Mark Billage

Mar 15, 2021, 4:30 PM

Realistic Optimism

“Any hope can be eroded if projects have been poorly conceived without due regard for where we are now.”

I am generally an optimist. I try and look for the positive and the opportunity in most situations. Being a person with optimism is helpful for the most part. However, there is a caveat to this. We cannot be optimistic without being realistic.

I came across this quote while listening to a presentation recently by Michael Hyatt:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end… with the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
Admiral James Stockdale

Admiral Stockdale was held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam for eight years. He observed that fellow prisoners who talked about being released by Christmas or Easter quite literally died of broken hearts.

In our present circumstances, we walk the knife edge of knowing that this will pass and dealing with the everyday reality of wading through a fast-changing and challenging situation.

Optimism as a leader

How do we act as leaders so that we keep our heads up and maintain our authenticity at the same time?

It is important that we set goals that spur us on towards a better future. The skill is setting these in a way where it is not overwhelming for the team. Whatever mountain you are looking to scale, you need to make a clear assessment, or, as Admiral Stockdale put it, acknowledge the brutal facts of your current reality.

Optimism contains hope. Hope is the fuel for forward movement, particularly when things seem to be more challenging than usual. The realism within that acknowledges that, in order to scale this mountain, each climber will need different help to achieve it. The leader must set the direction; we can, out of necessity, achieve much more than we think.

With my coaching clients, progress can only be made once we have dealt with the present reality of what they want to go after. When the reality of where we are is established then options to move forward can be planned with clarity and certainty.

It could be that the goal is to get a new project off the ground that will increase sales and revenue. Great. But if the team is already at capacity, we have to ask, “What will stop so they can get on with this new goal?” Whatever the current circumstance, it needs to be taken into consideration.

Now I am not saying let’s not move forward. I am saying taking account of current reality will help avoid the stress of an unrealistic goal or a great goal with an unrealistic timeframe. Goals are about hope. Any hope can be eroded if projects have been poorly conceived without due regard for where we are now.

Optimism is great. It is a stance that, I believe, can be inspiring and create hope. I am optimistic that we will get through this crisis. I don’t know when, but in the meantime I will look to set realistic goals that will enable us to grow.

“Sometimes, when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.”
Christine Caine

Stay safe.

Mark Billage

If you would like to talk to Mark Billage about leading with realistic optimism, please email info@actionplanning.co.uk

Mark Billage is a coach with experience of delivering leadership, team and individual development training in different settings and countries for over 14 years. His passion is to help realise individuals’ potential through empowering organisational culture. He has held CEO positions for non-profits and businesses and is a certified Myers Briggs Practitioner.