Optimism and Attitude Are Inherent to Great Leadership


Many, many years ago (in the 1980’s), I worked for Unisys Corporation in Jericho, NY. My district manager was a gentleman by the name of Bob Greifeld. I worked closely with Bob for over four years and he and I became close friends.

Eventually, Bob moved to a company called Automated Security Clearances, which was purchased by Sunguard. One day Bob received a call from a recruiter with a very interesting opportunity. Bob went to his boss at Sunguard and said “I love working for Sunguard, but this is the opportunity of a lifetime.” His boss told him to go for it, and Bob won the job of a lifetime… and he held it.

For the last decade, since May of 2003, Bob has been Chief Executive Officer of NASDAQ/OMX. (Click the link for Bob’s Forbes profile).

The world (and Forbes) consider Bob a great leader, so what can we learn? Having worked closely with this man and knowing him well, I want to share some thoughts.

Great leaders are not necessarily the smartest people in the room, or the best looking, or some other aesthetic quality. Instead, I believe optimism and attitude are the most critical ingredients in what makes a leader great.

Here are the four key characteristics I found in Bob’s leadership style, that I believe are inherent in any great leader:


Great leaders have boundless optimism. They infect their team members with optimism too. They have a “never say die” attitude.

Listening Skills

Great leaders are great listeners. Have a concern? The leader wants to hear your concerns. He or she listens intently to those concerns.


Great leaders have passion. When they believe in something, they go get it. You get the impression that nothing can stop them from what they want to achieve.

Genuine Caring

The best leaders are those who genuinely care for their team members and who always keep what’s best for their team at top of mind.

Great leaders are not necessarily the smartest people in the room, or the best looking, or some other aesthetic quality. Instead, I believe optimism and attitude are the most critical ingredients in what makes a leader great.

It seems clear that the very best leaders are those who offer optimism and a good personal attitude. They clearly exhibit Optimism, Listening skills, Passion and Genuine caring. If any employee approaches them with a concern, they listen intently. They genuinely care. You never hear a disparaging word or negative comment from a good leader – their optimism is boundless

Those are the characteristics of Bob Griefeld, my long-time manager and CEO of NASDAQ/OMX.

What other characteristics do you think make a great leader? Let’s discuss below, in the Comments.

Jeff Ogden is an award-winning marketing expert as well as the President of Find New Customers. He’s also the Creator and Host of the very popular and syndicated show Marketing Made Simple TV.

  • http://www.happiness1st.com/ Happiness 1st

    I agree the characteristics you list are all critical to great leadership. They also go hand-in-hand.

    One reason is because the optimist sees a problem as an opportunity. They believe there is a solution. When one feels positive emotions they do not perceive problems the same way someone who feels less positively focused does (and the ideas that come to them are better as a result).

    I also believe great leaders must maintain an open mind. Not one that accepts any idea put forth but one that will ask–even of outlandish sounding ideas, “What if this is true?”

    The open-minded curiosity serves them well. Humanity is well-known for rejecting beneficial ideas and solutions because they sound unbelievable. It requires both the optimistic outlook and a mind open enough to give consideration to creative solutions to be a great leader.

  • http://www.ksmartin.com/ Karen Martin

    Hi Jeff – Nice short list of essential leadership traits. I was fortunate like you and worked for two excellent CEOs in my early career. I was naive at the time and thought all leaders operated like that. :-) I would suggest one more essential trait: clarity. Both were masters and communicating very clearly so there were no questions about what was important, what the priorities were, expectations, objectives, what the root cause of a problem was, etc. I find a fair number of leaders who, after nearly every meeting, leave staff scratching their heads. It’s tough to succeed when you’re not sure what to do. Other than that, very good list.

  • http://www.savvycapitalist.blogspot.com TedCoine

    Jeff, you are so on the money with this whole list. Regarding optimism: my observation from working with some very talented, inspiring leaders is, clearly-unshakable faith that your team will ultimately prevail – even if there are setbacks, as there typically are – is contagious, and absolutely essential. People naturally experience fear and doubt. It’s paralyzingly. A confident leader will rub off on them and inspire faith. That’s one important way in which steep odds are overcome.

