Optimists and Skeptics Look For Results in the Week Ahead

One of Colin Powell’s famous guideposts for leadership is, “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” I always loved the West Point feeling of it: a “force multiplier” sounds so technical and mathematical and militarily strategic. Snap your fingers: you’re optimistic! You’re optimistic, your force has doubled! So today, an example of how optimism works, but also a realistic-skeptical question about how one can — or whether one can – willy-nilly make optimism work for them.

Last Sunday night my wife was complaining of intense abdominal pain. Given her extraordinary optimism, I nearly had to order her to go to the doctor on Tuesday morning. Within 10 hours of a CT scan, surgeons were removing an obstructed section of her small intestine. She was a patient patient for about two days, but as the meds wore off she quickly became her old self, way more optimistic than patient. Tubes were removed; one after the next. Friday morning I walked into her room to find her in her street clothes. Surprised, I asked “Are you showing them that you’re going to will yourself right out of here?” She smiled and said, “You bet.” I suspect that if it had been me, it would have taken me a week to get out of there. She was out in four days. I am utterly certain in this case: Perpetual optimism was a captivity minimizer.

I am drawn to people of optimism. Obviously I married one. I myself have deep-down faith and hope, but I’ve never been a cheery optimist, able to summon it at will. I have to work at my attitude constantly. This Monday morning I offer two thoughts for your consideration. First, optimism IS! a force multiplier. Can you possibly disagree? So second, make a choice to value it. If you can generate it legitimately in yourself, do so, and be grateful you have a gift for it! If you’re (more like me): thinking yourself born of gloomy people, raised in a land without sunshine, the victim of sundry bad moments, “blessed” with a skeptical mind, then recognize that. But look for ways to nudge yourself up the spectrum of hope. Here are a few:

* Consciously ally your self with upbeat people.
* Condition yourself to look for the silver lining.
* Make lists of good things that are happening.
* Look for opportunities and not just problems.
* Take little steps that lead to where you want to go.
* Bear witness to the genuine power of optimism in those who are fortunate to be blessed with it as a natural strength and way of being.

On Tuesday Jennifer knew she was going to be out of the hospital by the end of the week. What success might you will yourself into this week? as you

Lead with your best self!


  • What an upbeat message. I am an optimistic person and have learned that one of the best forms of optimism is to be proactive. Knowing that a uncoming issue or situation may be difficult, I find that it is often best to plan for the hard parts so that I am not taken unawares. If the planned for difficulties do not arise then I can be pleasantly surprised and if they do then I am prepared. Maybe this comes from my scouting days where being prepared was the mantra.


  • Hello,

    A couple of years ago I was in the hospital recouperating from a tracheotomy. I was transferred to Kent Community Hospital on a Monday. They are a speciality hospital specializing in helping “ween” people from the breathing maching. My first “mouthed” words were I am leaving by this Friday. Keep in mind and average stay at this stage of being “weened off” of the ventilator takes about three to five weeks. I knew I would be leaving by Friday. Monday night came and I had a panic attack when the nurses tried to put me back on the respirator overnight after being off all day Monday. They relented and explained that if my oxygen levels dropped below 90% that I would be put back on the machine. I maintained a 95% average or better through the night. Tuesday the doctor came in to make plans to change my site(on my throat) to a temporary stint which would alow me to breathe through my throat without a tube. Unfortunately, Wednesday I suffered a minor setback with my feeding tube and was sick to my stomach but I was breathing close to a 98% oxygen level. Thursday they put in a “voice box” to help me start to form words and utter sounds. Friday came and I was talking slightly above a whisper and I had to take a test to find out if I was ready to eat solid foods. I passed this “applesauce” test. I would go into a procedure on the following Tuesday to have my feeding tube removed. This was way ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, Friday came and I had a setback with my feeding tube. I ended up leaving Kent Community Hospital without the assistance of a breathing machine even with my abdominal problems I ended up leaving by that Friday. The power of “positive” thinking! Please feel free to share with your readers. Thanks and I love your newsletter. I am back at work at my job and am thanking God everyday for blessing me with a positive attitude.


