I consider myself an optimist. After all, if I have the choice to ruminate on anything, why not make it something forward-facing? There are plenty who want to focus on, fight and lament the past, but there is so much to create, so I choose to look to the future.
Every business leader faces this choice daily, and from my perspective, leaders should prioritize optimism not only for themselves but also for their entire team.
As the child of a Holocaust survivor and Lithuanians forced by Russians onto cattle trains to Siberia in winter, I grew up hearing a lot about hardship. Yet, my family came to America and earned PhDs, started businesses, bought real estate, created entirely new realities and one even became a Hollywood actress. To me, that’s motivation that I can use in my business every day.
As often as possible, I pull myself out of the muck of the minute and look at things from a 10,000-foot perspective. I believe this is not only a coping technique but also a necessity to evolve and help a business grow. The biggest shakeups in our lives are the moments from which some of the best things hatch; we either learn from them or go down the rabbit hole of fear. We have a choice, and no one can do it for us. Staying optimistic is an inside job.
The pandemic was one of those shakeups and gave rise to what some have called the “Covid-preneur,” as new business applications “hit historic highs” in 2020 in the U.S., the World Economic Forum reported. In July 2020 alone, there were more than 550,000 new business applications filed, a 95% increase from the same time a year before, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. To me, that is half a million courageous people stepping into a new reality of taking full responsibility for their success or failure and not relying on someone else to give them a job.
When starting or leading a business during challenging times, entrepreneurs need to keep their eyes on the horizon. I’ve found it’s also critical to keep the company of those who are better, smarter and faster than ourselves. For me, this meant using the pandemic downtime to earn a mini MBA. I also got my business certified by an organization that brings together women-run suppliers with enterprise businesses that are mandated to hire a certain percentage of minority-owned products and services. Those environments were a bastion of inspiration, and a majority of the entrepreneurs I encountered were pivoting to meet the needs of the pandemic. No one was standing still.
For example, one female engineer I met recently noticed a technology gap in the manufacturing industry, so she created a piece of tech to help fill that gap. Her concept was so brilliant that her solution was acquired by a multi-billion-dollar industrial company within a year. Another entrepreneur I encountered was an immigrant aiming to solve multilingual challenges of global business by bringing together interpreters on a video-type platform. This person created gig work for those interpreters, who might have otherwise been out of work while global travel was at a standstill.
Examples like this show me that many entrepreneurs are filled with more moxie than the average bear — and they are consistently fueled with gargantuan amounts of tenacity. From my perspective, a key ingredient for tapping into this moxie and tenacity is optimism.
Embracing An Optimistic Mindset
I applaud the people who are starting and leading their own businesses right now and am driven by the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who in his famed essay “Self-Reliance” said: “Man is his own star; and the soul that can render an honest and a perfect man commands all light, all influence, all fate; nothing to him falls early or too late. Our acts, our angels are, or good or ill, our fatal shadows that walk by us still.”
Being an optimist is not just an attitude; it’s a key skill to sharpen if you want to create a legacy and, in the meantime, create fulfillment for yourself and your team. To develop more optimism in your organization, start by watching your thoughts. If you find yourself ruminating about issues, shift your focus to the potential exciting opportunities that are coming your way.
Express gratitude as well. I find that the only way to truly embrace an optimistic mindset is by focusing on being thankful for all the good things in your life and business. It works.
This gratitude should also extend toward your employees. Your team can never get enough encouragement. Don’t hold back, and tell them when they’ve done a great job. Take them to lunch, send gift certificates for coffee and don’t forget their birthdays and work anniversaries. In other words, go out of your way to rally the troops. When an employee has a win, no matter how small, share it with the team so everyone can help bolster a job well done.
Finally, look at your struggles as steps toward your evolution. I believe that’s how life and business works — and why adaptation is king.