Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


Pragmatic Optimism

Volume: July 2008

By Doug Van Dyke, Leadership Simplified, www.leadershipsimplified.com

Recently I had a client engage my services to facilitate a strategic planning session for their leadership team. They forwarded a list of their most pressing issues. Also, they voiced their concerns about changes going on in their industry. Their list of issues contained eight nicely arranged items, each followed by a brief supporting comment. As I scanned the list I read six items that my client had no control over. Items such as, the state of the economy and high fuel prices peppered their list. Contrarily, the list contained only two “real” items – things they could control. In addition, what surfaced during the planning session were a host of opportunities that were being overlooked because their team members were so stressed-out about a bunch of things they could not control. 

Perhaps we could all use a little review of five items that I believe are particularly important these days. If this gets a little preachy, I apologize unreservedly. Indulge me, please. 

  1. Honestly assess the business environment. When Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, was at the peak of his career a journalist asked a GE executive what made Jack so good. The executive stated: “Jack possess the ability to see things the way they are.” In other words, Jack Welch was not swayed by pie in the sky projections, nor was his enthusiasm dampened by negative media comments or uncontrollable events. Seek to emulate Jack and see things the way they are, not the way they are painted by the media or pundits.  
  2. Stop worrying about things you cannot control. Gas prices are kinda high. Segments of the economy are hurting. Segments of the economy are flourishing. International tension seemingly abounds. Can you control any of these things? If you can, call me. Now. 
  3. Focus on what we can control. We can control our work ethic, our ethics in general, effective communication with our team, and hopefully our behaviors. This is where we need to focus our energies: squarely on items that will impact productivity, efficiency, and morale. 
  4. Look for opportunities. In Mandarin, the literal translation of the word crisis is “danger/opportunity.” From a standpoint of thoroughness do we need to examine the danger related to situations and the business environment? Of course we do, it is good strategic planning to ponder as many angles as possible. What I frequent observe though, is many leaders fail to think creatively about what opportunities may be lurking. In addition, by focusing on danger and hazards that are out of our control, business people are losing their sense of optimism.
  5. Practice pragmatic optimism. A note to all of my fellow entrepreneurs: it is our great sense of optimism that allows us to flourish. Let’s face it. If you are not a bold faced optimist you would have never started your own business. What I mean by pragmatic optimism (and this is not from Webster’s) is this:Pragmatic Optimism: Maintaining a positive state of mind and acknowledging that the world offers an amazing amount of opportunities, while embracing the relevant realities of your business situation.         

So what happened to the leadership team that engaged in the strategic planning session referenced in the beginning of this narrative? Well, after a little soul-searching, they jettisoned their head trash surrounding events and situations which they could not control. In addition, they created an action plan – a segment of which is shown below:

  1. Consistently embrace pragmatic optimism.
  2. Help our team members fully understand that all is not gloom and doom.
  3. Be coaches and educators in order to provide visionary leadership that showcases individual strengths and team opportunities.
  4. Acknowledge that hurdles to our success will arise.
  5. Acknowledge that we will ultimately succeed – we always do.

In closing, I quote Henry Ford, who many years ago said: “One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his greatest surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't.”

Be well, and think positively!

Doug Van Dyke is a leadership and communication consultant, executive coach, and business planner. His book, Leadership Simplified, as well as audios and video are available at the Productivity Store of www.leadershipsimplified.com. To learn more about consulting services, coaching, and training, or to have Doug speak at your next event, contact him today at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or at 941-776-1121. 

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