Wanted: Realistic optimism

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

What attribute is most needed by ­leaders today? According to Justin Menkes, an expert in evaluating C-suite executives and author of Better Under Pressure, the answer is “realistic optimism.”

While a blind optimist fails to acknowledge very real obstacles, a realistic optimist might say, “These are the challenges we face, and these are proposed solutions. No one’s sure how events will play out, but together we can meet our challenges.”

Poor leaders tend to be blindly optimistic, trumpeting phrases like, “Everything’s going to be fine.” Realistic optimists show a path for facing an uncertain future.

Teaching this brand of leadership by example is David Novak of Yum Brands.  

One thing he’s done is introduce catch phrases for his team to use. One such phrase is “victimitis.” When an employee says something like, “It’s not my fault because ...” or defends a bad choice, a colleague might say, “Victimitis!”

It’s a playful tool that allows an entire team to build a culture.

"We need to remind ourselves that our destinies are in some ways beyond our control,” says Menkes, “but that our day-to-day, work-to-work, minute-to-minute experiences are still very much under our control.”

— Adapted from “How to be a successful federal leader,” Tom Fox, The Washington Post.

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