Editor’s Note: This article was originally written in Spanish and translated into English by the author then edited by the PPND staff. Welcome Jorge!
The day begins. It’s time to make decisions. Recruiting staff, opening a factory, launching a new product, reaching a sales goal, dealing with the new chief, or integrating another team are among many challenges that require focused attention and efficiency from executives to achieve the economic results expected by the board and owners.
Why Are Hope and Optimism Important?
Hope and optimism strengthen us when we have to confront challenges such as these, allowing us to carry on with enthusiasm and confidence. We postulate that hope and optimism favor the higher functions of the prefrontal areas of the brain, those areas that generate the most advanced thinking, imagining the future, evaluating alternatives, defining strategies for solving problems, and making decisions.
Study of Peruvian Executives
In a recent study, we explored the following questions:
- What are the levels of hope and optimism among Peruvians executives?
- Are there differences between executive men and executive women?
- Are there differences between senior executives and middle executives?
To explore these questions, we ran an investigation with 200 Peruvians executives, including 119 men and 81 women, from the main companies in Peru. I used the Attributional Style Questionnaire short version with 32 items, which does not include the personalization factor.Hope Results
As Seligman says in Authentic Happiness, “the art of hope is finding permanent and pervasiveness causes for the positive events, and temporary and specific causes for the negative events.”
The Peruvians executives get an average hope score of 5.03, corresponding to a “normal” level of hope. Only 9% of the Peruvians executives have scores indicating “extremely hopeful.” There were no executives with scores in the “seriously hopeless” range. The “moderately hopeful” numbered 37%, normal level 43.5%, and the “moderately hopeless” 10.5%.
In the short version of ASQ test, optimism has two dimensions: Pervasiveness and Permanence.
Pervasiveness refers to the scope of the interpretation of an event. Thus, more optimistic thinking seeks specific causes for adverse events and universal causes for positive events. More pessimistic thinking does just the opposite.
Permanence is about the duration of the causes of events. Optimistic thinking involves believing that positive events have permanent causes while adverse events have temporary causes. Pessimistic thinking flips these two ways of thinking.In our investigation of Peruvian executives, optimistic thinking was highest in the pervasiveness dimension, as shown in the chart to the left.
For Pervasiveness-Bad, the tendency to seek universal causes for adversity, 24% of the executives proved to be “very optimistic,” thus avoiding this pattern by limiting the causes of adversity to specific event. The average level for this measure was 2.45 (moderately optimistic).
For Pervasiveness-Good, the tendency to seek universal causes for positive results, 28.5% of the executives were very optimistic, and the average score was 5.35 (normal optimism).
In the permanence dimension, the optimism of the executives was lower. For Permanence-Bad, the tendency to find the causes of adverse events permanent, only 14.5% are “very optimistic.” For Permanence-Good, the tendency to believe the causes of the good will continue, only 13% of individuals were “very optimistic.”
The Peruvian executives have only normal levels of optimism. In the case of difficult events, such as business or economic crises, it is unclear whether facing a more complex situation could cause them, as Seligman says in Learned Optimism, to put their talents and strengths to work to become more optimistic.Executive Men and Executive Women
The Hope average is higher in men than women, reaching 5.24 compared to 4.72. Both averages fall in the normal range, and the difference is not statistically significant.
The research also shows that 49.6% of men are placed in the two groups, “extremely hopeful” and “moderately hopeful,” while only 40.7% of the women were in these two categories. This difference of 9 percentage points was also not statistically significant.
However, a significant difference was found in the dimension Permanence-Good. Men got an average of 5.33 compared to 4.84 for women. The ANOVA test gave a significance of 0.013. This could indicate that men are more inclined than women to positive events to permanent causes. Are they also more likely to attribute adverse events to temporary causes?Senior Executives and Middle Executives
We separated executives into senior executives, those with roles such as owner, general manager, and area manager, and middle executives, those with roles such as supervisor, analyst, and assistant.
Senior executives (SE) had a hope average of 5.56 compared to 4.64 for middle executives (ME). The differences weren’t statistically significant, event though 52.6% of senior executives had hope styles of “extremely and moderately hopeful” compared to only 38.9% of middle executives.
With just the level “extremely hopeful” there was a significant difference between senior executives at 17.5% and middle executives only 6.5%
What could explain this difference? It is possible that the position of senior executive is the result of specific behaviors within the organization characterized by the fulfillment of goals and targets. Perhaps the most plausible conclusion is that the position of senior executive is enabled by an optimistic style characterized by a hopeful vision. Whether things go well or not, an optimistic explanatory style helps the individual stay in the struggle and to overcome obstacles and adversities.
Optimistic thinking habits can be learned, as Seligman demonstrates in Learned Optimism. Often the first step in change is assessing what’s already going on. This study is one example of taking an assessment of the optimism levels of people with important roles in a business environment.
Driving projects, launching products, opening new markets, innovating in processes, products, and services, and acquiring new businesses are efforts that are not exempt from setbacks. A hopeful and optimistic position favors resilience and learning in business, and thus may help create conditions for the development of firms and economic sectors that are solid and stable and able to contribute to economic growth.
Villalobos, M. (2016, 21 Julio). El impacto de la esperanza de los líderes en su organización. semanaeconomica.com.
Seligman, M. E. P. Attributional Style Questionnaire. Questionnaires for researchers at the Penn Positive Psychology Center.
Seligman, Martin (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. 2nd Edition. New York: Vintage.
Images used with permission from the author.