Let’s face it: without optimism, energy ebbs and life is a chore. A team without optimism can hardly be high-performing. Yet, misplaced optimism can be just as damaging. It can blind the team to the degree of challenge ahead; otherwise minor issues catch them sleeping. As a simple example, consider a recreational day hike in a rugged natural park. An optimist, looking at the sunny, warm morning weather trundles off in shorts and t-shirt carrying only a water bottle and lunch. A pessimist looks at the weather report with a 10% chance of rain, and stays home. A reality-based optimist looks at the weather report, thinks it will likely be a great day but packs rain gear just in case. To follow up on the scenario, if it does rain, the optimist gets soaked, risks hypothermia and spends a miserable day. The pessimist misses a great hike on a mostly sunny day and a reality-based optimist deals easily with a temporary shower and has a great excursion.
Reality-based optimism means that you believe you can meet the challenge and are willing to face the sometimes unpleasant realties that it entails. Perhaps it means that people have to put in extra work to succeed. Perhaps the chance of success is small but the rewards will be great. Reality-based optimism also means allowing people to be negative and critical at certain times in order to get all those feelings, fears and ideas out on the table. Then, you make your plan, commit and move forward with the sincere belief that you can succeed.
Does your team have a ‘can do’ attitude that is well grounded in reality? Are they open to confronting and examining the possible downsides of a situation and then resolve to go forward?