“In every problem there is the opportunity to make something better” — Skip Gilbert
One of the greatest assets a leader can have is the ability to see the positive and move people in that direction. When we have a compelling and viable vision, we need to engage people to embrace the end-state and put their energy into moving in that direction. In that journey, we will always encounter troubles, issues and challenges, it is just part of moving forward and creating change. As a leader we need our resources not to see the challenges as roadblocks, but to see them as expected encounters and an indication that we are making progress. We need our resources to enthusiastically see this as an opportunity to make something better. We need them to continue to see the positive.
Let’s not confuse seeing the positive with being naive. We will encounter real challenges and not all change will be received with universal enthusiasm. As we move to our vision of a greater state, the change may cause a realignment or adjustment to processes or ways of thinking that others find difficult to embrace. Again that is expected and there are change management techniques and strategies to help us make the transition. The key is to help people through the transition by staying positive and help them to not expend energy in maintaining the status quo. Positive energy helps us move forward while negative energy diminishes our willingness to make the change.
It is currently popular and increasingly common for a negative outlook to be viewed as having clear, critical perspective and wisdom while people with a positive outlook are considered naive or unenlightened. While we may all believe that there is a better future available to us, many leaders are only able to provide a view of what is wrong. These leaders have perfected the ability to project dissatisfaction with the status quo, but not to provide a compelling vision or practical first steps of action to get to a better place. In fact, there is much more to being a leader than just our placement in a hierarchical organizational structure. Real leadership knows that we need a clear vision and people so highly motivated in reaching that goal that the roadblocks are merely obstacles we either teardown or go around.
There may be many reasons for this seemingly prevailing attitude of negative thinking in leadership. Sometimes there is a misconception that projecting dissatisfaction with the current state alone creates change. They confuse negative thinking with critical thinking and the need to provide a view of a better future. Negative thinking just communicates that the present state has real problems. Critical thinking recognizes that there are real problems, identifies the root causes and provides clear direction for a better future. Just creating dissatisfaction with the current state, while a necessary condition for change, does not in itself produce change.
Immature leaders who have not yet fully embraced the necessary conditions for success may be imitating others they have viewed as successful or may be only interested in building their own resumes by spending a few years in a position before leveraging that title for another opportunity. Being negative provides the illusion that they can lead to a better state by joining the choir of criticizing the current state. For other leaders not really ready to lead, being negative may provide a defense mechanism. By being negative they are never surprised when disappointed, it is what they were expecting. Of course, negativity brings on more negativity which kills enthusiasm and becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. They end up with an organization that is highly dissatisfied with no real release for their energy since nothing they do is good enough to be be recognized as having value.
Leaders with a negative perspective may tell you that they understand the problem, but oftentimes they are the problem! They either do not understand the full equation for creating change and making progress or they may not truly understand the impact of their actions and communications.
People are attracted to leaders who bring a vision and message of hope. They are more likely to commit more of themselves to the cause than those who lack hope. Reaching a future state that includes them, meeting their needs and those of the business will attract the energy of everyone involved. We can all see the problems, but a true leader is one that can point the direction to a better place.
True leaders bring a sense of possibility that helps to cause others to believe. When we express our optimism for the future and can articulate the benefits and provide a way to get started to get there, others will naturally follow. They will commit more of their personal energy and passion to the cause. Basically, positive energy is a stronger motivator than negativity.
To be the most effective leader we can be we need to focus our energy and thinking on being a person with a positive perspective. We need to help others understand the direction we are headed and understand what is in it for them. We need to offer a message of hope and confidence and encourage others to embrace the change and contribute their best thinking and actions to get there. We need to reward the positive steps and recognize those who are moving forward with the change. After all, the only people who get things done are the people who believe something can be done.