Martin Seligman on Learned Optimism in Management

Martin Seligman Learned Optimism
Seligman is a psychologist and his work is very helpful for those teaching or rearing children. However there is much in this book that is helpful for management also.
He was hired to help Metropolitan Life, one of the largest insurance companies, with one of the largest cadre of salespeople at that time. They were using aptitude test to select recruits for sale people, investing millions of dollars in them only to find that many dropped out in the first few years. When they added Seligman’s tests of optimism, their retention rates when up dramatically. Someone who just barely failed the aptitude test but rated highly in optimism was much more likely to be a successful salesperson than someone who had a high aptitude but little optimism. They stop hiring the high aptitude but bottom half in optimism. Both moves increased retention and improved sales.
However, when asked to apply the same measures to the executive suite, Seligman had reservations. The executive suite needed people who could accurately judge the situation, while optimists are not very accurate.
Optimism may be measure, and may be induced, by an explanatory style that posits all bad occurrences as temporary and all good occurrences as rooted in the permanent.
“I did poorly on the test because I failed to study enough.”
“I did well on the test because I am smart.”
“My class is failing this points because the parents are not…”
“My class is failing on these points because I was distracted and so taught other items.
“I didn’t reach my sales goals because the market is down.”
“I didn’t reach my sales goals, because, gosh, I just didn’t spend the time contacting prospects that I should have.”
How can you model optimism for your staff?
How can you refrain from optimistic errors when doing management planning?

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