A Call for Optimistic Leadership


Why do we need optimistic leadership?

In a dark time, a time of crisis (and are there any other kinds of times?), visionary leadership is rooted in optimism. If we do not have hope that change is possible, we cannot make the necessary changes or create sustainable solutions to the problems that plague us.

Optimism is a key resource for effective leaders, but how do we find the strength we need to connect big questions to big solutions and identify the steps we need to get to those solutions. Great leadership requires skills in community-building, mentoring and integral step-by-step, networked solutions.

34-web-malala-2-gettyGreat leadership like this is not sustained by great people. Optimistic leaders are ordinary people with the courage to ask and answer big questions. So how do we sustain our energy as we lead forward, step by step?

We need a community to help us stay optimistic. However we find our tribe and nurture those connections, we need to make that foundational resource one of our first priorities if we decide we intend to build visionary leadership into our work.

We need to overcome the myth of the lone hero leader in order to succeed as optimistic leaders.

Elements of Dance

The lone hero leader is a myth that haunts us as we create a leadership story to live by. Stories of the “great men” and women who stood above all others in order to change the world have caused more damage than good.

When we compare ourselves to that stereotype, there are two dangerous results. Those of us with the courage to recognize our needs for community and support automatically decide we’re not leaders. And those of us with the courage to stand up for what’s right automatically decide that we have to sacrifice our need for community and support in order to lead. We either hide our light, or burn it out. Neither is necessary.

Optimism can’t survive either decision. And if we look at the lives of the lonely heroes we praise as great leaders, they had whole communities of support and strength, even when they were the spokesperson for their movement. If they had not, they could not have succeeded.

Three ways to support your own practice of optimistic leadership:

  1. Feed your heart with real friends, trusted colleagues, and relationships that honor all of you, strengths, weaknesses, and growing edge.
  2. Read stories about leaders who succeeded because they reached out, and re-read the history books to notice the ways great optimistic leaders reached out and created a team around them.
  3. Create your own leadership development circle, a group I call a Leadership Honeycomb, where you can explore and grow, asking big questions and finding new ways of thinking about the problems we face. Check out my invitation to join our Honeycomb network, or contact me to find out more about this idea.


Carol Burbank, Ph.D. is a leadership scholar, coach and educator. Her latest article, Revolution from Within: A Theory of Embodied Transformation of Roles for Girls and Women through Leadership Blockbusters will appear in the book, Threading the Needle: Theorizing Women and Leadership (Information Age Publishers, 2016). She teaches in the University of New England’s Educational Leadership Ph.D. program. For more information, see her website at www.carolburbank.com





  1. […] the report comes from a sense of optimism, of hope that knowledge really is transformative. In a culture where the bottom line rules us all, […]


  2. […] that doesn’t mean they were leaders when they lived. Optimism is a good thing; glossing over problems in order to celebrate a positive vision can be […]


  3. […] more about collaborative leadership, and Carol Burbank‘s model of Honeycomb […]


  4. […] TEACHERS! Oh yes, connection is the most important thing! Lean in, collaborate, create a coalition, communicate and share your passion. This fits my model for Honeycomb Leadership, which is less about titles and power than […]


  5. […] Make real connections with people you resonate with online. Don’t let an email, Facebook message, or tweet substitute for connection. Pick up the phone, meet for coffee. […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: