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Bill Gates and Warren Buffett Reveal The Secret to Successful Leadership in Just 1 Word

Billionaires, psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered one personality trait that separates great leaders from average ones.

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BY Carmine Gallo - 10 Jan 2018

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett Reveal The Secret to Successful Leadership in Just 1 Word

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

You don't have wait for success to leave clues. Billionaires like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are showing us the way: Successful leaders look at the world differently. They choose to view events through a particular lens. In one word: optimism.

For the first time in Time magazine's history, the entire issue has been handed over to a guest editor: Bill Gates. Gates chose to title the issue, The Optimists. "On the whole, the world is getting better," Gates writes. "This is not some naively optimistic view; it's backed by data."

While the evidence supports Gates' argument, he's careful to say that "being an optimist doesn't mean you ignore tragedy and injustice. It means you're inspired to look for people making progress on those fronts, and to help spread that progress more widely."

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, you must--by definition--be an outlier. You must have a vision other people don't share, inspire others to join you, and keep hustling when others are giving up.

Building your optimism muscles will help you achieve all three.

Warren Buffett's Unshakable Optimism

"I have good news," billionaire Warren Buffett writes in his Time contribution. "First, most American children are going to live far better than their parents did. Second, large gains in the living standards of Americans will continue for many generations to come."

Buffett's observation is consistent with his televised interviews over the past year. After the 2016 presidential election, a CNN reporter asked Buffett if he was still optimistic even though his candidate lost. "One hundred percent," he answered immediately.

Buffett is "always hopeful" because he has a critical leadership quality--perspective. In an interview with CNBC, he explained that he's purchased stocks since World War II, when his dad thought the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt meant "the end of the world."

Buffett's knowledge of the past makes his hopeful for the future. "The babies being born in America today are the luckiest crop in history...For 240 years," Buffett wrote in his annual newsletter.

The Optimist's Bookshelf

Buffet and Gates are voracious readers. Books about history and the economy offer perspective, which is why I read 75 books a year and cite many of them in my articles.

In an article last year, I featured five books about progress, one of which Gates says inspired his approach to solving world problems. Writing about Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature, Gates said, "Pinker makes a persuasive argument that the world is getting better--that we are living in the most peaceful time in human history... Once you understand it, you start to see the world differently."

The key phrase is "see the world differently." Neuroscientist Dr. Tali Sharot says that if we look at setbacks as opportunities, we stand a better chance of turning those events into something positive. In her book, The Optimism Bias, Sharot writes, "Optimistic beliefs modify our view of the people and events we come across...believing in a positive outcome will enhance the probability that the desired outcome will be realized."

Some of us are more naturally positive than others, but we can all be happier and more motivated if we look at the events in our lives optimistically. By doing so, you'll enjoy several benefits that will help you succeed:

  1. Immunity from short-term panics. Buffett doesn't lose sleep when the stock market is down because he knows--through perspective and history--that it will be higher ten years from now. It allows him to take risks while others flee.
  2. Contagious energy. Emotions are contagious, both positive and negative. A leader cannot afford to have a team of people who are stressed, anxious and have low-energy. A leader must lift spirits. Hope is a powerful emotion and it's universally craved. Give people hope when they see despair, and they'll be more likely to follow you.
  3. Overcome failures faster. Optimists see setbacks as opportunities, which is a key ingredient of success in entrepreneurship. In his groundbreaking book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel-prize winning behavioral economist, Daniel Kahneman, writes that most people give up easily. Optimists, on the other hand, remain persistent in the face of obstacles.

I've seen all of these benefits improve my life immeasurably. Once I began to read more books by optimistic economists and historians, I found myself complaining a lot less about daily inconveniences.

I wake up happier and go bed more rested, even if the day didn't go exactly as planned. When I experiment with something new in my business and it doesn't show the results I had hoped for, I use the experience as a learning opportunity.

It's not too late for a resolution for 2018. Resolve to be more optimistic this year. It's worked for Gates and Buffett. It works for me. It might just work for you.