As leaders, we truly earn our positions and paychecks when things are not going well – even touching on failure. In these times, it is essential to be a role model for the business. People want to follow a leader who keeps going and keeps them going and motivated. It is distressing and depressing for one’s leader to act helpless in challenging situations. Leaders inspire others to dig deep, work hard, and be committed.
Leadership begins with continuously presenting the image they want their employees and their business to mirror.
Leading with optimism is not “image is everything” hypocrisy, nor the product of rose-colored glasses or a frontal lobotomy. Leading with optimism requires a clear grasp on reality and is demonstrated by the leader’s attitude, words, and behavior. Optimistic leaders focus on what is within their control and on solving problems, not complaining, making excuses, or measuring the depths of a bad situation. Optimism allows one to fight the good fight.
Here’s how to be an optimistic leader when times are troubled.
Learn and determine the facts. Know what is true, what is feared, and what is likely to happen. Eliminate rumor and innuendo (including blame). Clear problem identification is the key to resolution. When you clearly understand a problem, there are only be a handful of options, and it is easier to be decisive.
Get everyone on the same page. You are the leader – decide on how to proceed. Decide quickly, decide firmly, and communicate your decision. Once the decision is made, it is made. Align and engage your management team with turning your decision into a plan with specific actions. Create and implement metrics and reports to monitor progress.
Take visible and appropriate ownership. Make sure the relevant stakeholders know you are taking ownership. After approving the plan, call an “on hands on deck” meeting. The purpose is two-fold, first so everyone can hear the decision and reasoning first-hand. And second, to make the call to align around the decision, plan, and action personal. If the issue had to do with a customer, meet with the customer executive personally and communicate the same information to them. It is essential to become the “face” of the decision to take the focus off “agreement” place it firmly on “alignment.”
Monitor the situation and communicate the status regularly with all stakeholders. Your ownership is step-by-step, not only at the outcome. Walking “with” your team will keep you feeling like you have to walk “over” them.
Optimism comes from faith in your team to overcome the situation. What you are facing is a test of the group you’ve built (if you don’t have confidence in your team, that’s a different topic), but your best bet in any circumstances is to get the best performance from the group you have.
If you’d like to hear more about how I’ve used optimism in ugly situations or want some help finding the optimism in your case, let’s talk.
“My optimism wears heavy boots and is loud.”
– Henry Rollins