Leadership and optimism go hand in hand. At least that’s what surveys and experience repeatedly indicate. Del Jones’ review in today’s edition of “USA Today” of recent surveys, CEO commentary, and scholarship found that leaders were more optimistic than others about almost everything at work. He quotes leadership guru, Warren Bennis, saying, “Optimism is all about possibilities, change, hope. Without those qualities, how can any leaders succeed?” General Dwight D. Eisenhower would have agreed.
In his excellent work, Eisenhower: Soldier and President, late historian Stephen E. Ambrose noted that General Eisenhower saw two advantages in maintaining a cheerful and hopeful attitude when he spoke to his troops, one, the “habit tends to minimize potentialities within the individual himself to become demoralized,” two, it “has a most extraordinary effect upon all with whom he comes in contact. With this clear realization, I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory—that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow. I adopted a policy of circulating through the whole force to the full limit imposed by physical considerations. I did my best to meet everyone from general to private with a smile, a pat on the back, and a definite interest in his problems.”
From a Christian perspective, optimism is a product of hope. In my book, Christian Liberty: Living for God in a Changing Culture, I talked at some length about optimism and hope:
"A hope is only as good as its foundation or focus. Christian hope—a confident expectation of fulfillment—is based upon an objective source of divine personality, strength, and power in Jesus Christ. It is not, therefore, a vain, irrationally conceived, frivolous human wish but a rational confidence in something real. Christian hope rests upon truth revealed in Christ, truth experienced in the Christian life, and truth expected in the coming of Christ's kingdom.
Christian hope operates between the extremes of fatalism on the one hand and utopianism on the other. Modernity's mentality was dominated by naturalistic humanism, optimistically espousing permanent growth and well-being in a secular leap of faith. Postmodernity, on the other hand, is witness to a new, desperate, if not nihilistic mentality that is uncertain about the future, technology, or life itself. The modern mentality dreamed of progress. The postmodern mentality has given way to pessimism, even panic. Neither Mod nor PoMo culture has an answer for death. A Christian hope rejects both positions as unwarranted and unbiblical extremes.
In the words of a popular Christian song, “because Christ lives, we may face tomorrow.” Our hope is grounded in a person of the Godhead and in an already accomplished historical event: Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. The promise of our deliverance in time and ultimate reconciliation with Christ in heaven is sure. We may believe and, therefore, we may have hope.
Certainly a Christian can neither be an unqualified optimist nor an unqualified pessimist. Philosophic humanists generally embrace one extreme or the other, because they have no basis as Christians do for intellectually assimilating both good and evil. Christians should be optimistic though not with the irrational faith of the evolutionary theorist or the blind faith of Western culture in the idea of progress. Neither should any Christian ever be a pessimist. Pessimism is reserved for those who have not hope.
A Christian's optimism must be tempered by realism. The world and humanity are fallen and cursed. Evil continues, abated only by the restraining power of the Holy Spirit and God’s common grace. All of us are sinners in need of redemption. And realism serves as a warning against temptations to triumphalism. Humility, not bravado, must characterize the Christian hope. Christians should be both optimistic and realistic, or “optimistic realists.”
As optimistic realists with a well-developed Christian worldview, Christians should evidence humble hope and confidence in a culture that no longer believes either one is possible. If we do this, our lives become books with a message our neighbors can read, one that points them to the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
Hope produces resolve in the face of obstacles and resiliency in the wake of troubles, all of which are indispensable characteristics for a leader.
Christian leaders above all should be hopeful people, men and women who inspire their followers to do great things for God in an age hungry for real leadership, real ethics, and real hope.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2005
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