The Impact and Power of “ism”

Author: James Western

After spending four years as an undergraduate at a university studying both English and Economics, I was excited to leverage what I had learned through all of my courses after being offered a full-time professional position with an organization in the data communications industry. Without any opportunities as an intern for organizations during those university years, my only business experience was in the food industry, having served in positions as a dishwasher and busboy during my teenage years. How is that for “prior work experience?” Nonetheless, I was excited, eager and appreciative to secure this professional position.

Wow, was I inexperienced and naïve! Despite my best efforts, we couldn’t reach the summit. We had technology that was more effective than our competitors, as validated by third party testing in our industry, but couldn’t take away any market-share from the competition. I did learn a lot from both correct and incorrect decisions I made, and aligned with a few individuals with whom I worked with even after I resigned.

Fast forward to my next position in the same industry. We had ups and downs and I similarly learned a lot from both right and wrong moves. Furthermore, I established relationships with a variety of individuals with whom I worked, some of which were employees while others were clients or industry partners.

Look ahead a few more years when I worked for a huge Fortune 500. We had traditional challenges and opportunities that provided me with some great insight into a variety of best practices for organizational strength. At one point in time, we were even the market leader in a variety of market segments that totaled billions of dollars in annual revenue. Again, I interfaced with many individuals, forming some lasting relationships with some employees.

When I look back and reflect upon my experiences at these three organizations, there are some common themes. So many of them are standard and customary to any entity; achieving financial metrics, increasing market share, providing the “best” product in the industry, ensuring customer loyalty etc. What was also a common theme for all organizations, but may not seem so transparent, however, was the impact that a variety of employees, partners and clients with whom I regularly associated had on these organizations’ outcomes, as well as on me personally. It was the impact and power of “ism!”

Each of those that I happened to align with and admire were full of optimism, notwithstanding their positions, titles, roles and responsibilities. They were all personally convinced that their efforts would impact organizational success. Despite the similar and diverse challenges manifested at each enterprise, these individuals spread their optimism to each of those with whom they interfaced, helping them feel more confident and motivated to perform their roles at or above the standards necessary to meet or exceed the company’s targets. Furthermore, their professional impact within the organization was significant and well above the contributions of others.

When I consider a different group of individuals with whom I regularly associated but didn’t feel as much impact, whether they were employees, partners or clients, they were full of realism, weighing in what they perceived as the balance between the organization’s capabilities versus the competition’s coupled market uncertainties. I listened, I spoke, I discussed, yet I didn’t feel a lasting impression that impacted me going forward. I departed from those experiences feeling somewhat informed, not definitively knowing what I should or shouldn’t do as a result of our dialogue. These individuals’ professional impact tended to be slightly above, below or at the same level of others.

At this point, you know where this is headed. Yes, that is correct, the last group of individuals with whom I frequently worked with that had a neutral to negative impact on me were full of cynicism and pessimism. They had a variety of reasons why we were doomed to fail given market dynamics, organizational weaknesses, competitors’ strengths, the impact of global warming, conflicts in the Middle East, Big Bang versus Divinity theories and on and on! I left my interactions with them feeling somewhat frustrated, slightly agitated and disappointedly doubtful from time-to-time, depending upon the topics discussed. These individuals’ professional impact as measured by what they were required to deliver tended to be below the average of others.

Granted none of this is absolute, as there were optimistic individuals who underperformed and the converse, cynicists who outperformed. Moreover, there were plenty of realists who exceeded their requirements, but the vast majority off all these categorized individuals displayed the behaviors outlined above. Furthermore, one could reasonably argue that the reason anyone within each category was full of optimism, realism, pessimism or cynicism was the result of their performance. If a sales representative hit or exceeded their quota and received their sales bonus, then they would naturally be an optimist. Similarly, the sales representative who missed the mark and did not earn their bonus would be a cynic or pessimist. My experience didn’t show that at all; rather, if an optimist underperformed, they committed to do things differently, to work harder and to follow the practices of top performers. Moreover, if a pessimist exceeded their target they would often be someone silent or offer up some rationalized exception like, “Yeah, I got my bonus this year but I probably won’t next year as we probably won’t even be around due to our product becoming obsolete.”

Notwithstanding their personal outcomes as measured by their managers, the greatest impact from all of the members of these categories is the overall influence they have on others within the organization. They can either bring others upstream, tread water with them or begin to drown them. This contributes to the cultural strength and weakness and can also be a detriment to employee engagement, which certainly sends the organization in the wrong direction. Many of us have had that experience of being in a working environment that felt uncomfortable, uneasy and fatigued.

I can’t even begin to address the pathology of each of these categories as the social, psychological, neurological and familial influences are diverse and inimitable. The behaviors resulting from all of these factors have tremendous relevance to whether or not one is full of optimism, realism, cynicism and pessimism. However, recognizing these behaviors is important for each leader to identify in order to determine which course of action should be implemented to effectuate behavioral change. There are many paths that can be taken to facilitate progress, with each trail being specific to the individual.

Fast forward many years and I am now adamant about the impact of these behavioral categories as I have provided business consulting for thousands of individuals around the world who are employed by Fortune 500 companies and other top producing organizations. The common theme I have experienced with each of the members of these organizations is that those that are optimistic and realists, generally adopt the guidance and direction provided by the business services offered from the consulting methodology. Conversely, those who are cynicists and pessimists fight and challenge the value of “just another ridiculous system for helping us try to achieve greater results.”

First and foremost, assess your own behavioral standing. Where do you align? Reach out to respected peers and seek their guidance and direction for where you currently reside. If you are not where you want to be, determine the causal factors that have placed you in that current state. Create a plan of action, both personal and professional, to help facilitate change in the right direction. You will see that your performance, engagement and cultural impact to the organization will improve!

Bryan Ritchie and James Western are co-founders of GrowthSPORT, a successful consulting company whose mission is to improve SCORES (Stimulate Culture, Optimize Results and Engage Staff) for Teams, Divisions, Departments and Organizations through the SPORT model (Strategic Alignment, Personnel Performance, Operational Execution, Results Accountability and Team Strength), which are the Five Core Elements of Success.

GrowthSPORT provides resources, tools and experienced consultants to effectively implement the SPORT performance model from companies ranging from Startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Feel free to reach out to GrowthSPORT at (801) 676-2500 or at


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