A number of years ago I wrote an essay on the powerful impact that “optimism” has on organizations and how “optimism” is a powerful tool for leaders broadly. ( see more at https://fylegacy.blogspot.com/2016/03/optimism-force-multiplier-for-leaders.html )The center point of the essay emanates from a quote of former Secretary of State Colin Powell on how he felt that a military force’s impact and effectiveness was enhanced or “multiplied” by the level of “optimism” of that organization. This idea continues to ring true to me today, in business and across political/ cultural leaders more broadly! “Optimism”is an important tool for leaders, and one that seems to be in short supply broadly today. In this essay I want to connect this concept with the most recent “Annual Letter” published by Bill and Melinda Gates.
I have made it a habit over the past few years to read the “annual letter” as soon as it is released. I always find it a interesting, data filled, thought expanding read and I am frequently triggered by new learnings and insights highlighted in the letter. If you haven’t had the chance, please take a moment to read this years letter in full ( https://www.gatesnotes.com/2019-Annual-Letter). In the closing section of this years letter, I was struck by a passage that related directly to the idea of “optimism” and how the Gates Foundation broadly, and Bill and Melinda Gates personally, were working with this dynamic:
“We get asked a lot these days whether we’re still optimistic about the future. We say: Absolutely. One reason is that we believe in the power of innovation. But an even bigger reason is that we’ve seen firsthand that for every challenge we’ve written about in this letter, there are people devoting their ideas, their resources, and even their lives to solving them.
When we’re feeling overwhelmed by negative headlines, we remind ourselves that none of us has the right to sit back and expect that the world is going to keep getting better. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to push it in that direction.
In that way, we’ve found that optimism can be a powerful call to action. And it has a multiplier effect: The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic.” (the bold/underline highlights are my addition.)
These closing paragraphs ring deeply true to me! The idea of feeling “overwhelmed by negative headlines” is a weekly reality that I personally share, and yet the letter reminds us that “none of us have the right to sit back and expect that the world is going to get better.” We all have to take action to create a future that is different and better than today. We all have to find our own ways to be “optimists” in the face of negative headlines, world occurrences and political rhetoric. We all need to find ways to be join the fight and be “optimistic” leaders, whether in the organizations where we work, community groups where we volunteer, or in our day to day activities in our neighborhoods and cities.
Take a second and re-read the closing sentence from the quote above….
“The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic.”
I want to encourage all off us to join in this “optimistic” push forward and to be part of a growing group of “optimistic” leaders driving for a better future!
As I think back on that remarkable day, I have had a flood of memories of unique events and vignettes from that day. While I won’t go into exhaustive detail, I will share two stories from that day that I have found memorable and inspiring over the years. The first came as we found our way to the “green room” behind the stage at the resort hosting the event. The plan was for me to go on stage after the meetings’ lunch break, share some prepared remarks and introduce the President. He suggested that I “not go too far away offstage” since we were going to do a Q&A session immediately at the end of his remarks. Stage direction from such a pro, … I was honored! As I was thinking about this idea of “staying close,” he asked in a quiet tone if I could “help navigate” the Q&A session. At first I didn’t understand where he was going until he pointed to his hearing aid and said that he wasn’t sure that he was going to hear 100% of the audiences’ questions and that maybe I could summarize and repeat the questions from the audience. It was a very unexpected moment of vulnerability, and one that I will never forget. I proudly played the role of “navigator,” the audience filled with interesting questions and the President totally in command of the moment.
A second memory comes from the flight back to Houston. I had so many questions for President Bush and as we took our seats on the plane, I was eager to dive into my list! (What a surprise.) He sat down and immediately brought out his brief case and opened it in his lap. It was and “attaché “ style case, and opened in a 90-degree fashion. He immediately took out a stack of personalized note cards and said to me that it was his practice to immediately write “thank you notes” for the hosts and key individuals from the event. He asked me to help him highlight the key notes that needed to be written. We went over the event and he wrote out personalized notes to 4-5 key executives that had hosted the meeting and our visit to Phoenix. I had the honor to receive a few of those notes personally; an image of one is highlighted above.
I have so many memories, and took so many “lessons” away from that special day in 2005. President Bush has left a significant legacy on our world, our nation and on yours truly.
I feel so fortunate to have had the chance to spend that day with him, so fortunate to be able to ask so many questions, and receive so many insights and in that same spirit I am thankful to have had a chance to pay my respects yesterday as he was lying in state at the nations capitol.
A chilly night with my friend Cathy, waiting in line with thousands of others all who came to Washington with the same wish as Americans (not Democrat or Republican, but as Americans) to pay our respects to an individual who had a significant impact on our generation.
While certainly a somber and poignant moment on that chilly night, I was somehow reminded by the President’s great sense of humor, his friendly nature and his infectious smile. These are memories that I will hold dearly for my lifetime and am grateful and proud to share with you as readers.