If you confide in Victor Perton that you are discouraged and pessimistic, he’s likely to smile, pull out a mirror, let you see your reflection, and hand you a marker. What’s he up to? It’s your first lesson in optimism!
A bold and friendly optimist himself, Victor told us the serious side of optimism during a recent interview with him. To him, being optimistic is essential to living well! He revealed how studies repeatedly prove that optimism raises educational achievement levels, business leadership effectiveness, heart-health and mental health – to name only a few of its benefits.
So, if you let optimism change your way of thinking, you might be in for the change of a lifetime! Hang on to your mirror! You’re off to a great flight with Victor. All good!
OUR INTERVIEW with Victor
Q What is the most important point for conferees to hear and remember? Why?
A The two sentences I want IACCM members and conferees to remember are:
- The leader looks like the person in my mirror.
- What makes you optimistic?
Before the IACCM Americas conference starts in November 2019, I’d love IACCM members to write “The leader looks like the person in my mirror” in lipstick or marker pen on their mirrors. I would love to hear what impact it makes.
Let’s experiment with the second question “What makes you optimistic?” of everyone in their household and, at the next business meeting, they chair, convene or organize. I would love to hear what they are being told.
Most importantly, the latest evidence shows optimism is a key trait for healthy longevity and a protector from heart-disease, cancer and other ailments. I’ll explain ways in which all of us - optimists and pessimists - can use language and other tricks to increase our optimism and that of those around us.
Q Do you agree with IACCM surveys that suggest a problem with “over-optimism” of top management? Would you explain?
A Pessimism in the workplace is afflicting much of the western world. Mired in a fog of pessimism and skepticism, Europe and other parts of the developed world are being bypassed in the fourth industrial revolution by Asia, Africa and Latin America whose people are powering up and advancing in global affairs, prosperity and wellbeing.
The best leaders lead their teams to discover greater optimism, resilience and self-mastery. I strongly suggest that senior leadership open conversations throughout their businesses on what makes their team members optimistic.
Q Would you explain the difference between commercial realism and a healthy dose of optimism?
A No difference. The best leaders are realistic and infectiously optimistic. You need to have an excellent strategy and business plan. The deal should leave both parties better off. That’s realism and optimism at work.
Having listened to IACCM leaders like Tim Cummins and Sally Guyer, I’ve seen the future of contracting and procurement is partnership, collaboration and better long-term relationships.
Some companies with the best research get the optimism message. Coca Cola has included optimism in its mission statement seeking “…to inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions.”
Optimism is at the core of strategy. Because strategy is a large part of my work as a member of various boards and as an adviser, I have made it my business to ask others about the role of optimism in good strategy.
Allan Shaw1 puts it well, "Strategy is about envisioning and planning for a better future. Without optimism there is little point in planning for a better future."
How do you put this into action at work?
- My view is the leader looks like the person in your mirror. You are good enough and can get better as can your colleagues. Optimism enlivens and impassions while pessimism paralyzes.
- At the strategy and business planning level, make sure each person opens with what’s going well, what makes them optimistic and what plans do they have to build a better future for the organization and the team.
- If there’s a strategy or business retreat, make sure the facilitators are optimistic and upbeat. I have witnessed too many of these sessions led by people whose business model is based on making you feel bad about how you are doing as leaders, managers, innovators and the like. The message is “you’re not good enough and hire me to make you better.”
Q Is pessimism always wrong? When you say all good leadership is optimistic, how can you handle bad news that you announce when that news is hard to hear from start to finish?
A Pessimism is always disempowering. A big part of learning to be more optimistic is positive self-talk. Empower yourself. All of us feel anxious and worried at some time. Some of us feel more anxious and sadder than others. It's in times of anxiety and sadness that it's more important than ever to reaffirm your desire to be more optimistic.
Where pessimists see problems, optimists may see opportunities. If you change the way you look at issues and challenges, your problems may diminish in importance and can transform into opportunities to learn and discover your inner strengths. Mistakes and second-best-results are opportunities for you to learn, not failures for you to endure. Don't take setbacks personally - they happen to everyone.
As the author R.H. Lewis said to me, " author R.H. Lewis author R.H. Lewis voice in our head. What we say makes us optimistic or pessimistic. The choice is ours."2
If you find yourself preoccupied with a problem, feeling negative, or experiencing self-doubt, change your focus by asking:
- What part of the problem is in my control? Acknowledge what you can and cannot control. The things that are out of your control are out of your control. Focus on what you can change.
- What's one thing I can do that might make the situation better or solve the problem?
- What positive and productive ideas do I have about overcoming or managing the situation?
- What resources do I have to overcome the threat or situation?
- What are the opportunities presented to me by the situation?
- Does the situation provide an opportunity for me to learn more about my strengths and positive qualities?
