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Optimism in the Workplace and Why It's a Superpower Leaders Must Possess

Earlier this February, Delta Air Line's CEO, Ed Bastian, sent an email to customers. It was part apology and 'thank you' addressing the disruptions to travel caused by major snowstorms in the Midwest and Northeast. It is said that more than 5,000 flights were canceled across all airlines.

Although, the disruption caused by a few days of bad weather appears minor, when your business is entirely reliant on people moving from one location to another, this makes for a significant problem.

Bastian wrote, "If you have flown with us recently and have experienced disruptions to your travel plans, I want to thank you for your trust, patience, and loyalty." It goes on to say, "Our operation continues to stabilize following a number of unprecedented challenges, including one of the most difficult holiday environments we've ever faced as a result of the omicron variant and a series of winter weather events."

What came after stuck out to me:

"Despite these disruptions, we remain optimistic about what's ahead."

Those words struck a chord because they encapsulate two critical business truths:

  1. Disruptions are uncontrollable. To make things bearable when they do come, is to anticipate them as part of your risks and prepare contingencies. We will never know when they will arise or their magnitude, but careful planning will prevent us from getting cut off on our knees.

  2. How we respond is impactful. When we are prepared, our response will be immediate and impactful. You can choose to react to disruptions with fear and anxiety or receive them with confidence and optimism.

To this, I've long believed that optimism is a superpower. More than Plan B, Plan C, etc., it enables you to seek a way out of a difficult situation without succumbing to it. Optimism presupposes that something better will come along in the future and motivates us to pursue it.

As a leader, cautious optimism is a critical trait for motivating your team and executing your business's vision. You may have a well-conceptualized plan but what’s more important are the people behind its implementation. This is true even when you are not in a crisis, but it is an especially valuable quality when you are.

It's not at all difficult nor is it complicated. One of the most effective strategies for leading a team through difficult times is to instill hope that things will improve and cultivate an atmosphere for growth. The possibility of that chance is enough to keep everyone focused on the mission – one step at a time.

And that is more paramount than the plan.

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