Passive Optimism vs. Dynamic Optimism

If you know me, you know my passion around leadership. Some people like to hunt, some like to fish, some like to golf. . .  in my spare time, I like to think, read, and listen about leadership. And from time to time on this blog, I like to reflect on some leadership principals that I’m learning through my life experience and from others. A few years ago, I was able to hear Colin Powell, former statesman and retired four-star general, speak on the subject of leadership. He had many good things to say, especially about optimism. In Oren Harari’s book The Leadership Secrets of Colin Powell, he reflects on the difference between passive optimism and dynamic optimism in Powell’s life. He writes,

For Powell, the value of optimism is its capacity to spur bold action and extraordinary results. He would not condone what some researchers have called “passive” optimism. Passive optimism is little more than a “don’t worry, be happy” attitude. People will passive optimism tell themselves to stay mellow, that everything will work out fine, whatever happens is okay, and others will solve the problems.

In contrast, “dynamic” optimists apply their optimism to attain goals and help others attain goals. They take action. That’s the kind of optimism Powell espouses. Don’t whine passively about a problem, and don’t just smile and shrug it off either.  Take responsibility, and do something with the hand you’re dealt. “If you get the dirty end of the stick,” he says, “sharpen it and turn it into a useful tool.”

Sounds a lot like what Jesus said in Matthew 17:20, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Passive optimists “hope” the mountain will move (e.g., “I sure wish more people would come to Christ.”) Dynamic optimists “tell” the mountain to move (e.g., “Let's ask God for 100 people to come to Christ by Christmas Day”). And, as of today, 111 people have to Christ through Northgate in the past 90 days. That's what I call God's dynamic optimism at work!

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