- Can I find humor in the situation? Can I reduce the tension with a joke?
- In a world of 7 billion people, does anyone really care about this mistake or setback?
- What would God say if he was looking over my shoulder?
If you want to develop as an infectiously optimistic leader, use variations of these questions to empower your team and colleagues to think differently. Always remember, the leader looks like the person in your mirror.
Q Victor, what’s the mental and physical health story around optimism?
A The recent wave of medical research on the benefits of optimism though cutting-edge testing methods and equipment, big-data and machine-learning is ground-breaking.
A recent OECD3 Study on Social and Emotional Skills in schools stated, “Emotional stability skills are found to be the most predictive of mental health. Optimism has the highest relation to life satisfaction scores."
Research by several leading American universities and the American military have established a very strong link between optimism and longevity. Why? It is believed that optimistic people are better able to balance their emotions more effectively and that they more easily bounce back from some of the many stresses that life offers.
Optimism is strongly linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular events. A study by the American College of Cardiology attributes this to the fact that “Optimists persevere by using problem-solving and planning strategies to manage stressors.”4
A 2019 University of Illinois study shows people who are the most optimistic tend to be better sleepers. Again, as the lead researcher Professor Rosalba Hernandez said, "Optimists are more likely to engage in active problem-focused coping and to interpret stressful events in more positive ways, reducing worry and ruminative thoughts when they're falling asleep and throughout their sleep cycle…Dispositional optimism—the belief that positive things will occur in the future—has emerged as a psychological asset of particular salience for disease-free survival and superior health.”5
As the Dalai Lama says, "Choose optimism. It feels better."
Q You have published two books on optimism, the recent “Optimism: The How and Why” and “The Case for Optimism: The Optimists Voices”. What inspired you to write your books? Did it come from experiences as a parliamentarian, Trade and Investment Commissioner to the Americas or your role as Senior Adviser to the G20 presidency?
A I came out of 18 years as a parliamentarian thinking I knew a lot about leadership - good and bad. Working in the Americas and in the G20,6 I experienced great respect from foreigners about Australia, Australians and Australian leadership. In many cases, it was romantic conjuring up images of the outback drover resilient, tough and innovative responding to any problem with the self-assured “She’ll be right, mate.”
When I came back to Australia, I was astounded by widespread negativity towards leadership. To cut a long story short, I created the Australian Leadership Project7 and we interviewed thousands on the qualities of Australian leadership. At the end of the project, it was even clearer to me that the leadership was good, so I remained bewildered by the negativity.
In late 2017 I participated in the last panel of the Global Integrity Summit - The Case for Optimism. The audience reaction in person and online was electric. It was my Eureka moment, there’s a “fog of pessimism” and my calling is to help provide a light to cut through the gloom.
The first book “The Case for Optimism: The Optimists Voices” was based on my speech at the Summit. The former New Zealand PM and then head of the UNDP, Helen Clark, offered to endorse the book. It generated lots of requests for speeches and workshops.
The experiences, my daily rituals of asking people what makes you optimistic and people’s questions led to the second book, “Optimism: The How and Why”.
Q What’s been the result of publication?
A One of the nicest responses was during a prison workshop I presented. When I asked for feedback one prisoner looked doleful and said, we thought you would bring a copy of the book for each of us. Lesson learned: Take a copy of Optimism: The How and Why” for every prisoner when delivering prison workshops.
Q Where do you see your lifework leading now?
A Asking the question, “what makes you optimistic?” looks like being my lifework. I have set a target of working on this to the age of 90 and we’ll rewrite the vision after that for the next ten years.
My start-up Centre for Optimism, will provide the vehicle for volunteers and professionals to build on my work and scale it up for a global movement.
Much of the so-called western world is in a “fog of pessimism” and while I can’t change the zeitgeist set by forces much larger than me - I can help each person to be a lighthouse in the fog.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Victor Perton recently published his new book titled, Optimism: The How and Why8 and he formed a start-up Centre for Optimism.9 Earlier in the Year, he delivered keynote addresses at IACCM’s Europe Conference in Madrid10 and APAC (Asia-Pacific)11 conference and was inspired by the reaction of IACCM members to his message of infectious optimism.
Victor will be a keynote speaker at our Americas Conference in Phoenix, AZ.12
- Allan Shaw article
- H. Lewis commentary
- OECD study. See also Connectedness, success article
- McKnight article: Three studies you can feel good about
- Curiosity article: Optimism may lead to better sleep
- G20 countries in 2019
- Australian Leadership Project
- Optimism: The How and Why
- Centre for Optimism
- IACCM’s Europe Conference in Madrid 2019
- APAC (Asia Pacific) 2019
- Americas Conference in Phoenix, AZ.