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Realistic Leaders Spur Transformative Interactions

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 - 10:45
Realistic Leadership for Transformative Teams

Striking a balance between optimism and pessimism plays a critical role for realistic leaders to foster transformative interactions among their teams.

Looking back on the first half of 2016, there’s no doubt that we’ve all been involved in meetings whose purpose is finding new and better ways to do business. That’s why, as we move into the second half of the year, we’ve devoted a series of posts to what leadership pundits call “transformative conversations.” Given our blog’s mission to share tools and techniques for greater productivity in your meetings and collaborative pursuits, we feel helping you cope with the rising trend of Digital Transformation is an apt initiative.

First, we covered using your sense of curiosity as a means of optimizing your transformative effectiveness in meetings. And then, we discussed how pursuing feedback can make you a transformative influence in meetings. With this post, we’ll discuss how realism – i.e., striking a balance between optimism and pessimism – plays a critical role in transformative interactions.

Poll Your Team to Get a Glimpse into Optimistic and Pessimistic Mindsets

Back in January, one of the pundits we follow, leadership guru Mike Figliuolo, surveyed the readership of SmartBrief newsletters with this question: “What’s your outlook for the coming year?” Here were the results as of mid-January:

  • Its’ definitely going to be better than last year – nearly 56% (55.99%)
  • It’ll be about the same as last year – about 31% (31.16%)
  • It’s definitely going to be worse than last year – nearly 13% (12.85%)

Figliuolo’s objective in sharing the study wasn’t so much measuring an intangible state of mind as it was modeling a method business leaders can use to manage that mindset. “Ask your people this same poll question and lead them accordingly,” Figliuolo wrote. “For the optimists, give resources and support. For the pessimists, help them see the possibilities.”

Transformative Interactions Hinge on Optimism Tempered by Pessimism

Figliuolo’s quick survey reinforces a point we’ve made in earlier posts abut transformative interactions: Balance is what makes them highly productive interactions. Too often, the breakneck pace of digital business makes optimism feel like naiveté, as we flounder in a dizzying deluge of Big Data. Indulging in pessimism becomes so tempting, because, in the least, we’re conscious of and managing risks, right?

Well, 20 years of research by New York University’ Gabrielle Oettingen suggests there may be some wisdom to this instinct. Oettingen found that overly optimistic thinking doesn’t necessarily help people achieve their goals. In fact, too much optimism can get in the way by shifting energy away from hard work to reverie about the benefits of success. A little pessimism, she theorizes, can add motivation by helping us imagine the consequences of failure before they come to fruition.

But it’s important to understand that Oettingen doesn’t consider pessimism to be synonymous with negative thinking. Instead, she sees pessimism as a form of realism, a mindset that recognizes, acknowledges and analyzes obstacles to success. And she offers a strategy called W.O.O.P for putting pessimism to work for you:

Wish: Think about your wish.

Outcome: Think about your ideal outcome.

Obstacles: Think about the obstacles in your way.

Plan: Plan for those obstacles.

Curiosity is the Final Ingredient to Success

Oettingen’s W.O.O.P method is a fine addition to the toolkit for transformative conversations we’ve described in other posts. A sense of curiosity becomes an important skill for wielding the W.O.O.P process, as we need to envision and articulate success not only for our teammate and our business as a whole, but for ourselves as individuals playing leadership roles within those groups. By the same token, pursuing feedback becomes critical, because multiple perspectives enable us to illuminate blind spots in plans that we just couldn’t find in isolation.

Stoking curiosity, pursuing feedback and practicing realism take time, concentration and discipline to apply consistently in your business interactions. The rewards, however, can indeed be transformative for your business – and yourself.


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