I was at a management class recently and got a figurative kick in the head. We were discussing motivation, and the instructor reminded us how important it is for managers to be enthusiastic and optimistic for their staff. There it was, a black-and-white bullet point on a PowerPoint slide: Be optimistic.
I consider myself a pretty enthusiastic and optimistic person by nature, so I mentally checked it off in my head: "Done." But about 5 seconds later, recent instances of when I had been, let's just say, less than enthusiastic and optimistic in front of my folks rushed into my head. I mentally erased the checkmark in my head and reminded myself to literally add this to my daily to-do list.
Why is optimism important? We take it for granted, but remember that consciously or not, your folks take their cues from you every single day. You are the local representative of your company, so chances are your attitudes and perceptions can become "the company line" in your folks' eyes - especially in a large company.
Let's say your company is in a tenuous financial position. At a staff meeting, you innocently engage in a little gallows humor, adding "if we still have jobs" to the statement "Let's wrap up this project next week." You're only trying to lighten the mood, but you've probably scared the heck out of your staff. At best, you've reminded them of a not-so-pleasant situation and at the worst, they're thinking pink slips are waiting for them at their desks.
Especially in times like this we need to be optimistic and enthusiastic for our people. Am I suggesting you act like Pollyanna? No. Should you ratchet up your enthusiasm level to that of weight loss guru Richard Simmons? No, again (plus, that might scare your staff).
I'm suggesting you be realistic and honest, while being as optimistic as possible. Share as much information as you can with your folks. If you need to vent about something, vent up to your boss, not down to your staff. They have enough to worry about without listening to your issues. Keep the gallows humor to a minimum. As the instructor said, "Negativity is contagious, but so is enthusiasm."