The word hope comes from the old English word hopa which means “confidence in the future.” Hope is more than just a wish through rose-colored glasses. It is an ability to bounce back from adversity, evaluate the possibility, and most importantly, hold a clear and defined vision of what can be. It feels like momentum that acknowledges the past, observes the present, and exudes confidence in the future. Some eras, some years, some days, make feeling hopeful seem impossible, but as Nelson Mandela so eloquently said, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”
Is hope the only thing we need to be successful leaders? No. Can you be a successful leader if you don’t feel hopeful? No. Why? No one wants to work hard and give their best to someone who has no vision and excitement about what they are working toward. It is not impossible to work without hope and many people do it every day, but it will never lead to inspired leadership and meaningful contribution. We all feel hopeless at times, particularly in the complex world we are living in today, which makes inspirational leadership critical to our future.
Here are some things hopeful and effective leaders do:
- They have a clearly defined vision and have articulated the core values that drive their organization.
- They communicate how current strategies and initiatives support the vision, align with the values, and serve as a decision-making framework.
- They are bold in making tough decisions when something or someone does not align with the organizations vision and values.
- They are present and visible and they have an ability to see possibility every day.
- They know that hope, without an effective business strategy, strong vision, and a viable plan for profitability is not responsible or sustainable. Hope needs a plan or it becomes false hope which leads to increased feelings of hopelessness.
- They also know that hope is not a replacement for empathy or vulnerability as a leader, but it is another facet of executive maturity. Strong leaders demonstrate hope by meeting people where they are, without the use of clichés like “everything will be ok” or “there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
- They know their ability to feel hopeful is directly linked to their effectiveness leading others because hope restores faith, promotes clarity, and helps productivity.
The most inspiring leaders in history have acknowledged feelings of hopelessness. Martin Luther King said, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” One of the things strong leaders do is acknowledge the feeling in themselves and others, and then paint a compelling picture of what is possible by refocusing themselves and others on the vision. It is a practice and it is something leaders have the opportunity to refine daily, sometimes hourly.
I recently read an article in National Geographic by Anne Lamott on this very subject. One of the most powerful things I took from the article was this idea, “By showing up with hope to help others, I’m guaranteed that hope is present. Then my own hope increases. By creating hope for others, I end up awash in the stuff.”
In just those few sentences, her words helped me frame my role. I sometimes focus on instilling hope in others who are struggling, and unconsciously I feel saddened and experience a loss of hope myself, in the face of their pain. What this quote helps me remember is that I have the power to guarantee hope is present by feeling it myself. If I end up “awash in the stuff,” it will splash around to others because hope has an energy and magnetism that is bigger than me but also starts with me.
At the end of her article, she reminds us that each day, hope begins again:
“You hope to wake up in time to see the dawn, the first light, a Technicolor sunrise, but the early morning instead is cloudy with mist. Still, as you linger, the ridge stands majestically black against a milky sky. And if you pay attention, you’ll see the setting of the moon that illumined us all as we slept. And you see a new day dawn.”
Some scholars suggest a connection between the verb hope from the old English word hopa. In this Proto-Germanic derivation, the definition is to “leap forward with expectation.” Given the season, it Is hard not to envision a spring rabbit leaping through Anne Lamott’s misty, milky morn.
We have become well versed in this age of information, sharing discouraging news that sometimes feels hopeless. Take a moment now to think about what things you can point to in your experience today that give you hope. As Anne Lamott pointed out, lunch gives her hope, so these things can be big or small. Please share your thoughts with me and we will build this feeling together and then, as my mom, Mary Kilbride Hoey used to say, “Hope Springs Eternal.”