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The Role of Optimism in Leadership

Posted by Darleen DeRosa July 18, 2018



For this feature article, OnPoint Consulting managing partner Darleen DeRosa teams up with RSR Partners Leader of Hospitality & Leisure, Ann Fastiggi to provide their latest insight into the role of optimism in leadership.

Optimists make strong leaders since they are open to innovation, demonstrate big picture thinking, inspire employees, and deal with adversity with a positive attitude. Intel co-founder Robert Noyce once said that optimism is “an essential ingredient of innovation. How else can the individual welcome change over security, adventure over staying in safe places?” 

In a 2015 blog for Huffington Post, Trilby Johnson wrote, “Money follows joy. Joy does not follow money.” In the Hospitality industry, employees are taught the tenants of customer service and achieving or exceeding guest satisfaction. That is not easily done without a positive attitude and a smile. When you think of the industry’s most inspiring stories around guest service, you think of stories like the one Horst Schultze, founder of Ritz Carlton told about one of the night bellmen in his current company, The Capella Hotel Group, who accompanied a guest with appendicitis to the hospital and stayed with him all night. Yes, that takes a caring soul and an empathetic leader, but when you think about those who stand out, they are almost always joyful, warm and optimistic.

Is Your Potential Leader an Optimist?

Joy is a state of mind. “Being joyful requires feeling connected to other people in life, with nature, by appreciating the arts, and it requires an acceptance of life, as it is, in the present. Some believe that joy is a conscious commitment to be happy, to have a sense of contentment for the moment, despite life’s challenges.” states Cheryl McDonald, PsyD.

It is a long-held belief that people prefer leaders who have a happy, joyful, and optimistic attitude. It requires so much less energy than being around someone who is negative or pessimistic. When we look at some of the best leaders, people like John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Mahatma Ghandi, and Martin Luther King come to mind, and business leaders like Jamie Dimon, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos also rise to the top of most lists. 

This extends to leaders like Chris Nassetta at the helm of Hilton. He loves to say “yes!” Those who are closest to him know this is just who he is. He genuinely enjoys being in front of guests, employees, and his close-knit team.

In November 2016, Arne Sorenson wrote about the passing of his 89 year old mother whose “optimistic spirit” shaped who he is today. He tells of the story of her life challenges growing up in the Great Depression and the optimism that many in her generation had. She overcame a lot and raised one of the most thoughtful and successful leaders in today’s day. Now at the top of the largest hotel company in the world, the pressure is intense for people like Arne to marry optimism with realism and to face life with gratitude and joy. Or is it? Is it hard to choose to be joyful?

When looking for potential leaders, either internally or externally, organizations would benefit from using assessment tools to look for positive traits such as optimism, resilience and empathy. Using assessment tools provides robust data to guide selection and succession decisions and helps ensure that candidates are a good cultural fit.

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