  • A wonderful start to the week but there is a fine line between optimism and naivete. There are times when no amount of optimism can change outcomes. Please comment.

    • I really appreciate this article as well and would like to add my understanding of “grounded optomism.” A fellow by the name of Robert Fritz wrote a book called The Path of Least Resistance. In it, he showed that all great inventors, creators and visionaries have one thing in common:
      They are able to hold a positive vision (an optomisitc expectation regarding outcome) while also embracing reality (the current moment). That, to me is grounded optomism — it does not deny the facts, but works with current reality while believing in a positive outcome using both your mind and and your heart.

    • It is true that no amount of optimism can change some outcomes……..where the optimism comes in is having the faith and fortitude to make the best possible next steps when a situation does not have the desired outcome! The old “make lemonade out of lemons” mentality!

      I appreciate Dan’s notes as a brand new……..and not by choice………..leader. Thanks for the optimism, Dan…….wishing Jennifer a comfortable and quick recovery!

  • This was an excellent article. I really enjoy your weekly messages. In my humble opinion you have the “right grip on life”. Keep it up.

  • Thanks Dan, for the powerful message. As you can see by my e-mail address, I am a pretty positive guy. For me, the glass is always half full. Hope you are having a “Magnificent Monday”.

    Terry Strickler

  • I’m an optomistic pessimist, I exspect the best and try to give my best but some days it can be hard to deliver. So I am realist.I start each day knowing that I have a choice so I choose to have a great one. So Dan have a Great Day if you choose to, I did.

  • I am reminded by your column of Jon Greenawalt of PMP in Plymouth, Jamie Showkeir of Henning –Showkeir and there focus on helping people shift from cynicism to involvement – what PMP calls “from complaint to commitment.

    Jamie Showkeir in “The Conversation Workshop” talks of the ‘choice for creating worth’ as opposed to the ‘choice for disappointment’. Jamie says “pursuing contribution and service at work without the promise of return- without barter” is the choice for creating worth. It includes “persisting with passion, optimism and hope in the face of disapproval and disappointment”. Choosing cynicism, helplessness and detachment from work on the other hand is the choice for disappointment. As Jamie says “Cynic choose to withhold hope and optimism, yet demand the promise of a world without disappointment”.

    What underlies Greenawalt, Showkeir and your perspective is that one can become more optimistic – to choose optimism despite harsh realities, disappointments and previous failed attempts.




  • Dear Dan,
    I am so very glad that Gov Granholm is an optimist and that she is home from the hospital. I’m glad, too, that you realize that you aren’t an optimist but are working on it!

    I’ve been working on leading from the bottom up! Joseph Dooley in the Gov’s Wash DC office helped me when I told him that I was just following your advice about going from my place at the bottom as a constituent in Hartland, MI upwards to the Gov’s office in DC! I believe Joe’s an optimist now but it sure took a lot of persuading! :))).

    I attended the closing of the Rabbi Sherwin Wine’s Center for New Thinking in Birmingham, MI on Sat. May 3rd. Sonya Friedman gave a wonderful talk on “Sweet Endings” which encouraged those members of the Center to think about new beginnings. With the Rabbi’s accidental death in July of 2007, the Center’s driving force is gone, but Sonya’s an optimist-the Center can look at a new way of being and carry on the spirit of Rabbi Wine. She ended her talk with the Rabbi’s words: “The sun requires no courage to rise in the morning, to shine in the day, to ‘die’ in the evening. But we—living, breathing, passionate people, we do.” Your wife’s optimism may be born of courage!

  • Good Morning Dan:

    What a great and inspirational article. KUDOS to your wife.

    I only wish I was blessed with the positive optimism that she possess. However, with this article, I see that I can make a much better situation out of my current negative one’s merely by thinking with more positive optimism. I think my case is
    “you are what you think” Smile!

    Thanks a lot for helping me overcome my self pity!


