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The Hope Imperative in Leading for the Future
If you and your team feel battered and fatigued right now, you are experiencing the norm. After all, 2020 feels as if we are simultaneously experiencing the grief of the 1918 Spanish Flu, the uncertainty of the 1929 economic crisis, the disruption of the 1960s social uprising, and emerging catastrophes of climate change all at this very moment in time. Beyond sorrow over loss of health and loved ones, opportunities and savings, many are grieving the loss of a way of life that they fear is forever gone. How do we keep going and keep our organizations thriving as we head into more months of distancing and work from home?
Sanyin Siang, CEO coach and Executive Director of the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) at Duke University says that one of the greatest tools we have right now to keep our organizations healthy, ignite imaginations and keep employees energized is hope.
Hope is a belief that something better than our current trajectory is possible and attainable. The term is rarely used in business leadership. But in her career working with business leaders, Noble laureates, startup CEOs, and college students, Siang has found that it is integral to effective leadership—especially in times of great change. Hope is important when leading today because:
- The world is no longer linear. The VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) World need hearts and imagination to navigate the uncertainty.
- There has been a shift in control from the institutions to the individuals. Where we once had a collective sense of self, access to information allows people to control what they see and when they see it.
- We are now realizing that what matters in our lives outside of work has an impact on whether we succeed or fail at work. Organizations have to pay attention to the whole human being.
Back2Better: The pandemic accelerated the volatility in both work and personal lives. Our workforce is our biggest asset. Leaders who bring hope that we can rise up from the crisis both collectively and individually are essential to ensuring the health of that asset.
Hope is a choice. As we think about the future and our expectations about what might happen, we can become an active agent in our own life. Because we are agents, we can take beliefs and actualize them into hope which then can change our future. To create hope in an organization, you need:
- Goals: Make it real. What is it that you want to achieve?
- Agency: Recognize that everyone needs to participate and allow them to share and write their stories. This gives them back a sense of control.
- Multiple Pathways: Examine these stories to create a playbook through plurality. You will find innovative ideas from the least likely sources.
Back2Better: Survival and success require more than strategy, marketing, and finance. Uncertainty in both personal and organizational life requires that leaders make goals real and embrace new ideas.
Hope doesn’t sustain itself. Siang says there are two critical habits to sustaining hope:
- Notice Progress: Leaders must not only see the gaps between vision and reality but see what is working. