Learning How to Lead a Team by Being Optimistic

Optimism is a cornerstone of knowing how to lead a team. Learn how being optimistic can help leaders show their teams that the future looks bright.
July 02, 2018

For those interested in learning how to lead a team, "cultivate optimism" might not be a response they'd expect to hear. But leading teams with an optimistic approach can help you grow as a leader and boost your team's enthusiasm about their work.

Optimism is a key leadership trait for anyone leading teams. It can be especially important for anyone who leads an entrepreneurial venture where risk and uncertainty are common, and where an optimistic outlook for the future can help stay the course.

But being optimistic doesn't mean being bullheaded and refusing to face facts. And it doesn't mean going around wearing the proverbial rose-colored glasses. It's about being inclined to hope. It's leading teams by showing them that you have confidence in a better tomorrow no matter what false starts or setbacks the team may be facing today.

These six strategies can help you ramp up your optimism when leading teams.

This isn't about unbridled optimism or overconfidence. It's about knowing how to lead a team without staying stuck in a negative frame of mind.

1. Avoid getting bogged down by setback.

In learning how to lead a team, come to terms with the fact that progress is almost never a straight line. 

Reminding yourself that setbacks are a part of the normal course of business can help you stay optimistic about the future when something doesn't go as expected. This may help increase chances of being successful because it encourages us to continue to try.

2. Make self-care a daily priority.

As a leader—especially in high-stress environments—focusing on your business for long hours is not uncommon. But this can lead to feeling fatigued (and sometimes downright drained) from a lack of adequate sleep. 

Tiredness can not only affect you physically, but also emotionally and behaviorally. It can cause you to procrastinate, to delay important decisions or to avoid taking necessary risks. Constant tiredness can also lower your ability to stay optimistic.

So, when you're looking for ideas on how to lead a team, try starting with yourself. Heed the signs of tiredness by getting the right amount of sleep.

3. Nurture optimism in team members.

When you acknowledge and thank people individually for their efforts and accomplishments, you're sending a strong signal that you value people. Appreciation can invigorate your employees and boost their expectations of positive outcomes; it's a big part of learning how to lead a team.

Practice seeing each person on the team as unique and gifted in their own way. Show them that you expect them to succeed. And when things go wrong, you can help them focus on the long-term goals and to find the positive in the event. One way to do this is equipping them with a few questions to address the setback:

  • What can I do to reach the best possible outcome despite the setback?
  • What are some creative ways to respond to this situation?
  • What can be salvaged?
  • What can I learn from the setback that can help me in future projects?

4. Focus on the tone you set.

The tone you set as a leader is an important consideration when leading teams to perform. Raise your self-awareness of your tone by answering these three questions:

  • Is your habitual tone positive or negative?
  • What's your ratio of praising vs. criticizing?
  • Do you acknowledge and celebrate small bits of progress in long-term projects?

As a leader, your words can influence the team's mindset. When pondering how to lead a team, spend some time thinking about the words you use. Consider using words that lift people up, words that people would remember for a long time.

Here are few examples to start you off:

  • I am proud of you.
  • I couldn't have done this without you.
  • I want you on my team.
  • It's time to brag about what you and your team have accomplished.
  • You got this!
  • You have my full support.

5. Practice "future orientation" as part of your leadership style.

Practicing future orientation goes beyond just setting goals. 

Being future oriented means being fueled by the belief that these goals can be attained. This in turn helps drive goal-oriented behaviors such as thinking and talking about the future, planning for the long-term and continuously reinforcing the importance of the future vision.

The following tips can help you practice future orientation when leading teams:

  • Avoid being lulled by the status quo.
  • Explore trends and potential drivers of change.
  • Look for attractive future markets.
  • Consider what needs to be changed, periodically.

And here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

  • What policies and processes need dusting?
  • Is the technology you use in line with your long-term plans?
  • Who is coming with you in your future journey? Do their skills need updating? What else is needed to get them ready?

6. Improve your leadership communication skills.

Inspiring communication is a key component of how to lead a team. 

Try to enhance your communication skills so that you can effectively and enthusiastically communicate to your team where you want to go. You can use stories, metaphors and analogies to paint a picture of the future. This can help you bring the future to life and help your team see your ideas more clearly.

You see, "cultivating optimism" isn't about overconfidence. It's about knowing how to lead a team without staying stuck in a negative frame of mind. Ultimately, it's about having a healthy dose of optimism grounded in reality.

Read more articles on leadership skills.

Photo: Getty Images