A client recently shared with me that one of his senior employees, a leader in the organization, always had a way of looking at the negative side of a situation rather than searching for the positive. They were in effect highly pessimistic despite being very knowledgeable, skilled and dedicated to their team and employer.
In the past my client, the CEO of the organization, had learned to simply ignore his negativity. However, as we were embarking on introducing a new approach to communication across the organization, the leaders pessimism was having a detrimental effect both on his subordinates and their willingness to consider if and how they might follow the new process.
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Negativity and pessimism are not something to be taken lightly, particularly when it comes to a leader. In fact in my work with clients, identifying pessimism is one of the areas we explore before considering the hiring or promotion of a leader, and for one reason…
Negative people (and in turn highly pessimistic people) resist change.
It’s difficult enough to introduce improvements and create a culture of continuous improvement, never mind spending additional time attempting to overcome the constant objections of a highly pessimistic person. Fortunately, there are practices you can apply if you already have someone in a leadership role who is pessimistic. That’s right, pessimism can be reversed to some extent.
In reversing or reducing pessimism, there are three key steps to focus on:
Awareness: Increasing the awareness of the individual as to how they sound to others is the first step. This can be accomplished by repeating their statements back to them and in a similar tone and context it’s presented.
Alternatives: Engaging the individual in a dialogue about the pros and cons of alternatives to their response begins to broaden their perspective. The key here is not to tell them what the alternatives are, but together exploring possible alternatives together.
Assistance: Transitioning from alternatives to action is the final phase of reducing pessimism. Providing support in creating and following through with action plans while providing assistance along the way is the final step. Assistance can be provided through coaching, mentoring, encouragement, etc. The key is to continue working with the individual to help them introduce the very alternatives and changes identified. In effect they will experience and witness the results themselves (and often learn that there are in fact solutions).
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Having leaders who are pessimistic can be detrimental to building and creating the culture you desire. By providing specific and ongoing support in the form of the three steps above you can overcome this tendency…that is unless you are pessimistic about my approach.
© Shawn Casemore 2017. All rights reserved.