BY J.P. HOGAN
I once thought that inspirational things inspired people, but I've realized that people are inspired by inspiration itself. Inspiration can be born of many things - a great idea, strong leadership (especially in difficult times), the opportunity to contribute or make a difference, or simply realizing that by taking action you can make things better in some way. As a soldier for many years, I had occasion to encounter circumstances that could quickly demoralize people and whole organizations. It was during those times that I discovered a key that worked time and again to keep people engaged, effective and enthused. The key is the power of perpetual optimism.
“A Primer on Leadership” authored by General Colin Powell was the source of my discovery. The primer defined what General Powell called the 18 rules of leadership and they served as guiding principals for me as a military officer over many years. One of those rules centered on the need to maintain a sense of perpetual optimism. The central tenet being that a ripple effect emerges from a leader's enthusiasm and that enthusiasm generates optimism which becomes an awesome source of inspiration. Conversely, the impact of cynicism and pessimism crushes inspiration. Leaders who whine and blame engender those same behaviors among their colleagues. In his primer, General Powell stated “...I am not talking about stoically accepting organizational stupidity and performance incompetence with a "what, me worry?" smile. I am talking about a gung ho attitude that says, "we can change things here, we can achieve awesome goals, we can be the best." Spare me the grim litany of the "realist"; give me the unrealistic aspirations of the optimist any day.”
Powell believed, and my experience can attest, that organizations operating in an environment charged by perpetual optimism can reach extraordinary heights of effectiveness. In military terms, optimism can become a ‘force multiplier’ that enables an organization to reach these levels of performance. I have seen the same effect in the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds where optimism about the future and a focus on the things that can be accomplished overcome inertia born of fear, uncertainty and pessimism. Where leaders exhibited optimism, they instilled a sense of hope in their teams and that hope gave birth to enthusiasm, a fresh sense of purpose, and improved performance. In these difficult times the need for inspiration is great, and leaders who establish and sustain a perpetual sense of optimism and a focus on taking action to address the circumstances facing an organization can provide that inspiration.