Possibilitarian Leadership


If you had to describe yourself, your leadership style, with one word, what word would you choose? (Try it, it’s harder than you might think!) I was recently asked this question, and my response was . . . possibilitarian. Seriously, I didn’t make it up. It comes from a Norman Vincent Peale quote “Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see possibilities — always see them, for they’re always there.”

You’d have to ask those I work with whether that description is accurate or merely an aspirational view of my efforts, but it is certainly how I hope to approach my personal, professional, and faith journeys through this life. Why possibilitarian?

I used to call myself an optimist — and still do to a large extent — but some interpret that as taking a Pollyanna view that life is all sunshine and roses. If you have been a leader for any period of time, you can attest that it is not all sunshine and roses. However, if you allow the bumps along the way to sour you on the potential for the future, how will you ever motivate people to move your organization from Point A to Point B?

Jim Collins does a good job of describing this type of leadership, “unwavering faith amid the brutal facts” — which he calls the Stockdale Paradox. But with all due respect to Mr. Collins (who truly does have much to teach us), it took him 22 pages to make a case for the leadership sweet spot that Dr. Peale captures in two sentences.

As a person of faith, scripture tells me “all things are possible.” It doesn’t say fast, or easy, or painless. It says possible. Hmmm . . . seems instructive as you run up against obstacles that squash any chance of a fast, easy or painless solution. Just because something it hard doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. Sometimes when our work is the toughest is also when it is the most important.

I also happen to think there is an authenticity to a possibilitarian leader that fosters trust. If all your people get from you is “happy talk”, don’t you think they’re wondering what you’re not telling them? A possibilitarian isn’t a fearless leader. A possibilitarian is a leader who acknowledges and weighs the risks and then moves forward to get to the possibility on the other side.

What one word would you use to describe your leadership style? Strong . . . forthright . . . courageous . . . confident . . . strategic . . . Yep, that’s what I thought . . . Possibilitarian!