical leadership strategy. It was at a time early in WWII, when the likelihood of victory was slim, that he embraced this optimism more than ever. Eisenhower was in the dank tunnels of Gibraltar when he came to view communication optimism as a requirement of leadership. Deeply discouraged by military reversals, his depressing quarters, and the power of the enemy, he realized he couldn’t allow the troops to be further demoralized by his mood. With this in his mind he wrote in his journal, “I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory – that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow. I do my best to meet everyone from general to private with a smile, a pat on the back and a definite interest in their problems.”

Another example of this type of optimism is Ronald Reagan following his shooting. Only 70 days after his inauguration, at the hospital entrance, despite the bullet lodged near his heart, he waved off the Secret Service agents and slowly climbed out of the car. He stood and buttoned his jacket, then walked in. Only after getting inside, after collapsing on one knee, did he allow the agents to help. Even during the medical procedures he famously quipped one-liners: “Honey, I forgot to duck,” and to the surgeon about to operate, “I hope you’re a Republican.”


So what did I learn from those two segments? I learned that optimistic, thoughtful leaders are well aware of the brutal realities, the questions, the what-ifs. The leader may feel jangled nerves or malaise but chooses the way of faith and hope, knowing they must communicate that to others.

Optimism is not living in a fantasy world where nothing tragic ever happens; vital optimism is a confidence that tragedy is not the last word, that the best is yet to be. Optimism is being able to acknowledge brutal realities and to point to an even greater reality – that our experiences are not in vain, our responses are not futile, and our efforts are going to be worthwhile.

As leaders we must be optimistic. We must cling to the belief that we are dealers of hope. As Billy Graham once said, “I’ve read the end of the book and it’s all going to turn out alright.”