  • http://www.thecaremovement.com Al Smith

    Fantastic piece. Optimism, Listening, Passion & CARE. Wow. Who would have guessed ? Ha.
    “The best leaders are those who genuinely care for their team members and who always keep what’s best for their team at top of mind”
    Enough said. Thanks Jeff.

  • Tom

    It nice when leaders are ‘nice’. But not all those who successfully head up large successful organisations are. A good dose of narcissism seems to serve some of those leaders well.

  • SDJ

    Love this article!


    Good pieces of advice especially for we and other leaders worldwide.

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  • http://www.wellspiritconsulting.com/ Jeff R. Hale, Ph.D.

    These four great personal characteristics would help make
    any leader someone with whom others would enjoy working.

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  • http://www.savvycapitalist.blogspot.com TedCoine

    Karen: so, so true! I was just outlining a post about how vagueness can kill your endeavor. Great minds?

  • http://www.savvycapitalist.blogspot.com TedCoine

    That’s right! A problem is typically an opportunity – especially a nice disruptive problem that effects your competition as well as you. “Problem? Let’s go!”

  • http://www.ksmartin.com/ Karen Martin

    While I see optimism as essential, I’d like to present an alternative view re: problems. I spend the bulk of my time helping businesses develop more effective problem solving and critical thinking capabilities. As I address in my book, The Outstanding Organization, I see a significant difference between problems and opportunities. All too often, companies sugar-coat words and use terminology that doesn’t help the cause. A problem, while it may feel negative, carries a degree of urgency. An opportunity, on the other hand, is optional – you can take or leave it.

    I’m not a fan of “PC-ifying” language just so we can feel better. Most orgs don’t take rapid enough action against true problems because they’re referred to as “opportunities” or “issues.” I believe that when we call things as they are — and many problems are indeed problems — we move the needle toward the truth, action, and results.

  • http://www.ksmartin.com/ Karen Martin

    Indeed (great minds?). I’m obsessed with clarity as indicated in my book, The Outstanding Organization. Truly differentiates top performing companies from the others.I look forward to your post.

  • http://www.happiness1st.com/ Happiness 1st

    When the brain perceives a problem, cognitive ability actually declines (Fredrickson, 2005, Johnson, K.J., 2010) unless the individual perceiving the problem has developed a mindset that problems have a positive side. It is not that they should not be solved. It is a mindset that both believes in the ability to solve the problem and believes the outcome can be positive.

    Look around you. Pretty much everything in your environment that is not naturally occurring was developed in response to a perceived problem–whether it is the shelter over your head and surrounding you, to the chair on which you are sitting, the computer and the software it uses so we can communicate our ideas, the clothing you are wearing.

    It is not about PC-ifying the language. It is about adopting a mindset conducive to finding the best solutions and that is done within a positive framework. An individual who is seriously worried about a problem compromises their greatest resource, their cognitive and creative abilities.

  • http://www.ksmartin.com/ Karen Martin

    Thank you for mentioning the research. Sounds interesting – could you please provide more info so I can read it? Journal Title?

  • http://www.happiness1st.com/ Happiness 1st

    Hi Karen,

    I highly recommend Barbara L. Fredrickson’s book, Positivity although there are many books and a lot of research on the topic that I find fascinating and exciting. Here are a few, including the two I mentioned.

    Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive
    emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory. American Psychologist, 56: 218-26.

    Fredrickson, B. L. (2005). Positive affect and the
    complex dynamics of human flourishing. American Psychologist, 60(7): 678-686.

    Fredrickson, B. L. (2005). Positive Emotions broaden
    the scope of attention and though-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion, 19: 313-332.

    Johnson, K. J. (2010). Smile to see the forest:
    Facially expressed positive emotions broaden cognition. COGNITION AND EMOTION, 24(2): 299-321.

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