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What happened to optimism?

IT’S TRUE that there is very little to cheer about. Just when hope picked up with the vaccine solution, a surge of COVID-19 variants and a rise in hospital bed occupancy has pulled back any bussing optimism. Even in chat groups it’s the prophets of doom, sometimes with old news and fake reports, that dominate the conversation.

Have we become a cheering-impaired nation? Is the feeling of being left behind by the rest of the world in recovering from the pandemic pulling down our hoping mechanism?

Should there be a new corporate position for optimists? The Chief Optimistic Officer (COO) is not to be confused with the second in command. She is mandated to provide exhortation and encouragement to the troops. The vacuum in the optimism needs to be addressed. More people are criticized for what they do wrong than praised for what they do right.

The cheerleader function has not been specified in the organizational hierarchy as this role has been assigned to the CEO whose good cheer is courted hourly by underlings. A kind word in the elevator (nice sneakers) is enough to make the addressed subordinate feel noticed and appreciated.

Cheering as a method of positive reinforcement is prevalent in competitive sports, including gymnastics. Supporters of college basketball teams (when actual presence in the arena is allowed again) entertain the illusion that their presence in large numbers expressed too in rhythmic chanting (one big fight), and led by cheerleaders with their backs to the game, results in unbelievable team performance.

It seems anyway that there are now cheerleaders, especially among senior recruits of troubled companies, that have assumed this hortatory role under the guise of more mundane titles like business development officer — there’s a new market we need to penetrate: the stay-at-homes.

Cheerleaders, as noted above in their counterparts in sports, have their backs to the game. They do not actually dribble the ball or score points. Their sole function is to stir the observers and make them believe that the play in the court is affected by the loudness of the cheers.

The cheerleader likes to call meetings, at least once a month, even if now mostly virtual. She includes everyone in these “town hall” gatherings. The resulting photo gallery of 150 faces shows the wide participation in the cheer rally. She spouts slogans — do not sell advertising spots, sell the company. She peppers spiels with applause lines — you are the best. It just doesn’t show in the numbers… yet. Did you get the snack box we sent out?

Optimism is an attribute of a good leader. Churchill as a war leader continued to rally the besieged nation (we will fight them in the beaches, we will fight them in the streets…) even at the height of the London bombing and the retreat from Dunkirk. The dark clouds of defeat had to lift.

What is the role of a leader, after all, when all he sees is how impossible the situation has become and how death is just around the corner? (The virus is everywhere.) It’s not difficult to be a prophet of doom. All it takes is cynicism and the conviction that survival is impossible. There is enough real (and fake) news to throw in the mix.

In the first two months of the current year, there was a feeling that the tide would turn. Of course, the projections of a research organization again raised the specter of the “second wave” to set us back again in a state of helplessness.

Are we advocating self-delusion and shrugging off the nasty numbers? Maybe.

Optimism is like ambition. It is a desire to reach a goal and the conviction that life is great. As children, we were routinely asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. Like the Man from la Mancha, we dreamed impossible dreams of professional achievements, wealth, political positions — certainly a few wanted to be mayor of a big city in the South. Unreachable stars require a hefty dose of optimism, maybe misplaced but still a driving force.

Being immersed in bad news and negative economic numbers and delays in the vaccination program, we can perhaps actually achieve “herd immunity” …unfortunately against the contagion of hope.


Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda

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