At the height of the recession back in 2009, I wrote an article on how to stay up in downtime. I wrote it from the perspective of business, but I think the principles apply at this unusual and challenging time. Before going any further, let me just say that this is not just about having a positive mental attitude; although I think that’s always better than having a negative mental attitude.
Positive thinking in negative circumstances
One of the key points in my article back then was to consider that, however bad things seem to be, there are always some folks who seem to flourish in the face of extremely adverse circumstances.
Behavioural Patterns of Positive Thinkers
So, why is this? Well, one of the reasons might be a positive attitude. I have done some research on this and it seems that these people share certain positive thinking and behavioural patterns.
- Firstly, they learn from previous experiences of downtimes
- They recognise that fear itself is a big element here. They recognise that fear is internally generated and acting on it can paralyse you and/or result in you making poor decisions, which in turn creates more problems. The financial crisis of 1929 was, in many ways, based on False Evidence Appearing Real; the acronym for fear
- They are ‘positive’ thinkers. Not in the Pollyanna, happy happy, clappy clappy way. No, they accept that things are bad but they just choose not to dwell on them
- They refuse to become a victim of circumstances, focusing instead on what they can actually do. It is said that when a person expects the worst, there is no philosophy that will help them and they get what they focus on saying, “What I feared has come upon me”
- Lastly, and more esoterically, they have faith (whatever you think that to be) that they are going to make it through this time
Again, let me re-emphasise I am not a big fan of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) as expressed in the mantra that you just have to think positively and great things will happen. My coach and mentor, the late great Jim Rohn, said that “Affirmation without discipline is the beginning of delusion”. I advocate critical thinking. Looking at a situation for what it is.
Achievements and limiting expectations
With your permission, I’d like to just change tack for a minute here. If you’ve ever seen the film Good Will Hunting, you’re probably familiar with the story of Matt Damon’s character, Will Hunting, as he works as a janitor at MIT. A learned professor sets up a challenging math problem for his class on the blackboard outside his office.
Although he isn’t a student, Will solves it anonymously, easily and correctly – much to the surprise of the professor. I don’t know if you know this, but this scene is actually based on the true story of George Dantzig.
Dantzig was studying statistics at the University of California. One day Dantzig was late for class and saw that there were two problems written on the blackboard. He assumed the problems had been assigned as homework for the students. He copied them down and a few days later Dantzig apologised to his professor for taking so long to do the homework as “the problems seemed to be a little harder than usual.”
What Dantzig did not know was that the two problems on the blackboards that he had taken too long to answer were not homework for the class, but rather were famously unsolved statistical problems.
Get the idea? Dantzig did not let limiting expectations get in the way. And maybe that’s what we need to do now; do not let limiting expectations and fear get in the way. What could you achieve if you expected to? Just a thought!
perspective AND circumstances
Here’s another thought for you to consider. What if there was no such thing as negative circumstances? What if circumstances were always neutral? What if, actually, it was our perspective on them that made them positive or negative?
Now, please don’t think I am saying that thousands of people dying can be perceived as a good thing OK? William Shakespeare is accredited as saying “There is nothing either good or bad but our thinking makes it so”. Maybe he had a point. In a similar vein, Napoleon Hill argued that:
“in every adversity lies the seed of equal advantage if you adopt a possibility mindset”
Making the most of a bad situation
For us here at Eagle Training, the COVID-19 lockdown has decimated our training schedules. While it is possible to do some of our work online, it is not the same as our face-to-face sessions for several reasons.
So, we have taken the opportunity to give our marketing a much-needed upgrade; hence the new web design, our first podcast called “Thoughts from the Eagle’s Nest” and our new “View from the Eagle’s Nest” playlist on YouTube.
The Power of Positive Leadership
Let’s close this week’s tip by considering the impact of all this on leadership and management. A while ago I read a summary of a book called ‘The Power of Positive Leadership’ by Jon Gordon. I found it interesting as it explored the importance of a leader being positive rather than negative.
So, let me ask you: do you inspire the people around you or do you discourage them; even if you don’t mean to? Your leadership or management style – whether positive or negative – matters more than you might realise.
I believe that pessimists don’t change the world. Throughout history, we see that it’s the optimists, the believers, the dreamers, the doers, and the possibility thinking leaders who change the world. Again, please note that I am differentiating between pessimists and those folks are critical in their thinking as a way of testing situations and ideas; a bit like Walt Disney used to.
Anyway, the good news is, even if you’re the biggest pessimist you know, you can learn to change your outlook and that will change your life and make you a much stronger leader. There’s a joke in there somewhere but I just can’t bring myself to use it here!
As a leader, the optimism in your company, team or family starts with you. If you don’t have it, you can’t share it. The good news is that pessimism is really just a state of mind. It’s not permanent. You can change it and, frankly, you definitely should. So how can you do that? Well, here are a few thoughts for you to consider.
- Stop complaining and blaming; even if you think it’s justified
- Focus your attention on solutions
- Create positive change from the inside out; start with what’s going on for you
- Learn to lead your team with optimism and vision, regardless of the circumstances, keep pointing others toward a positive future
- Encourage rather than discourage but please note that this does not mean you stop holding people accountable
- Finally, lead without fear. Fear is draining. Fear divides. Fear paralyses. The key to leading without fear is to provide both care (yes, really) and accountability.
When you live and lead with optimism and share positive energy with others, you can transform the negativity that too often sabotages people, teams and organisations. Your new, more positive attitude will, at last, allow you to take on the battle that we are all experiencing right now, overcome the negativity, face the adversity, and keep moving forward.