Successful Selling: The business of optimism - May 2018
By Sandy Smith
The World Future Society recently published the results of a survey it conducted that posed the query: Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future? In summary, 63% of respondents indicated that they were pessimistic, 16% were optimistic and the other 21% were unsure or did not share an opinion.
I mentioned these results to a psychologist friend and told her that I was thinking about doing a little research on the topic for an upcoming presentation to find out the difference between the mindsets of optimists versus pessimists. She said that she could save me the trouble of doing the study. “I can tell you the difference. The optimists are in denial.”
Have we really come to the point in our society where we anticipate negative results to pretty much every scenario? If we find someone who poses a bright outlook, do we consider him or her a Pollyanna? As business people, how does such an attitude affect our business decisions and our employee and client interactions? Does it make a difference?
Today’s business world is characterized by volatility, disruption and exponential change. Business cycles have their ups and downs-there are good days and bad days, but the overall U.S. economy looks relatively positive. In April 2018, Kiplinger reported that the gross domestic product is “still on track for a solid rise in 2018,” and retail sales, not including gasoline and autos, are expected to rise 4.7%. Do other economic indices pose concerns and challenges? You bet they do. But when is that not true? So what stance should erudite business leaders take regarding the future?
As Helen Keller said, “No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”
OPTIMISM AND LEADERSHIP
In his Forbes article, “5 Reasons Optimists Make Better Leaders,” author Carmine Gallo says that optimism is “the one essential trait that today’s leaders must exhibit.” He lists five advantages that optimistic leaders bring their organizations:
• Optimists start businesses. An optimist sees opportunity where others see uncertainty and despair.
• Optimists have the successful mindset. You simply cannot start a successful business in a difficult economic environment unless you cast off the negative emotions of fear, uncertainty and worry.
• Optimists are inspiring communicators. Inspiration means “to elicit a fervent enthusiasm.” You cannot elicit enthusiasm for an idea unless you’re a strong communicator.
• Optimists rally people to a better future. President Ronald Reagan had his share of skeptics, but his speeches brought out the best in people. Winston Churchill single-handedly turned around public opinion in World War II.
• Optimists see the big picture. If you’re surrounded by pessimists, you’re likely to assume that nothing will get better-the economy or your personal situation.
• Optimists elicit super human effort. People must believe that, no matter how bad things look, you will make them better.
Can optimism be learned? Even though genetics and early childhood experiences contribute to one’s perspective and outlook, it has been my experience from years of teaching and coaching executives and business professionals that optimism can be learned.
One of the skills that can be learned is the art of reframing. In March 1990, Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls in a victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers by scoring 69 points. After the game, a young ESPN reporter interviewed the Bulls’ rookie forward Stacey King and asked him how he felt about only scoring a single point compared to Jordan’s performance. “I’ll always remember this as the night that Michael Jordan and I combined to score 70 points,” he said.
Another attribute that can be built upon is confidence. I heard a story about a little grade-school girl who was sitting on the back row of a drawing class. The teacher did not think the girl was paying attention, so she walked to the back of the room and asked her, “Sweetie, what are you doing?”
“I am drawing a picture of God.”
“But nobody really knows what God looks like.”
The young girl smiled sweetly and said, “They will in a minute.”
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