Building an Optimistic Culture
Whether you are a CEO, project lead or associate, culture is a crucial aspect of any business as it greatly influences the organization’s success. This is due to an optimal amount of trust and synchronization between co-workers when a solid culture is present. I have found this same theme directly correlative to sports as I enter my third season as a college football player.
Culture is by far the most definitive factor I found contributing to success whether it be winning a conference championship or interning for the North American marketing team of a multinational manufacturing company. In my experience, successful teams and businesses have shared qualities that demonstrate a highly effective culture.
Now, it was extremely difficult to narrow it down to just four qualities in an ideal culture, so I have chosen ones that are open to interpretation, but follow the same repetitive path in successful scenarios I have had the honor to be a part of. These traits are compassion, humility, optimism, and a balanced time perspective. Over the next few weeks, I will be breaking down each one of these qualities by sharing some of the psychology as well as my personal experience and opinion.
I really do believe your perception is your reality and I have witnessed it time and time again. Even if a situation is bad, your reaction shapes that moment and has influence moving forward. I have been extremely blessed to meet countless individuals that live by a glass half full mentality and my roommate could not be a better example. For context, we live in a town deep in the Colorado Rockies which also happens to be one of the coldest cities in the country. This affects everyone, but especially the large group on our team from the Los Angeles area, including my roomate Bubba. This means they have to completely change their living environment to pursue a degree and play the sport they love. Within this cohort, there are two definitive paths that they all choose at some point. The first could be described as pessimism with guys complaining all the time about how cold and small the town is with nothing to do. This group becomes miserable from the jump and most do not make it past the first year. On the other hand, there are a select few that embrace this situation and make the most of it. For example, they see this mountain town as an opportunity to solely focus on school and football without the distractions of a big city. Bubba is a master of this mindset due to the amount of consistent positivity he brings to our team and it shows EVERY day. Bubba has gone through two straight years of season ending injuries which would psychologically destroy most, so I had to ask what drives his consistent happiness. “Just knowing that tomorrow isn’t promised. I’m blessed, I’ve been through a lot of things but I know other people have it worse… I also thank god for the little things like giving me the opportunity for another day… once you appreciate those more, everything else around you feels better.” Now, we have other positive leaders on the team, but the resiliency this man shows is something I strive for and is one of many reasons I look up to him. If there is any one thing you take away from this anecdote, I hope that it is the realization of your ability to shape your journey just by maintaining a positive mindset.
From a psychological standpoint, optimism has success written all over it. It is the spark of energy that drives our motivation to accomplish our goals, and chemically, our bodies agree. Throughout our workday, we have cognitive appraisals that can result in positive or negative emotions. The key takeaway from the term cognitive appraisal is that it is subjective and voluntary. Psychologists say, “Optimism, as an ‘attributional style’, [is] characterized by the tendency to believe that negative events are inconstant (the negative event will not repeat itself), external (I am not responsible for the event) and specific (the event is ‘specific’, self-limiting and will not influence any other activities of mine and my life)” (Conversano 2010). This includes the decision to push forward when obstacles attempt to hinder us. Not only does this benefit individuals in the workplace, but it also has long term health benefits with a multitude of studies claiming the benefits of being an optimist. According to one Forbes article, optimism can extend our lives by as much as eight years (Gallo 2017). It also reduces stress. This is essential in the workplace as environments and situations can be demanding. As a leader, optimism can be a great way to motivate a team without micromanaging. On a biological level, this trait raises dopamine levels. “Dopamine makes us happy, increases motivation, and is even responsible for giving entrepreneurs the courage to take risks” (Gallo 2017). Optimism is also infectious; one individual within an organization can be the spark and this is what makes it so powerful. A team that feeds off positive energy can reach optimal performance and high morale. There is no limit to what is achievable when an organization's culture embodies optimism, humility, and compassion.
In a large organization, designated leaders are not always able to reach every member of the team at any given moment. Building a culture that associates want to embrace is so important because everyone is knowledgeable. In an ideal scenario, it makes less room for neglect and disharmony. One of the biggest reasons I love the idea of culture is that it can be influenced by anyone. A CEO worth millions or minimum wage team member can spark a foundation that becomes contagious within the company. And while a leader is one person with beneficial qualities, culture embodies everyone involved. In my experience, successful teams and businesses have shared qualities that demonstrate a highly effective culture without relying on just one person. This creates environments within an organization that associates are proud of and flourish in.
I have created this list for anyone willing to read as it is not only applicable to daily life, but especially important in the business world. The point that I hope resonated with you the most is that ANY individual in ANY role can make an impact on their organization by incorporating these qualities.