Founder of the Australian Leadership Project and the Centre for Optimism, former parliamentarian Victor Perton, shares his journey towards optimism and why positivity is a vital element in leadership.
In 2015, I returned to live in Melbourne after global work experiences which taught me of the very positive perception other peoples have towards Australians and their leadership capacity.
However, in Australia, there was a very negative attitude towards leadership. Admittedly, it had been one of those periodic periods of changing political party leadership but that didn’t explain the general negative attitudes.
I was bewildered by the lack of confidence and trust in Australian leadership
Optimism and leadership
In the following four years, our team interviewed 2500 people asking about the qualities of Australian leadership, and it became clear that the distinguishing cultural features of Australia’s leaders are:
- Egalitarianism – we talk to the cleaner with the same respect as the chairman;
- Self-effacing humour – we take our job seriously but not ourselves; and,
- Plain Speaking.
If those are the features of Australian leaders, you and I know many people like that. There are millions of Australians leading in their domains and leading well. It’s why on the global wellbeing indices, it’s clear that historically no people have lived as well as the Australians of today.
Yet the negativity remains and is getting worse.
Understanding how positivity contributes to leadership
My Eureka moment came in late 2017 speaking at the Global Integrity Summit. It was the last session and I put the case for optimism in an otherwise bleak proceedings. The effect was electric and people told me to turn the speech into a book. One of those people was Helen Clark, then UNDP head and former Prime Minister of New Zealand.
The revelation was “It’s not the leaders; it’s a fog of pessimism enveloping our public discourse.”
In Australia, New Zealand and many parts of the so-called developed world, a mindset of pessimism in our corporate, government and media communications. The “news” spreads the worst news about everything so “well-informed” people think it’s logical to be pessimistic. As optimism underpins innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity, pessimism is an inhibitor to personal, national and global growth.
As I interviewed people for the book, my questioning became better and better attuned. What I was after was uncovering the personal causes of optimism. If we want better leadership, we need to help people discover their own source of optimism.
Finally the core question, the opening question, became “What makes you optimistic?”
Uncovering what makes you optimistic
I was fortunate enough to bounce that question off the guru of positive psychology Professor Martin Seligman. Martin told me that I had nailed 40 years of positive psychology research in that question. Given, his most recent book is called Hope, he cheekily commended a longer query: “What makes you optimistic? What gives you hope?”
Why don’t you try it? Answer the question and share it with us in the comments.
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