A Positive Outlook for Purpose

Becoming a purpose-driven organization requires leaders to embrace a positive attitude, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman.

Daniel Goleman is a senior consultant at Goleman Consulting Group, author of the best seller Emotional Intelligence, and host of the podcast First Person Plural: Emotional Intelligence and Beyond. He is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. 

In April, Jane Goodall turned 88 years old. The English primatologist and anthropologist—best known for her extensive studies of Chimpanzees—has been one of the world’s most influential voices on environmental and conservation issues.

But Goodall’s influence goes well beyond her scientific discoveries.

Jane Goodall is a pivotal figure of hope.

Her podcast, the “Hopecast,” speaks to the way trust, expectation, and desire have kept her so committed across the decades.

“I am motivated to carry on because I care passionately about the natural world, animals, future generations,” she told a reporter in 2019. “I know that my talks, meetings, and so on make a difference—otherwise I would stop right now.”

Leaders looking to embrace purpose have a lot to learn from an icon like Goodall. Not only does she bridge research and activism, but she leads with a tremendous amount of Positive Outlook. One of twelve competencies in my model of emotional intelligence, Positive Outlook is present in leaders who have a strong tendency to see the best in situations and people and who take a solution-oriented approach to problem-solving.

A leader with Positive Outlook has:

●      A dominant belief that the future holds better potential outcomes (i.e., “hope”)

●      A tendency to focus on positive aspects of difficult circumstances

●      An inclination toward positive perceptions of others

Along with the other eleven competencies, Positive Outlook has been empirically linked to increased leadership performance through more than 62,000 assessments conducted at a variety of global organizations using the Emotional and Social Competence Inventory, a 360 assessment from Korn Ferry. Leaders with a positive outlook recognize the influence their reactions and beliefs have on the way they approach situations and try to avoid the pitfalls of negative thinking.

As humanity's awareness of the climate crisis increases, many have become paralyzed by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Unfortunately, the news doesn’t help much: because negative headlines get significantly more attention (and we remember negative events more strongly than positive ones), it’s hard to know what is going well in the world and even harder to see opportunities to turn things around.

This means it’s up to each individual and business to cultivate Positive Outlook in themselves and in their own communities.

“Every single day, each of us makes some impact on the planet—and we can choose what sort of impact we make,” says Goodall. “It is the cumulative effect of millions—or billions—of ethical choices regarding what we buy (especially concerning our diet) that will move us toward a better world. Of course, some people—decision makers in government, CEOs of big corporations, and so on—can make individual choices that will have a huge impact.”

Goodall says when it comes to hope, one of her biggest sources these days is “young people”: “Once they understand the problems, and they’re empowered to take action and given a voice and listened to, they’re already changing the world.”

Luckily, in the younger generation, hope seems to be growing. Just over two-thirds of millennials and Gen Zs agreed with the statement, “Environmental changes seen during the pandemic (less pollution, cleaner water, etc.) make me more optimistic that climate change can be reversed.” This is in contrast to pre-pandemic times, when most young people said they feared the environment had passed the point of no return.

Those wishing to embrace purpose have much to learn from Jane Goodall and the young voices who converse on social media and are calling out for change.

My advice: Pay attention to the news, but ease up on the negative headlines. Instead, put energy into and stay in touch with those who believe in a better future. A daily dose of compelling conversations and ideas can go a long way in fueling our efforts to make a difference.

Click here to learn more about Daniel Goleman's Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.