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Some reasons for cautious optimism

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MetLife once tested thousands of candidates for sales jobs, hiring more than a thousand based on their overall scores. By the test results, half were optimists, half pessimists.

In the first year, the optimists outsold the pessimists by 8 percent and proved far less likely to quit. In the second year, the optimists increased the sales gap to 31 percent.

Here are a few precepts, drawn loosely from the Lewis and Clark expedition, of maintaining a realistic optimism while leading your team into the unknown:
  • Start out with a good mind-set. From the get-go, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark expected to succeed.

  • Keep things in perspective. At the beginning of their trip, Lewis and Clark endured a series of mishaps. They took on each crisis as a separate event, not presuming that they were linked and the expedition doomed.

    If your own series of calamities is closely tied to the essential nature of a project, you can view it as a warning. But if the glitches are generic, don’t lump them all together in your mind.

  • Know that you’ll overcome problems. The explorers believed two things: If someone had accomplished something, they could do it. And if everyone said something could never be done, they would try.

  • Act. Don’t let reality paralyze you. Embrace it with the adage, “Nobody said this would be easy.” Every day, Lewis and Clark did something to improve their situation.
— Adapted from Into the Unknown: Leadership Lessons from Lewis and Clark’s Daring Westward Expedition, Jack Uldrich, Amacom.

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