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Optimism: The Secret Skill of Successful MBAs

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When you think about predictors of success, many traits come to mind, including intelligence, ambition, and discipline.

While all these qualities contribute to your success, one less-expected characteristic may play a more significant role in MBA graduates' career success than any other: optimism.

By cultivating optimism, you can boost success for yourself and those around you. And if you harness it with the right skills and education (like an MBA degree), the opportunities are boundless.

But what exactly are the benefits for business professionals of cultivating a more optimistic mindset? And what does it mean for the job prospects of MBA graduates?

Why MBA Graduates Should Prioritize Optimism

You'll work harder.

It's generally known that optimistic people see lots of benefits in their professional and personal lives. Optimistic people may live longer and experience a lower risk of certain health problems, including cardiovascular abnormalities, than pessimistic people.

For MBA graduates in particular, though, optimism's effect on productivity is more pertinent. Studies have shown that optimism can complement mindfulness in helping us focus on tasks and engage with jobs.

On a more basic level, since optimistic people have a positive outlook about the future, they're inclined to work harder to achieve their goals. Naturally, if you only see negatives in your future, you're not likely to work hard to continue.

You'll become a more effective leader.

Plenty of MBA grads are aiming for senior management positions after graduating. While MBA programs can effectively prepare grads with concrete leadership skills, MBA students should also remember the importance of optimism to successful leadership.

Optimistic people exude positivity, and their energy and enthusiasm are contagious and inspiring. This is especially important in the workplace and can significantly influence productivity and success.

In one study, researchers compared the effects of introducing a "positive intervention" culture in a workplace. Individuals in the more positive workplace felt less burnt out and more connected to their coworkers than individuals in the workplace who did not participate in positive intervention.

In the above study, professionals in senior management positions were the primary instigators of this positive culture change. For example, the company president led each positive workshop with employees rather than just telling them to "be more optimistic."

When you're around people with a can-do attitude, chances are better that you'll adopt the same attitude. This is one reason why optimists make great leaders—they instill confidence in those around them.

So, recent MBA graduates who want to be successful in management positions should consider how to become more positive—and then translate this into concrete "positivity programs" in the workplace.

It'll help you see (and seize) MBA opportunities.

Because they're confident about the future, optimists see opportunities where others may not. They have faith in their abilities, so rather than being inhibited by self-doubt, they see unlimited possibilities.

They're not discouraged by hurdles they encounter along the way, either. Instead, they see new challenges as opportunities. This gives them the courage to embark on new career endeavors and adventures, enabling them to reach their full potential.

There's science to back this up. A research study in the Netherlands found that workers who had a future-positive outlook were more likely to actively engage in their jobs and seek out new knowledge. Given the importance of adaptability in business today, optimism may be as valuable as technical skills or management skills to an MBA's career path.

It's a foundational skill for some MBA jobs.

One of the most popular jobs for MBA graduates is entrepreneurship. For many MBA students, this is the goal they're working towards: managing their own company. And for this career, optimism matters more than you might think.

Studies have shown that entrepreneurs are more likely to be optimistic than other people. While it's still unclear if optimists are more likely to start their own business or if managing a company makes you more optimistic, the consequences are profound for MBA students.

Entrepreneurship isn't an easy career path. It requires determination, perseverance, and an innate belief in the value of your business. An optimistic mindset can help you be more creative and innovative and see solutions where others would see problems.

If you're a budding entrepreneur, this is fundamental, as it will help you generate new ideas for products and services, which can set you apart from the competition.

And, since optimists expect positive outcomes, they're more inclined to forge ahead in the entrepreneurial space. MBA graduates who are optimistic about the future will find it easier to motivate themselves to charge ahead and make decisions without second-guessing themselves.

How an MBA Degree Encourages Optimism

MBA programs aren't solely about developing your leadership skills and technical know-how. An MBA degree can also lead to significant personal development, whether that's through recognizing your strengths and weaknesses or developing soft skills.

You might not expect optimism to be a vital part of the MBA curriculum. Although many business schools won't claim to help you develop an optimistic mindset, many MBA degrees focus on developing your resilience—which will help you apply a more optimistic mindset to future MBA jobs.

For example, leadership programs at business schools often focus on subjects like steering organizations out of crises and motivating employees, two tasks that fundamentally require an optimistic mindset.

Participating in group projects (and even wider competitions with other business school students) will help you develop a mindset prioritizing success rather than failure. After all, it's not just your success on the line but the rest of your team's.

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