“Leading with Optimism” Harvard Business Review summary

Photo of Myanmar boats by the shore

To read this article in Myanmar language, click here.

As leaders, how much should you talk about optimism or hope during times of widespread hardship? Might it appear superficial to your employees and communities?

Research done by Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan conclude that “it’s precisely in the midst of a setback or challenging time, that leaders should be actively encouraging positivity because it will help teams weather the storm.”

Working with an organization in the midst of a financial crisis, the researchers urged supervisors to incorporate gestures like increased praise and recognition, regularly scheduled lunch celebrations, or sharing notes of encouragement.

After six weeks, the authors evaluated whether those “positive psychology interventions” had any positive effect. They found that, despite the ongoing crisis, 62% of respondents reported being happy at work, compared with 43% before the intervention. Employee reports of burn out and high stress dropped significantly. The authors provide three lessons from this research:

  1. Role model from the top. Leaders must be authentic in their positive mindsets, even in the middle of challenging times. Follow through when you say that your people are your greatest asset by showing them that they are important.
  2. Help employees connect before asking them to change. Most people fear change. The authors emphasize the need to create a positive mindset throughout the whole organization, because their research shows that “behaviors and attitudes are reinforced when a group does it together.” Groups have the power to develop and reinforce positive habits, new routines, and a new culture.
  3. Make change a normal part of employees’ job. Within difficult situations, work hard to reinforce positive factors and not dwell on the negative aspects. Be creative in celebrating successes, expressing gratitude, and boosting the positive atmosphere in your workplace and community.

In their research, Achor and Gielan find that both employees and clients benefit from positive interventions. Imagine what kind of culture you can create for your workplace and community if you celebrate successes, share hope, and encourage participation.

To read the full article, click here.

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