Ignore Your Inner <br>Larry David

The science on having a positive outlook is hard to complain about, says best-selling author Daniel Goleman.

Emotional intelligence remains a key ingredient in the development of corporate leaders. In this series, best-selling author and Korn Ferry columnist Daniel Goleman reveals the 12 key skills behind EI. This is an edited excerpt from his introduction to Positive Outlook: A Primer.

Positive Outlook, one of the 12 emotional intelligence competencies in leadership, is the ability to see the positive in people, situations, and events. It means persistence in pursuing goals, despite setbacks and obstacles. You can see the opportunity in situations where others would see a setback that would be devastating, at least for them. You expect the best from other people. It's that glass-half-full outlook that leads you to believe that changes in the future will be for the better.

Larry David is a popular American television star. One day, he went to a baseball game at New York’s Yankee Stadium. He joined 50,000 other fans there. At one point in the game, there was a lull and the cameras showed Larry David’s image up on a huge jumbotron screen—and those 50,000 fans stood and cheered him. He's that popular. But later, after the game, while walking through the parking lot, someone drove by in a car and yelled out, "Larry, you stink." For the next week, all Larry David could talk about or think about was that guy. What was it that made him say that? Why would he say that? Larry couldn't stop obsessing.

What Larry David lacked was the Positive Outlook competency. In an evening that included cheering by thousands of people and a negative comment from just one person, he could only focus on the negative.

Here's some data about Positive Outlook. Research shows that Positive Outlook tends to lead to very positive emotions. Countless studies show that positive emotions, in turn, lead to better performance, greater loyalty, higher motivation, and outstanding customer service. The list of other benefits from positive emotions includes better health, more enjoyment in life, greater ability to overcome setbacks, and enhanced creativity. On the flip side, pessimism and negative emotions like anger, fear, and the like, usually lead to poor performance, disengagement, and high turnover.

Then there's positive emotional contagion, or how good feelings spread in a group, most powerfully from the leader outward. This creates a positive emotional culture, which not only enhances everyone's moods, but also other people’s effectiveness and the work climate overall. Specifically, for a team, this means improved cooperation, less conflict, and better task performance. Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, sums it up this way: "People who experience and express positive emotions more frequently are more resilient, more resourceful, more socially connected, and more likely to function at optimal levels."

How can this be applied to you, or your organization? How can you steer the ship more towards a positive outlook? If you can do that even when challenges arise, you’ll be a leader whose staff is willing to work harder towards a vision of success.