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Leading with Optimism Out of a Liminal Space

By: Barry R. Cesafsky, FACHE

During this abnormal time in which we find ourselves, it might be helpful to consider an expression attributed to the poet, William Blake. He is quoted to have said “In the universe, there are things that are known, and things that are unknown, and in between, there are doors.” It seems to me that we are presently on the threshold of a door, waiting to step into an unknown space.  I am hopeful that space is a good place.

Thresholds, like the one we are on, are also sometimes known as liminal spaces. They are definitely not places where we recently were, and they are not likely where we are headed. A liminal space is a kind of waiting room or what used to be called Limbo, a Purgatory with all of the anguish and some of the suffering. All one has to do is watch the nightly news and take in all of the consequences of the Coronavirus Pandemic or Black Lives Matter struggle to clearly see that we are not where we want to be.

We need visionary leaders to help guide us to a new, better place. This is particularly true in the healthcare provider world, which has been directly affected by recent events. At HealthSearch Partners there is an overriding characteristic that we look for in leaders—one which sets the visionary leader apart from the average candidate.  It is a high level of optimism.

Optimists expect positive results because they view themselves in control of the events in their lives.  Optimists handle frustration and stress more efficiently, naturally assuming they can work through problems by concentrating on solutions rather than feeling like helpless victims of circumstance.  What’s more, optimists create healthier social support systems by raising the self-esteem of their co-workers and the people around them. Optimists tend to be more self-motivated, resourceful, and decisive in challenging circumstances. They have the vision to see what can be or should be. To an optimistic leader, the glass is never half empty, it’s always half full.

Of course, good optimists also possess a certain amount of realism and level-headed judgement. They are not simply Pollyannas looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. A true optimistic leader is pragmatic, has an accurate appreciation of reality, and knows how to recognize obstacles and overcome them to achieve success.

So, how do we pass through the door to the good place?  We should recognize and invest in leaders who exhibit optimistic tendencies or have the ability to develop this important characteristic. Optimistic leaders understand liminal spaces and see beyond them. They recognize what can be possible and anticipate what it takes to get through the door

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