A Tale of Three Leaders


The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails. – William Arthur Ward

One of my favorite stories is from John Maxwell. In it he shares about the turkey chatting it up with the bull. “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”

“Well,” replied the bull, “why don’t you nibble on some of my droppings? They’re packed with nutrients.”

The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch on the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched on top of the tree. But he was promptly spotted by a hunter, who shot him down out of the tree.

The moral of the story: BS might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.

Every leader I know wants to make it to the top. I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t want to be successful. Your leadership point of view – how you see your world, will set into motion the realities of your leadership and to a certain extent the success you have. Will your present leadership style get you to the top? Will it keep you there? Here are three style of leadership for your consideration.

The pessimistic leader

This is the leader who always sees the glass half empty. For this leader the next disaster is just around the corner and no one is prepared for it. The pessimistic leader assumes the worst and usually creates self-filling predictions.

It’s hard to wrap our minds around this type of leadership style but it’s one that in some circles exists. The only thing more demoralizing than working for this type of leader is being one. But know this; a pessimistic leader is one by choice. The pessimistic leader is not the only leader to face adversity, setbacks, personnel issues, economic challenges, etc. It comes with the territory. Then what’s the deal breaker? In a word – attitude.

The pessimistic leader’s lid of limitation is his or her attitude. Until this leader drops their pessimistic ways they never make it to the top. Zig Ziglar was right when he said, “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” Change your attitude and you will change your point of view.

The optimistic leader

The optimistic leader has an easier path to the top. Why? For the opposite reason the pessimistic leader will not reach it. Optimism is the fuel that drives you and it’s contagious. A healthy dose of optimism will give you and your team the competitive advantage you need to climb your way to success.

But is optimism alone enough or is more needed? Just as you need a dream or a goal to shoot for, optimism alone is not sufficient. You must be awakened to your dream and work it. You can dream all day but until you go to work you are just a daydreamer. You need an optimistic frame of mind that causes you to believe that anything is possible-and it is- but you must channel that optimism through hard work and measureable results.

An optimistic leader expects challenges and is prepared for them. But the optimistic leader needs to know how and when to pivot and be prepared to make adjustments. It’s hard to remain optimistic for long if you are going in the wrong direction.

The realistic leader

The realistic leader knows how to discern the BS, adjust the sails, and make the best of every challenge and opportunity. The leader wearing the realistic hat will tell you the truth no matter how sobering it may be. It may sound something like this, “Times are tough. We’re not where we want to be or should be. We’ve been blindsided, and at times we’ve dropped the ball. We’re going to make some changes and if we will pull together and work hard, together we can turn this around.” It’s acknowledging problems and accepting responsibility with optimism still in place.

The realistic leader walks a tightrope. If the tone is too harsh it can have negative consequences. If the message is not delivered forcefully enough the perception can be that problems are being swept under the rug. But optimism devoid of reality sets people up with a false hope. People need to know what’s optimistically within reach.

A realistic leader’s greatest asset in order to be successful is trust. When people trust their leader to not BS them and give it to them straight, and have their backs, the sky is the limit as to how high they can go.

Which type of leader are you?


© 2014 Doug Dickerson



About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandson Tyson. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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