Great Leaders Show Up with Optimism

In his recent memoir, The Ride of a Lifetime, Robert Iger, Disney’s Chairman and former CEO, lists optimism as one of his 10 core principles that contributed to his success.

He correctly points out, — no one wants to follow a pessimist. Debbie Downers need not apply!

Before we get into it, let me be clear, optimism is not all sunshine and rose-colored glasses. In fact, optimism is perhaps its most powerful in the midst of the storm.

It is the mindset that drives change, growth, and innovation. It embraces chaos and turbulence.

How does optimism show up?

Risk Takers

Optimistic leaders are more willing to take risks because they accept failure as part of the game. They know that achieving lofty, bold goals means you will fall short sometimes.

They don’t allow fear of failure to paralyze them. No surprise, courage is on Iger’s list as well. Courage is the antidote to fear.

They know they will make mistakes. In those mistakes, they find the lessons and opportunities that lead to growth.

“Pessimism leads to paranoia, which leads to defensiveness, which leads to risk aversion.” — Robert Iger


Optimistic leaders are big picture thinkers and focus on the future.

Rather than getting caught up in what has been termed the “recency effect”, they believe things will change. The “recency effect” describes a cognitive bias towards remembering the most recent experiences and information, and a belief that they will persist.

This mentality may result in leaders slipping into self-preservation mode, a defensive position or damage-control mode. They stay stuck because they are worried about surviving today, rather than looking ahead.

That is not to say they put on those “rose-colored” glasses or blinders. They acknowledge the realities of the situation with their team, but they are more focused on solving the problem.

Creative Problem-Solvers

Optimistic leaders encourage creativity and innovation. They are looking for solutions rather than dwelling on what went wrong. They want to know what is needed now or what can be done to make practical progress.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill

Collaborative & Communicative

Optimistic leaders are more collaborative, feeding off other people’s energy, ideas, and opinions.

They are more open to sharing information and knowledge in a way that lets their team participate in problem-solving and decision-making.

They tend to create and maintain healthy, long-term relationships. That level of engagement, trust, and respect for their relationships, is only amplified by the inspiring quality of optimistic leaders.

Expectation of Success

As we would expect from big picture thinkers and future-focused visionaries, optimistic leaders see what is possible. They see the opportunities.

Similarly, they tend to help team members believe in a level of performance beyond what they think they are capable of alone.

It’s “pragmatic enthusiasm” for what can be achieved.

Similarly, Colin Powell has described how he tempers optimism with logic. “Maybe it can’t be done, but always start out believing it can be done until facts and analysis pile up against it. Don’t surround yourself by skeptics but don’t shut out skeptics who give you solid counterviews.”

That sounds pretty solid to me. Embrace optimism but don’t be a damn fool!



I help women entrepreneurs scale businesses. I am a business consultant and legal advisor.

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Kate Carney

I help women entrepreneurs scale businesses. I am a business consultant and legal advisor.