  • And even on the brighter side, I heard that the pathologist said that the obstruction looked just like Mike Bishop and was benign …

  • Thank you for a breath of fresh air! I will be using the hints to spread around the office I work in, some can be pretty pessimistic at times You’re articles never fail to inspire me.

  • Dan,
    It was so good to read your words this morning and especially appropriate. This weekend my oldest daughter graduated from college and next weekend is Mother’s Day. I forwarded your email to my daughters, sister and mother as it expressed my own thoughts and optimism for them. I remember talking to Jennifer on the phone when she was in the hospital after the accident. You had already told us how badly she was hurt and I was shocked at how upbeat she was. This attitude has served her well. Take care and wish Jennifer Happy Mother’s Day from me.

  • Dear Dan, I have a hard time believing that you were “born of gloomy people”. I just enjoyed the company of your dear mother on Saturday (your Aunt Margie and I invented the term BFF). I have always known her to be optimistic and cheerful. I remember your dad fondly, too, and his good nature was always obvious to me. Your mother’s smile still lights up a room. Your mom and I had a nice chat about your Reading for Leading e-mails, and your book which I purchased for my son who is studying school administration. Optimism is something we all need to work on, of course. Thanks for your upbeat Monday e-mails. I am happy to hear that Jennifer is recovering so quickly and so well. Michigan needs her!

  • I’m so glad Jennifer is doing well & hope that the rest of her recovery goes this well.

    Thank you for the useful message.

  • On nudging yourself to hope; you could add having a realistic person you trust around to take you down to earth when you need it. While your wife may have almost needed to be ordered to go to the hospital, there are people who have to be ordered to do something, whether about their health or other circumstances, be it finances or safety. A neighbor’s wife, after hours of demanding that her husband go to the hospital called the ambulance. He nearly bled internally to death, and probably would have if she had acquiesced to his happy complacency. He is one of the most optimistic men I know, and I think that is why he has lived years longer than his doctors estimated for him, given several serious and generally fatal health conditions.
    Mark John Hunter Alpena

  • Thanks, Dan, once again for a wonderful start to a new week. And please extend wishes of good health to our Governor.

  • Dan, you are so right! There are so many force multipliers available to all of us, even those of us ‘leading from the middle’. Optimism is a key one, rewarding/crediting team members, cultivating input/feedback, rewarding demonstrated initiative, verbally expressing appreciation, etc. Mindful of these challenging budgetary times – notice all of these tools for team-building are FREE!
    Another thing peolpe forget, optimism creates excitement and both are contagious! Be a cheerleader in addition to being a coach – champion those around you!
    Please express my get-well wishes to my Commander-in-Chief!!

    • Hooah Berri! Hope is all is well with you my friend! Thanks for your comments!

      Best Regards,

      Terry Fobbs

  • Hi Dan,

    Great message, and I want to give you another perspective about optimisim as a force multiplier principle. You know that I am a retired Colonel and combat veteran. It is more than snapping your fingers and you’re optimistic. It is about leveraging your internal resources, your inner strength, your personal courage physical and moral, your well of untapped energy, mental and physical and looking at the best of a situation, and then figuring out how you can get it done with what you’ve got. No matter how dark the day, how grim the situation, there will be a way to prevail. and come on top no matter how long it takes.

    It is about sharing that optimism with others, building them up, energizing them with your spirit and inspiring them to get up and move forward with you to take that hill and succeed. It is about setting the example and showing others around you to use their optimism to bring others along on that journey to success.

    It is about not quitting and having hope as your guiding beacon. This is what General Powell means. I know, because he was my Corps Commander in Germany when he was a Three Star and I was a Major. He has been, as he has put it to me, my perpetual mentor from afar and has encouraged me to do the same for others. The principle of optimism as a force multiplier is what drives me each and every day.

    I also think that this is the meaning of “optimisim as a force multiplier” that best describes your wife. You guys really get it. Thanks for all you do and showing us how to “Lead with our best selves! 🙂

    Best Regards,


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