Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

This was shared with me - May 19, 2008 - thought it of interest to us all...

I've been curious about the role optimism plays in leadership, and I am always on the lookout for research that examines whether successful leaders see the glass as half-full. Many of the related surveys I see query optimism about external conditions, particularly the economy. ExecuNet even conducts a monthly Recruiter Confidence Poll that measures something relevant. (By the way, 66 percent of search consultants are confident/very confident that the executive market will improve in the next six months - up from 61 percent in April and 52 percent in March.)

While I suspect that optimism is a characteristic filled with lots of grey, and many temper their bright outlooks with realism, pragmatism and a dash of pessimism, there are some people who see situations through a more negative filter. Anand Sharma of TBM Consulting calls them "CAVE people" - citizens against virtually everything - and author Laurence Haughton talks about how to outmaneuver them in It's Not What You Say... It's What You Do. You may have some in your organization - or maybe you're a CAVE-dweller yourself.

You can recognize these individuals for their ability to negatively scan situations and present a resounding "No!" for why something can't be done. It's more than devil's advocacy; these people look for and focus on the deal-breakers instead of the solutions.

If you have a teammate with this attitude, Sharma recommends four steps to increase buy-in:

  1. Kick off your change with a "Wow!" event: Generate high-impact positive spin to neutralize the negativity.
  2. Blitzkrieg them: Move fast before CAVE people develop eloquent arguments.
  3. Create disciples from the rank-and-file: They are the ambassadors of positive energy.
  4. Take your success story straight to the top: Senior leadership won't allow CAVE people to get in the way of necessary change.

If you find yourself frequently looking at the darker side of the picture, occasionally replace "No" with "I'll try." You can learn where you fall on the optimism scale by taking the test constructed by Dr. Martin Seligman, director of the University Of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center.

Robyn Greenspan
295 Westport Avenue
Norwalk, CT 06851

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