Always the optimist

At times being an optimist can be a costly exercise. Is optimism a high risk / high reward lifestyle compared to playing safe? Or does playing safe carry greater risks with fewer rewards? Unfortunately the way many organisations are structured rewards the latter rather than the former.

Surely optimism is the only way we can truly hope to move forward. If we cannot imagine a brighter future surely we can’t attain one? And if we are not in pursuit of a brighter future, then?

The alternative to promoting a brighter future: To not see a future, or to promote a worse one? By my book that leads to followers who will either be inert or doomsayers, and an outcome I don’t wish to be part of.

Must Leaders actively promote a better future? I contend this is one of the most valued, but unrecognized, parts of the role.

Leaders must be optimists and must share the optimism with their followers.

In researching this post I came across strategic philosopher Max More who kindly gave me permission to reference one of his essays from 1991.

I have redrafted his list of characteristics of a ‘Dynamic optimist’ as follows (download Max More’s actual list here)


  • Selective Positive Focus
  • Refraining from Complaining
  • A fundamental creative openness to possibilities.
    [pullquote]Merely believing that everything will work out fine without taking action makes one a foolish optimist, not a dynamic optimist.

    For optimism to give us the power to overcome the limits in our lives it needs to fully recognize reality, not hide from it. Max More[/pullquote]

  • A Sense of Abundance
  • Constructive Humor


  • Reason, not fear or desire
  • Seeking continual self-improvement
  • Experimental and fresh
  • Self-Confident.
  • Self-Worth
  • Personal integrity and responsibility.
  • Creating positive environments

I think this is a timeless and tremendously inspiring list and recommend placing it prominently in ‘your head’ or in your office. It also measures well against those leaders (in all walks of life) I most admire.

Its relevance for the current times is absolute. We need optimism desperately (is that oxymoronic?). True leaders must step up and lead the ‘dynamic optimists’ charge, with a keen eye for the others in their midst/teams.

Nothing in Max More’s list is kooky or too new-age, it is concrete and actionable. Anyone can do this, in any occupation or lifestyle.

The worst part is it’s harder than it looks.

In the mode of dynamic optimist it is however easier than what the alternative will create. I’m an optimist but now I’m going to be more actively so.

Are you willing to give it a whirl? My prediction is this will improve your future as a leader and as a human being.

I’m printing this out now, by the time this post is launched (one week hence) I’ll give you an update of the impact.

Note: I also urge you once more to visit Max More’s site for a great mind workout.

Global Warming – the wrong argument

Franz Josef Glacier, NZ
For a ‘greenie’ I am incredibly unsupportive of the global warming movement and ETS etc.


Simply because I feel it is the wrong argument.

As any ethicist or theoretician will tell you – it is easier to prove what exists than what doesn’t. The proof of the cause of global warming will always be elusive despite the slick presentations of Al Gore and others -there are just too many variables.

For my mind the campaign should be based on two things we can prove:

• As a race we use and engage in a lot of stuff we don’t need to, and

• The resources we consume to produce those goods or services are not used wisely

The current ploys are based largely on fear and bludgeoning, not very 21st century at all.

How much more progress would we make if the focus was on educating people about proper use and alternatives, and educating industry about production and scarcity? No one could argue with either platform, and the academics might be engaged in practical science rather than speculation in the guise of science. Further this would mean we don’t automatically penalise emerging economies and create artificial and somewhat cynical trade barriers.

Of course Global Warming is not alone in this. We often find ourselves campaigning on the wrong road because we didn’t check the alternatives, or we just did what everyone else seemed to be doing. James Surowiecki’s book the The Wisdom of Crowds provides great insight to this phenomenon.

How can we avoid the trap of the wrong argument?

Clearly there will be many alternatives but some thoughts to get you started:

  • If the program isn’t paying dividends go back to the drawing board.
  • If the solution isn’t obvious, maybe you’ve asked the wrong question.
  • If your staff turnover is high, I’ll tell you now it is not the staff who are at fault.
  • Do you cut costs or increase revenue? (The answer is both but many try to only cut costs).

    Check your reasoning and make sure you’re having the right arguments.

Change is not an option

Into your future?
As a leader, if you’re not creating change you are inviting certain extinction of both your role and your company.

As a Change Manager I realised ‘Change’ was a redundant qualifier.

If you are managing or leading, even a conservative role, you must constantly be looking for what needs to change.

Be nimble: change-ready and active.

Sadly however the number of leaders and managers I seeing being nimble are too few, even fewer if you required them to be pro-actively nimble.

You need to be changing yourself, changing the organisation and encouraging, supporting and cheering on everyone else to do the same.

If someone in your organisation is not changing you need to rethink your strategy, make some decisions and kick things into action.

Stuck in the mud is dead in the water.

Ideas to promote change:

Celebrate failure. You want change to be guaranteed? Sorry you won’t be nimble enough often enough.

Crash the car. Put a team on dismantling a service or product and seeing how they might build it from scratch.

Break up successful teams. Use your best when you need to, but if they really are good then ‘share the love’. Inject their skills and enthusiasm into the gaps. Elite is unproductive.

Mea culpa. Admit your mistakes, show your willingness to try, to invent, to explore, but don’t hide from the things that don’t work. Do it without shame.

Take an axe to the suggestion box. If you can’t talk to your managers and they can’t talk to their teams, then you’re nowhere near where ideas will thrive and change will be a way of life. Like an extra steering wheel in your car – the suggestion box looks like it could be handy but it only invites chaos.

Rethink quality systems. If they don’t foster change they’re unsustainable, change them, NOW!

And of course…Celebrate success.

Feel the Fear and Don't do it anyway.

Don't do it anyway

We all know the term – feel the fear and do it anyway. It makes great t-shirts for teenagers.

However recently an HBR blog by Peter Bregman had me thinking. He illustrated an excellent point – essentially using fear as a signal to stop doing something, to change your ways, to create a better future, a better leader.

It took me a while to get it as it seemed so obvious.

Then I realised as much as it seemed an obvious way to lead, in fact not many people lead (or live) effectively by using fear as a signal for changing their ways.

This is even more ironic as the ‘fear’ mechanism is there to prepare us.

So why don’t we use it as a signal to prepare for change?

Bregman made the link between fear and habits being hard to break.

I propose another mechanism – we take the easy way out.

We repeatedly experience fear and do it anyway because changing is too hard. The original slogan isn’t great insight, it’s great observation of what we do.

Here are some ways to start to tip the balance:

• I have a report due (Feel the fear, don’t wait until the last minute)

• My boss could react badly to how this develops (Feel the fear, keep them informed)

• The person I delegated that too might muck it up (Improve your delegation skills)

• I’m not very good at this (Find a way to get better)

• The customers/clients may leave (Do it better, delight them!)

• This could seriously harm someone (Don’t do it)

• I’m procrastinating (Do it)

Every expert has practised, practised, practised.

They practise at not making as many mistakes.

Feel the fear and don’t keep doing what you’ve always done.