3 things leaders can be optimistic about in 2021

The case for optimism is strong. In the U.S., vaccinations are accelerating, unemployment is declining and schools are reopening.

But separate from current events, there’s another reason why CEOs should have a positive outlook. Optimists make the best leaders. They tend to reframe challenges as opportunities, stay calm in high-pressure situations, take setbacks with stride and bounce back quickly from failure.

Some leaders are born optimistic, while others have to consciously work on it. If you fall into the latter camp, there are several ways you can start building this muscle — and several reasons why now is the time to do it.

 

What are some traits of optimistic leaders?

To become an optimistic leader, you first need to understand the qualities and characteristics that define them.

In most cases, optimistic leaders:

Anticipate success.

Like a sports coach, optimistic leaders don’t just want to win; they believe they will win. In business, leaders who model this mindset give others the confidence to continually aim for success.

Seek creative solutions.

Instead of dwelling on problems, optimistic leaders focus on solutions. That doesn’t mean they ignore the reality of a situation, but instead devote the majority of their energy to creative problem-solving.

Show gratitude.

Optimistic leaders express gratitude openly. They are quick and eager to say “thank you” to employees at all levels — and when they say it, they mean it.

Roll with the punches.

Optimistic leaders see failure as integral to the learning process. When things go wrong, they pick themselves up, analyze the situation and reset with a new plan.

Communicate an inspiring vision.

Optimistic leaders know how to communicate their vision for a better future. Because they believe wholeheartedly in that vision, they inspire others to rally around it.

Maintain an open mindset.

Always thinking ahead, an optimistic leader is a big thinker who is eager to explore new possibilities. They are energized by the unknown and are drawn to out-of-the-box ideas.

Avoid the blame game.

Optimistic leaders have no interest in pointing fingers. When mistakes are made, they help their employees reflect on what happened together, as a team.

How to become a more optimistic leader

With practice, anyone can become a more optimistic leader. A good initial step is to write down three things you’re grateful for every day. Reflect on where you want to take your career and think about how you might get there. Consciously acknowledge what variables you can and can’t control in your life. Throughout your day, practice viewing difficult situations through a positive lens.

At the same time, start working on your communication skills. Try using more positive language in your day-to-day conversations. When something goes wrong at work, get curious instead of getting upset. Try to reframe mistakes as opportunities for improvement so your teams feel positive and productive.

As a leader, you should also signal that optimism is part of your organizational culture. For example, work with your HR team to recognize and celebrate employee success. Find a space in your office to post thank you notes from clients or share news about business wins. Show your employees appreciation with gift cards for coffee after a job well done.

Finally, learn from people who understand optimism best. Find a coach who can help you build the confidence to be more optimistic. Study the behavior and communication style of an optimistic leader, considering whether you could adopt any of their qualities or habits.

What can you look forward to in 2021 and beyond?

Even if optimism doesn’t come naturally to you, there are substantial reasons to think positively about 2021 and beyond. The WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO Confidence Index, which measures the optimism of small-business CEOs, hit 108.8 in March 2021 — the highest level reached in the past 30 months. Comparatively, the index was 98.4 in February 2021 and only 91.7 in March 2020. This optimism is projected to continue.

But there’s more good news, according to the March 2021 WSJ/Vistage Small Business CEO survey:

1. The economy is projected to resurge.

After a tough year, the economy is poised for growth. In March, more than two-thirds (67%) of small-business CEOs said they believe that the economy will improve in the next year — the highest level recorded in the survey’s history, and a 9-point increase from February. Even more significant, CEOs are optimistic about their revenue outlook. More than three-quarters (76%) reported they expect to see increased revenues in the next 12 months, an increase from 72% in February.

2. Hiring is picking up.

To prepare for the release of pent-up demand, CEOs are ramping up their workforce. More than two-thirds (67%) plan to expand their workforce in the next 12 months. Compare that to the low of 21% recorded in April 2020 and 65% in February 2021.

3. Investment spending is increasing.

Planned increases in fixed investment spending were cited by 43% of small businesses in March, just above February’s 40% and last year’s 37%. Last April, only 14% of CEOs had planned to increase investment spending — a low point in the pandemic.

In short, brighter days lie ahead. And with an optimistic mindset, you’ll be ready to take advantage of them.

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