Why Optimism Pays & Other Attitude Tips For Managers

You can’t exactly pinpoint why, but you tend to trust the pessimist.

When predicting possible outcomes of a court case or project, the pessimist of the group is likened to the realist. Of course, you hope the situation won’t be so dire, but you’re inclined to believe the worst case scenario first.

Why do optimists receive such a bad reputation in the business world?

Optimists are called dreamers. They live in fantasy land. Optimism has no place in a data-driven business environment…

Or does it?

It Pays to Be Optimistic,” reports Jennifer Robison for the Gallup Business Journal. In fact, recent research shows that optimistic managers do a better job at driving productivity in the workplace. Pessimistic managers, on the other hand, pave the way for the worst by expecting it.

Margaret Greenberg and Dana Arakawa, graduates of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program at the University of Pennsylvania, recently studied the effects of optimistic managers.

They found correlations that indicate optimists do a better job of helping employees reach goals. And, as a result, employees managed by optimistic leaders are more productive.

“Though a manager’s optimism didn’t directly influence the engagement level of his or her employees, that manager’s sense of optimism correlated significantly with his or her own level of engagement,” explains Robinson.

“In other words, the more optimistic the manager, the more engaged he or she is on the job.”

Engagement is a key driver of productivity, other studies have found.

Boris Groysberg and Michael Slind discuss the importance of employee engagement in their book Talk, Inc.: How Trusted Leaders Use Conversation to Power Their Organizations, which encourages organizations to increase the level of conversation that occurs amongst employees. Through engagement and back-and-forth dialogue, employees become more satisfied with their jobs and improve their overall performance.

Although the optimistic managers study didn’t focus specifically on corporate success, “both the 2005 and 2006 performance results, however, did show that the manager’s engagement level had a significant correlation with project performance.”

So, as a law firm manager, how do you turn that frown upside down?

Greenberg suggests three major ways to change your behavior at work to encourage employee engagement. Become a more optimistic manager by practicing:

Disputing. Control discussions that are pessimistic and thus counter-productive, whether they occur in the hallway or in the halls of your own mind. Redirect conversation to more hopeful channels through “disputing.”

Don’t disparage your peers for pessimism; rather, turn a cheerful cheek the other direction. As a manager, lead by example.

Reframing. Remember when your mother told you to look on the bright side of life? Well, do the same for business endeavors.

“The manager of a team facing layoffs, for example, can position the event as doomsday, or she can point out that the company has to cut costs or go out of business,” Robinson explains the notion of reframing.

“The first frame invites employees to panic; the second can help them respond calmly and rationally to a bad situation.”

Active-constructive responding. Encourage positivity through your verbal and nonverbal reactions. When an employee or peer shares good news, promulgate it throughout the office. Instead of passive responses, such as “oh, good.” Try encouraging ones, such as “Wow! Incredible! I’d like to hear more…”

Negative emotional contagion can take down your whole team. Luckily, optimism is equally powerful and catching. Studies show a smiling person is considered both more courteous and more competent by onlookers than an unsmiling one. So, instead of dolling out cash bonuses, try distributing smiles instead. And, in the same way, you may find that optimistic leadership pays more in terms of employee satisfaction and efficiency than does your average billable hour.

Try optimism on for size and watch as your associates become more content, your leaders more powerful, and your firm more productive. It turns out, it pays to be pleasant.

-WB

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