Skip to main content
leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

It seems crazy now, but in 2008, I was considering selling 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I'd built it up over two decades into a multi-million dollar business, but I was in a bad place and wanted out.

This all happened in the aftermath of firing our COO. We spent months recruiting her, and I'd wrapped the future of our company around her success. But we learned that despite her pedigree, she was toxic to our team. Letting her go was the right move, but the whole situation left me questioning everything I thought I knew.

Although we promote a "Willing to Fail" (WTF) culture that champions learning from our mistakes, the reality is that it can be difficult to stay positive in the face of failure. I'm lucky to be a naturally optimistic person, but there have been plenty of times over the last 27 years when I've found myself in a "doom loop" – a cycle of negative thinking and pessimistic thoughts. And I'm not alone: many entrepreneurs report being overwhelmed by negative feelings and obsessive thoughts from time to time.

While it's unrealistic to expect everyone to be 100 per cent happy all the time, positivity is the lifeblood of a growing business. Hard times are inevitable; what's critical is having the optimism to see beyond them. As a leader, your mood sets the tone for the culture you're building. Studies have shown that when optimism trickles down, revenues and staff retention improve and productivity increases by 31 per cent.

Here are my four best tips for keeping a positive attitude, so it can boost your bottom line.

Mine your failures for nuggets of truth

I'm the first to admit that hiring that COO was a mistake. After the sting wore off, however, I sat down and dissected everything that had gone wrong. In hindsight, it was easy to see that we had placed too much faith in big-name credentials and overlooked the importance of personality. With those mistakes in mind, we started a new candidate search. Learning from that experience helped us find our current COO, Erik Church, who's a perfect culture fit for our team.

If you can step back and look at things objectively, there's almost always something to learn from a flop. The Apple Newton PDA is one of the biggest product failures of all time, but some of its features eventually found their way into a little product called the iPod. Knowing that every mistake is an opportunity to learn something important makes it easier to get through the hard times – even if the lesson isn't obvious right away.

Surround yourself with positive people

In the early days of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, I realized I'd unwittingly built a team of negative people, and I ended up having to clean house. Their attitude was affecting how I felt about my own company – I didn't even want to come into work. They clocked in and out and weren't interested in helping the business grow.

When I rebuilt my team and focused on finding the right people, everything changed. Now, visitors come into our office and ask what we've been drinking, because it's so surprising to see a workplace with such a positive buzz. But it's no accident – we prioritize finding "happy people" when we're recruiting.

I realized years ago that I want to spend my time with people who see the glass half-full, and my life (and business) are better for it. In fact, studies show that for each happy friend or acquaintance you bring into your life, your own happiness increases by 9 per cent.

Don't forget about the business of life

As important as it is to create an awesome workplace culture, maintaining your life out of the office is just as (or maybe more) important. Research has proven time and time again that taking care of your physical and emotional needs (that means eating right, finding time for physical activity, and spending time with loved ones) leads to reduced stress and anxiety.

That's why I make time to "go dark" every year, taking a six-week vacation where I leave my phone and computer behind. And we encourage our employees to do the same. If you don't recharge your batteries – whether it's an annual getaway or a weekly yoga class – you won't have the energy to stay optimistic at work.

Leave your issues at the door

Finally, there's something to be said about "putting on a brave face" and soldiering on. Amy Cuddy explains in her TED Talk that "power posing" – standing with your hands on your hips – can create a cognitive reaction that actually makes you more confident. The same principle applies for the simple act of smiling: literally turning a "frown upside-down" will make you feel better. And that happy gesture (and the good feelings that come with it) can actually be contagious. Humans tend to mimic each other's facial expressions … so your single smile could start a happiness epidemic, whether you mean it or not.

The number one hack to staying positive I've found: self-awareness. If you can recognize that you're seeing the glass half-empty, you can take charge before the spiral. Moods can be powerful, but they're not uncontrollable. Ultimately, truly great leaders aren't just in charge of a group of people: they're in charge of their attitude, too.

Brian Scudamore is the founder and CEO of O2E Brands, which includes home-service companies like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. He's a people-person and passionate entrepreneur who helps others take the lead in their small business.