by Lincoln Institute | May 15, 2020

One of the many effects of the COVID-19 shutdown for me has been many more hours spent on my computer just nosing around the Internet, following tangents that lead to more tangents, and so on.

I am by nature an optimist. I think that optimistic people generally have more satisfying lives, but I also believe that optimism is an important leadership characteristic. Even though as great a leader as Winston Churchill struggled from time to time with depression, as a leader he always managed to convey optimism. When he said things like “Give us the tools and we will finish the job” and “we shall never surrender” and “this was England’s finest hour,” he stirred the heart of a nation that could very easily have collapsed and allowed Nazi Germany with its superior weapons of war to overrun it. Churchill was a leader who understood the power of optimism. Contrast that to President Jimmy Carter, who famously suggested that the American people were suffering a “crisis in confidence” in a speech that was so depressing that it became known as his “malaise” speech, although that word was never employed in the speech. That speech may have contributed to his defeat every bit as much as Churchill’s words contributed to Britain’s victory.

Mulling over the essence of optimism led me to a psychological website called Exploring Your Mind dot com, where I found this: “Optimistic people tend to suffer fewer depressive problems. Apparently, optimism helps protect us from developing the hopeless point of view that is characteristic of depression. It “softens the blow” of the impact caused by difficulties. At the same time, it helps us to see ourselves as people who are more capable of facing conflicts and overcoming suffering … Apparently, optimism helps us when it comes time to face stressful situations, and offsets the harmful effects of stress on our health.”

That certainly seems pertinent to our current predicament. A leader who can engender a spirit of optimism among the people he or she leads can not only have a material and positive effect on the national mood during stress, but also may actually cause a positive effect on the eventual outcome.

How does an optimistic person behave?

“… Optimists tend to expect positive results in their lives, with a general belief that ‘everything is going to be okay’ although they may be going through tough times… Hoping that things will get better can definitely make our lives a little bit easier…!

On the other hand, there are limits to optimism. Exploring Your Mind says, “We all know people who present themselves as very secure and brag about themselves. With their heads held high, they act like they know everything and that nobody will ever get up to their level. These people are known for their airs of superiority. They think they’re better than everyone else.

“Modesty is not a feature that characterizes these people. They always act proud and stuck-up over everything that might make them stand out above the rest… Could this just be a mask hiding a deep complex?

“Think of people who bully others. They’re not as strong as they seem, because they need to harm others to instill fear and command respect. But inside, they’re not as brave as they seem. They have serious problems that they hide and project onto the people around them.

“Human beings have a great capacity for denying the problems that surround them. And sometimes, even when they see reality right in front of their eyes, they still have the audacity to deny it…In the case of people with airs of superiority, their biggest problem is the insecurity that haunts them. People with airs of superiority mask their insecurity by acting superior to others and humiliating them so they can feel better about themselves.”

Interesting, isn’t it? And relevant?  You decide, but either way, I appreciate your giving me some time to share the kind of web crawling I’ve been doing during the shutdown.