By Karie Willyerd on Jan 14, 2009
The current issue of Fortune magazine has an article about the cry for blood of those on Wall Street who misled at best—or knowingly deceived at worst—their investors and stakeholders. Optimistic earnings statements are contrasted with meltdown dates, sometimes as close together as 24 hours. Yet, as Colin Powell said, “Optimism is a force multiplier.” What’s a leader to do? Where is the balance between providing an optimistic way forward and turning a blind eye to dangers so perilous that only the naïve or self-deceived could miss them?
Fortunately most leaders in large organizations don’t have to carefully position themselves to analysts, since only a few leaders in any organization have the role of presenting the company to Wall Street. As Fortune points out, if a CEO is transparently honest about the state of the company it can cause a devastating drop in share price, at the cost of his/her head. Overly optimistic, and a pair of handcuffs could be waiting.
Particularly in the United States, we are inspired by optimism and hope. Our favorite stories are those of the underdogs who rise above adversity to achieve greatness. Brought up on those stories, we paint ourselves as the heroes who can fight through any battle to ensure that justice and right prevail.
Life etches a different picture though—one with more complexity and ambiguity than our childhood stories or our favorite movies. In my own role, facing a reduction in force in the next few months, my natural tendency toward optimism and openness is tempered not only by the need to protect the confidentiality of those who will be most affected, but also by the uncertainty that the current world economic conditions may get worse before they get better. Optimism in the face of so much ambiguity seems disingenuous and false.
Yet we hope or, at least, I hope. I hope that those who are affected will find safe harbor soon. I’m grateful that Sun is a company that provides a fair package for those who must leave. I’m committed to using all the resources at my disposal to help those who leave by keeping a private Facebook alumni group populated with job openings that come my way. I treasure every small win we get with customers and, fortunately for SLS, even some big wins lately. And I hope that in the near future, I can unabashedly exude my optimism for what we can become. Because we all yearn to be great.