How to Build Optimism in Yourself and Your Clients as an Executive Coach

Nov 06 2019 | Tags: Emotional Intelligence

How to Build Optimism in Yourself and Your Clients as an Executive Coach

As an emotional competency, Optimism has often been praised for its benefits in many fields of study. This being the case, you don’t have to look far to find the benefits of optimism in business. For example, according to a study conducted by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan “entrepreneurial optimists perform significantly better in terms of profits, than pessimists.” The benefits of optimism can also be found in the world of leadership. Jeffrey E. Garten interviewed 40 of the world’s top CEO’s in his book The Mind of the CEO. While he didn’t find a lot of similarities, one common quality that they all shared, however, was optimism. According to Garten “Their view was, I know I have succeeded in the past, and I’m quite confident that if I can look beyond today’s problems to a point on the horizon, I know I’m going to get there.” With this evidence, it doesn’t come as a surprise when we hear that a significant goal of executive coaches is to enhance their client’s levels of optimism.

Being an optimist can allow you to see the bigger picture, and opportunities where others might not. While on an intellectual level, coaches might understand the benefits of instilling optimism, often they lose sight of themselves and forget to practice what they preach. Optimism might be a great asset for clients, but it is also essential to cultivate as a coach. According to Forbes, one of the three qualities to look for in great executive coaches is that “A Great Coach Helps You Visualize the Future.”  And the Canadian Professional Sales Association says one of the ten traits to look for in an executive coach is life long learning. Both of these qualities are heavily represented in optimistic people. So clearly, building levels of optimism benefits coaches.  With that in mind, here are some tips to increase your levels of optimism.

Strategy 1: Look for the Benefit

Optimism — a feeling to be learned

The idea that optimism is simply being happy and upbeat all the time is a misconception. Optimism is not about being overly happy; it’s about how you respond to stressful situations. While everyone will encounter stress in their life, the optimist will distinguish themselves by reacting and responding, as opposed to switching to fight or flight mode. However, this ability to sense opportunities in the face of adversity is not something you are necessarily born with. Optimism is an emotional response formed by habit. This means if you actively try to change the way you react to stressful situations, it will eventually become habit.

Strategy 2: Seek the valuable lesson

The moral of the story

One of the most important skills to learn when encountering stressful, and disappointing situations, is the skill of taking away what you can learn from the situation, and how you can better handle that situation the next time you encounter it. Instead of letting your negative emotions take over, try to find the moral of the story. Mastering this mind set will help you avoid making the same mistake over and over again.

Strategy 3: Focus on the task and see the possibilities

Opportunity Knocks

In order to be an effective optimist, there needs to be a mental shift in the way you see difficult situations. They are not problems; they are opportunities. Seeing these problems as situations, challenges, and opportunities will allow you to be positive and constructive.

Building Emotional Capital

Apart from the previously mentioned strategy, there are a few other techniques you can use to change your explanatory style. Such as:

  • When presented with a potentially negative situation, many fall down a dangerous rabbit hole of what-if scenarios. While nothing negative has necessarily happened yet, you are already five steps ahead of reality. To overcome this pessimistic explanatory style, we must decatastrophise. This means taking a step back and recognizing nothing has happened yet, and that you need to understand the situation a little bit better.
  • People with pessimistic explanatory style will often personalize situations unnecessarily. Taking negative experiences we’ve had in the past and applying it to a current situation. It is important to depersonalize what is currently happening.
  • This method is all about examining your way of thinking, and identifying the irrational leaps made in your thinking. Lay out your thinking and ask yourself “is this a rational assumption to make?”

As a coach, optimism can be an effective skill for both you and your clients. That is why it’s important for you to practice improving it. Indeed, optimism is important, but it is always important to remember it is not the only aspect of emotional intelligence you need to practice. In order to be a good executive coach, one must attempt to work on all aspects of emotional intelligence, so that you can understand and manage your own emotions better, but also understand those of the people you work with.


Parker Christianson

Research Assistant

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