“A leader is a dealer in hope” – Napoleon
Recently I was listening to a radio broadcast about the struggles many of our teachers and educators are currently facing. I was particularly interested in one head teacher’s story where she spoke about the challenges that she was navigating with her staff. As a newly appointed leader and working in what was regarded as an extremely impoverished and challenging school, the issues she was encountering bore a common thread: a distinct loss of hope that had permeated not only the children’s worlds but also that of their teachers.
As she noted, her challenge was to not only generate hope in her students but also in those who were responsible for their educational journey. She was acutely aware that if she didn’t start to make some significant changes in her staff’s attitudes and beliefs she would have very limited impact on the children in her school.
Unfortunately her story all too often reflects the challenges that many of our business leaders encounter today, particularly in the current climate where organisations face high levels of uncertainty and ever increasing demands to innovate and constantly do more with less. How do we generate hope in our business leaders and managers for the future? Failing to generate hope – or more bluntly abandoning hope – has dire consequences including at the very least a loss of morale, engagement and productivity.
Dr Lopez, a professor at the University of Kansas School of Business defines hope as the energy and ideas that drive people to change their circumstances. Hope therefore has the power to make bad times temporary. Without hope there is no belief, no direction, no goals, no motivation and no opportunity to create a better situation. As Dr Lopez highlights, hope keeps us in the game. It keeps us interacting, focused and moving in a direction that makes sense for our own welfare, the welfare of others and the welfare of an organisation. His research suggests that employees with high levels of hope not only show up for work more but are 14% more productive. They are more creative at problem solving and more flexible, adaptable and resilient. They score higher in satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness.
Without hope we simply give up and ‘check out’ which is dangerous for us as leaders and the businesses we lead. It is important to note that hope is more than merely ‘wishing’ for a better situation. As leaders it requires us to inspire belief in others and to actively engage them in the future success of our organisations. In his book The Psychology of Hope: How You Can Get From Here To There, Rick Snyder suggests a practical framework that focuses on goal directed thinking and developing confidence and capacity to find pathways to achieve them. It is a discipline approach and one that can be learned. I would encourage you to consider some of the following strategies suggested to increase our abilities to be more hopeful:
1. Set meaningful and realistic goals: To avoid generating ‘false hope’ we need to make sure that the goals we set hold real value and are clearly aligned / visible to the outcomes we are trying to achieve.
2. Set goals that excite & energize: Understand that goals built on intrinsic drivers are far more rewarding rather than ones ‘imposed’. By tapping into the motivators and drivers of our people we are more likely to generate an energy and momentum to drive outcomes.
3. Develop a ‘pathways thinking’ mindset: Understanding that there are several paths that can lead to success is important to prevent us becoming focused on the blockages that will invariably arise. Recognize if new learning is required or who else can help with moving forward. Learning how to pivot and identify alternative options is cortical to building hope.
4. Surround yourself with hopeful people: Hope is just as contagious as negativity. Check who (and what) you are listening to including what we are watching and reading.
5. Practice ‘nexting’: This term created by Lopez describes the practice of discussing the NEXT thing you are looking forward to. By surrounding ourselves with other hopeful people and sharing our stories and why we are excited about it and how we are going to do it or overcome the challenges we continue to make deposits into our hope bank account.
6. Be careful of the stories you tell yourself: As with so many things we try to do, all too often we are own worst enemy. Watch your self-talk to make sure that it is positive and reflects a succeeding mindset.
As leaders today consider how you are helping your people to believe:
1. The future will be better than the present
2. ‘ I ‘have the power to make it happen
3. There is more than one path to achieving the goal
4. No path is free of obstacles
As always I would love to hear your thoughts.