Optimism + Hope: A Formula for the True North Leader’s Super Power

“It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily. “So it is.” “And freezing.” “Is it?” “Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little,“we haven’t had an earthquake lately.” ― A.A. Milne

I literally just did a quick search of the headlines:

“Full Death Toll from Texas Storm Could Take Months…”

“Former Capitol Security Officials blame…”

“U.S. Launches Military Airstrikes…”

“America’s Disastrous Vaccine Rollout…”

“Mass Shootings Hit a Record High in 2020…”

If you often start your day, as millions do, reading the headlines to determine if there are full stories worthy of your attention, I trust you’ve discovered the antidote to the inevitable pessimism that often results. For people without a True North cornerstone in life — a vibrant faith — optimism may be in short supply.

This conundrum sets up our thesis herein: Can one be optimistic but not hopeful? Or, flipped, filled with hope but lacking in optimism? Aren’t they synonyms after all? Aren’t we talking about two positive outlooks and emotions?

Actually, they are different. Cousins, no doubt conceptually, but each serves a different purpose in your thinking, planning and overall outlook on life. Often, optimism embraces the expectation that things will be better despite the obvious realities of a situation while hope works within the framework of actual reality.

OK. Two quick definitions: Optimism is being confident of the future, or the success of your business or life; it’s a positive mental attitude. While hope is the feeling that something you desire might happen. Optimism is a belief that things will turn out well while hope is an ability to work toward/strive for excellence in the face of obvious difficulties and obstacles.

Like I said, conceptual cousins. Yet much is made of their differences and the benefits of either vs the other. From my perspective, at the Leadership Drive-in of Life, when you order the combo you have a super power unlike few others.

But why bifurcate the two? Why value one above the other? Even John Maxwell splits the two, “We need leaders of hope. We need men and women who aren’t optimistic about the future — passively longing for a better way to eventually reveal itself — we need men and women who are hopeful about the future and actively seeking ways to bring it to pass.”

The benefits of optimistic leaders are obvious and tangible. Jeffrey E. Garten interviewed 40 of the world’s top CEOs in his book The Mind of the CEO. He found myriad unique distinctives among an august group of leaders, but one common quality they all shared was optimism. According to Garten “Their view was, I know I have succeeded in the past, and I’m quite confident that if I can look beyond today’s problems to a point on the horizon, I know I’m going to get there.”

That’s one type of optimism. Self-based: “I can do it.” “I’m great.” “I’m the best.” These humanistic mantras are loudly trumpeted these days. Self-affirm and you’ll be stronger, more resilient and more successful.

The problem there of course, is the source of the optimism: ME!

And the benefits of hopeful leaders are equally obvious. They tend to visualize a positive future with problem-solving skills that help create that future. They’re motivated to pursue ideas and solutions that, despite surrounding circumstances, tackle problems with effective coping and encouragement.

But let’s get more explicit and explore the power of hope+optimism in your organization.

Two scenarios come to mind.

In the first, you’re a leader in an organization which recently experienced a swift, surprising — perhaps even — shocking departure of the president. Think Ravi Zacharias’ ministry, or Hillsong New York, or Liberty University, all salient, pertinent and available case studies for this blog.

Sadly, sexual sins were eventually revealed (even posthumously in Ravi’s case) and those shocking revelations led to the leader’s ignominious removal. Reminds me of the “shaking” that occurred in the late 80s (Bakker, Swaggart, Gorman, et.al.). Google them if you’re too young to remember.

Questions you’ll undoubtedly consider:

· Should I stay or should I go? (thanks to The Clash)

· Are things going to remain as they were? Will there be an internal “cleansing” or will all those complicit remain in place and things won’t actually change nor improve?

· Will I lose my job?

Important and valid concerns. But,

· Get real. Which of these circumstances can you actually affect or change?

· How can you react in such a way as to become an important contributor to new health and growth?

· How will you incorporate hope+optimism into your thinking and behavior, and infect other “survivors” around you with positivism?

In the second scenario, you are the new leader in an organization devastated by the loss of a beloved leader (or, for that matter, a scoundrel). Or, in a more benign scenario, you have just assumed a new leadership position in any organization. What are your first steps in the new environment? Here’s a prescription for the True North Leader:

· Take time to accurately analyze your new situation. Rely on God’s Holy Spirit who promises wisdom and discernment.

· Consider the prescriptions for healthy team-building in last week’s blog.

· Realize that even a strong dose of hope+optimism isn’t a guarantee of happiness, especially in difficult, stressful or even dangerous situations. You will distinguish your leadership by how you respond and react.

· Let divine hope+optimism guide you to a “half-full glass” perspective of new opportunities to learn, grow and improve the situation for all your new followers.

For the True North Leader, the combination of biblical optimism and hope becomes your super power. It is the result of your faith in the character of God. It is the result of His interventions in the past and your assurance of His future involvement. St. Paul prays for us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NIV)

With our hope+optimism in a sovereign God we see above our circumstances and realize He is truly in control, “…if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently,” (Romans 8:25) and “…all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

God designed us to live with hope. Psalm 43:5 says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Optimism is a choice. When we choose to trust God for everything, we can rest in His promises to take care of us the way He sees fit (Philippians 4:19; Luke 12:30–31). We can “cast our care upon him” (1 Peter 5:7), “let our requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6), and accept His “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). Knowing that we have a loving heavenly Father who desires to care for us and provide for us should give every True North leader reason for true optimism (Matthew 6:8; Luke 12:29–31).

Norm Mintle

Dr. Mintle holds an earned Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He has served in executive positions across a broad range of media organizations and as a dean in two universities. This and previous blogs now provide conversation fodder for a group of True North Leaders online. Join us at True North Leadership on Facebook.

Media executive. Educator. Leader. Innovator.