Management Minute

Keeping Optimism Alive

Over the past few months, I have had the chance to travel and visit with a number of maternal and child health (MCH) leaders at conferences and events across the country. Traveling is one part of my job that I really love – it gives me the chance to learn more about what is going on in states and communities and that helps me connect our work at AMCHP to the work of state Title V programs and their partners. When myself or another AMCHP staff member has the chance to visit with a Title V program, or present at national or regional conferences, we get to know our members better and talk about the resources and tools that we can develop to meet member needs.

On these recent trips, I have had what feels like the same conversation with many different people. Basically, it goes like this:

Me: “Hey, how’s it going?”

You: “It’s tough. We’re cutting staff, we’re losing resources. It’s a tough time for us.”

Me: “Yeah, I’m hearing that a lot. What can we do help?”

You: “You mean in addition to more resources? We need inspiration. We need optimism.”

This conversation reminds me that a fundamental characteristic of leadership is unwarranted optimism. Even in the face of dismal budget forecasts, seemingly endless cut backs and divided political systems, we need to be firmly optimistic in our review of our current situation. Why? Things will get better – we know that is true. How do we know that it is true? It always does: it is only through crisis and conflict that we change and it is only through change that we learn and do things better.

A recent conference speaker shared with our group that he thought this was a critical time in America’s history – a time of great change, a time of great turmoil. At first I felt dismayed: Who wants to fall off a cliff; who wants to live in crisis mode? But I thought some more about what he was saying and I asked, instead of fearing crisis what can I learn from it? What is this time teaching us, pushing us to do, where is it moving us?

What inspiration can we gather even in these tough times? Is it a reaffirmation of how important the work that we do really is? It is a confirmation that the people and communities with whom we work, now more than ever, will look to us for leadership, for vision, for inspiration? Maintaining a stance of unwarranted optimism is not easy in difficult times, but it is the right thing to do. With all the work that we have to do we cannot get stymied by the nagging calls of pessimism and despair. Instead, as MCH leaders, we need to go back to the reasons why we are in this work in the first place: to improve the health of women, children and families. That reason alone is enough to inspire and motivate me to continue to push through difficult, trying times. That reason alone is enough to carry us through the crises and the changes we are all facing in our agencies and programs across the country. I hope you will join us and share in our unwarranted optimism and continue to move our shared agenda forward.