A foundational principle of Leading for Children is Optimistic Leadership. To be optimistic means to see a future with desired results. We must embody optimism for ourselves and the children and families we serve and that requires a mindset driven by purpose and focused on outcomes. Moreover, it involves collaboration with colleagues to develop a vision for ourselves, our programs, children and families and a pathway for achieving it that is clear, direct and focused.

I’ve invited Leading for Children’s colleague and collaborator, Geania Dickey, to explore the topic of Optimistic Leadership.

— Judy Jablon

Geania writes:

To ensure that we’re Leading for Children, the phrase Together Everyone Achieves More comes to mind and helps me understand what it means to be an Optimistic Leader.

Optimistic Leaders create teams. We talk about teams all the time, but what exactly is a team? I find the definition of team in 50 Activities for Team Building, Vol.1 meaningful:

team is a group of people with a high degree of interdependence focused on the achievement of some goal or task.

Numbers alone do not make a team. It is only when we focus on the achievement of some goal or task that we begin to be a team. Does each member of your team know the goal you hope to achieve? Do you?

The Optimistic Leader ensures that everyone shares a clear destination and a coherent path. Without a destination and path, you have a group and not a team at all. Great things seldom happen accidentally or by wishing. Unfortunately hard work does not guarantee success. The Optimistic Leader assists the team’s members in clearly defining the destination (vision) and collectively creating the actions (path) that move them towards the vision.

The Optimistic Leader recognizes the importance of a team’s interdependence. Interdependence means needing one another – requiring the skills of team members and respectful and reciprocally beneficial relationships. In my mind the biggest difference between an Optimistic Leader and other leaders is a fundamental understanding that each team member brings strengths that are valuable.

Understanding a team’s strengths takes time and team members may not recognize their strengths or see them as important. An Optimistic Leader provides many opportunities for each member to identify and appreciate their strengths.

Optimistic leaders are not blind to the strength gaps of their teams. Quite the contrary. But rather than focusing on what’s missing as many leaders do, they build on what’s effective within the team.

Optimistic Leaders support team members in developing confidence in their skills and knowledge, and aide them in identifying ways to fill the gaps the team may have. They do this by encouraging partnerships and professional development.

The ability to effectively define and communicate goals and to foster independence and interdependence will ultimately define the success of a team. Optimistic Leaders support team members in understanding and working toward common goals while demonstrating respect for them as individuals. The result is that everyone will truly achieve more on behalf of children and families.