Business leaders often spend so much time criticizing what's not working, that they miss the chance to point out what is. It requires as much discernment to determine the right strategies as it does the wrong ones. Of course, focusing on positivity doesn't exclude a healthy dose of reality. But emphasizing the positive when the chance arises creates a strong feedback loop that can open new opportunities.

Sam Melamed is relentlessly optimistic. After studying for 7 years to be a rabbi, Melamed changed course and went into business. He may not have a college degree, but his positive attitude (along with, according to him, "a superstar wife") has helped him run one company while founding two others, and growing a family with 4 kids. Melamed says his good attitude has been transformative in his life and his business. Today, Melamed is the CEO of ABC Insurance Trust, which supports contractors in providing benefits for their employees. He's also the founder of Insurance Forums, a platform for insurance industry professionals to dialogue and grow. Melamed is a member of the Employee Benefits Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Melamed is the co-founder of Maryland Parents for Education, an education advocacy group. He is an active early stage investor in insurtech and healthtech companies and serves on several boards.

No doubt optimism is Melamed's preferred outlook, in life and in business. According to Melamed, "When you look for the good in people, you will find it." But that doesn't mean it will appear immediately. "You have to look," he says, and unfortunately, "The bad in them will find you all on its own." Remember that what you put out will be returned to you. "You may be shocked by how many people are surprised by the greatness you find in them, and they will in turn look and point out your own skills and abilities that you may not yet be aware of," Melamed enthuses. Still, blind optimism all the time is naïve. Here is Melamed's advice on when leaders should be optimistic, when to be realistic, and when to be a little more analytic:

Optimistic

1. Assume the Good

Melamed always gives people the benefit of the doubt. He says the first step to optimism is "assuming the best intentions in those you interact with." For Melamed, this isn't just a suggestion. " When you do see the good in someone, you have a moral obligation to point it out," Melamed believes. He understands this may require practice, and suggests, "One effective tool is to look at what was said or done by others, and try to figure out what your own intentions would have been had you done or said the same thing." Put yourself in the shoes of the other person, and consider things from their perspective.

2. Most Are Trying

Along with assuming the best about people's natures, Melamed also assumes the best about their actions. "Most people are good people and just trying their best," he says. Even when it seems obvious, try not to rush to judgment. "Look for signs that show their humanity, rather than just contending with their ideas in an abstract way," Melamed advises.

3. Examine Yourself

Melamed encourages leaders to consider their own behavior. He says, "Reflect often on your trend line." Melamed knows it can be difficult. "It is easy to get caught up in the anxiety of the moment when you are uncertain how something will play out," he acknowledges. "Give yourself permission to indulge in reviewing your past progress and wins, and then keep plotting out that positive trend line into the future," Melamed advises.

Realistic

1. Open Your Eyes

Optimism feels good, but you cannot be blind. "Knowing how often you are right about the future can be a superpower. You need to always be recalibrating to make sure that your positive and optimistic outlook does not obscure realities you may need to contend with," Melamed suggests. In order to keep your vision accurate, Melamed suggests, "Take some time to reflect and honestly assess your current perspective."

2. Recognize the Possibilities

Unfortunately, things don't always end the way you hoped. Melamed suggests that from the beginning, "When you encounter conflict, you need to know that things do not always work out." You don't need to let it get you down, but you do need to plan for all the possible outcomes. "It is great to put your thumb on the scale of erring on the side of positivity, but that only works when you can recognize and contend with the fact that things sometimes do break down," Melamed shares.

3. Maintain Composure

When your dreams are dashed, Melamed knows it would be easy to lose hope. As always, "Look for the best in people and assume their best intentions. But do not allow yourself to be surprised or devastated when you are disappointed,"Melamed asserts. Recognize that , and is the greatest danger to keeping your positive outlook," he explains. Instead of wallowing, mourn the loss and move on.

Critical

1. Dump Passive Aggression

No matter the circumstances, being passive aggressive is counterproductive. Whether you're trying to mask your anger or subtly suggesting improvements without being harsh, you're not acting in the best interests of your employees or company. Melamed asserts, "Refrain from passive aggressive behavior. It is fine to be positive, but when people do not meet your expectations, you can and must share critical feedback in a kind but direct way."

2. Don't Relent

Having a positive attitude doesn't mean you permit subpar performance. "Do not let people off the hook," Melamed says. He warns leaders not to avoid direct conversations. He explains, "Strong positivity directly correlates with fear of confrontation. Know this going in, and while you build your positivity muscle, maintain discipline to address issues that come up." There are serious long-term consequences if you do not. "An unaddressed issue is virtually certain to reappear and will often be worse for the wear," Melamed warns.

3. Question Your Assumptions

It can be difficult to view your company objectively, but it is a valuable skill. "Question your biases," Melamed encourages. "Be attuned to how you really feel and ask why else you might be feeling that way. Put in the work to uncover your disposition and make sure to let it lead you, but not dictate your way," Melamed says. Promote candid communication, and be open to feedback from others.

On Fridays, Kevin explores industry trends, professional development, best practices, and other leadership topics with CEOs from around the world.

Published on: Feb 22, 2019
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