In criticizing the notion of leading from the positive lens, people often point out the dangers of optimistic self-deception. Self-deception is a real danger but positive leadership is not self-deceptive. Quite the opposite. It is about intelligent optimism. It is about seeing reality clearly, experiencing pain while maintaining hope. It is about choosing to engage reality from a state of high functionality.
I know a woman who often teaches materials from positive organizational scholarship. She was diagnosed with cancer. She determined to be proactive in going through the process and to do it in the framework of gratitude. She then told me one amazing story after another.
I received an email from one of the women on the staff of the business school. She has a staff job, but she volunteers to help other staff members in the university by doing workshops and giving talks about the application of positive organizational scholarship. She wrote about what she plans to do in an upcoming session:
“So, my plan is to talk about gratitude and the impact of keeping a gratitude journal, making a gratitude visit, sharing research such as the Nun Study, and my passion for being grateful. But I also plan to talk about the fact that in my personal experience, it is not always possible to be grateful every moment. Life happens. In my life, my Mom suffers from Alzheimer’s and has had it for five years. So far, it has been a slow progression, but it is still happening and it is not easy! My husband has been unemployed for two years and has low self-esteem. In addition, he has been told he needs open-heart surgery and he is in total denial. None of these things are a piece of cake, but I am able to cope because of my faith and my belief that if we focus on all that we have to be grateful for in our lives, it will give us the strength to get through the rough times. What do I have to be grateful for: I am able to share this research with everyone and hopefully plant a seed or help them in their daily lives, I have a good job and a great boss, I have three children that graduated from college even though I barely had a dime to help them, I have five grandchildren, I am given the opportunity to sing in church, my Mom is still alive, my husband makes me laugh all the time — the list is endless!!!”
The challenges of life are very real. How we choose to engage them is very important. I am surrounded by people who work at various levels of the hierarchy but choose how they live. That makes them extraordinary. They teach me that I have more options than fight or flight. They teach me the value of intelligent optimism. I am grateful for them.
- What is intelligent optimism?
- What is positive leadership?
- Why does pain often turn a person into a positive leader?
- How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?