Knowledge @ ESCP Europe

Cross-cultural Management

Optimistic Managers Wanted!


Philippe Gabilliet, MEB Academic Dean & Professor in Leadership

Philippe Gabilliet, who has a always been a militant for creative, positive and optimistic management, now infuses these values into ESCP Europe MEB (Master in European Business) students.


In times of change, it is the responsibility of those who lead, motivate and manage to stay the course by giving key players the hope of a better tomorrow. In business, the ability to generate optimism remains at the heart of any motivational drive.

The optimism of one’s manager is the biggest asset for the motivation and stimulation of a team. What is needed in a period of change, is men and women able to establish relationships with each other based on optimism and positive dynamics.

The economic and social situation can generate a great deal of anxiety in the lives of many people. The speeding up of the world, the loss of one’s bearings, lack of visibility on the future and fear of the unpredictable are the ingredients for a loss of confidence in oneself and in society, resulting in a surge of collective pessimism.

But how does one recognise an optimistic manager? First of all, they are often just a manager like any other, that is to say, a manager who tries to achieve objectives by motivating others. The optimistic manager must make their team succeed; in other words, to help their employees to achieve their goals, empower them and enable them to evolve and progress.

Generally, one can recognise an optimistic manager from the following four attitudes:

1 - The optimistic manager concentrates most of their efforts on strengths, not weaknesses

For a positive manager, the men and women around them have only two types of resources with which to address change: to cultivate and strengthen strong points, and possibly effort points, on which there is room for manoeuver and a possibility to improve and progress.

2 - The optimistic manager knows how to focus on effective solutions, even if only partial and temporary.

Faced with the "why us" of pessimism, the optimistic manager always prefers initially the “how can we…?” ; in other words, the immediate search for alternative routes or new opportunities arising from the difficulty. Optimistic managers do not need to know the origin or the person responsible for the problem facing them and their troops before beginning to explore ways for getting round it.

3 - The optimistic manager seeks out "small victories"

The optimistic manager keeps an eye fixed on the change to be achieved. However, they never lose an opportunity to celebrate an intermediary victory with their troops: a game won, an obstacle overcome, an effort that paid off, a technical advance or a new contract. In short, the optimistic manager likes to catch those they lead in “flagrante delicto of success," however modest it may be.

4 - The optimistic manager encourages perseverance and risk taking.

Optimists know that failure - as unpleasant as it may be - is part of life and it is an ingredient of success (almost) like any other. Being prepared for setbacks and failure: an optimistic manager knows both what they will do if things go wrong, and also in advance, that they will attempt to do better and to try their luck again. As, if optimism is a powerful factor for success, it is so because it creates the mental conditions necessary for perseverance.
An optimistic manager is ultimately one whose colleagues will say of them: "faced with turbulence ahead, they have inspired us to try, allowed us the freedom to not succeed at once, but urged us to try and try again until we won the game!”.

Come to Philippe Gabilliet's inspirational MasterClass "Managerial Optimism: The Ingredient for tough times", February 24th in Paris.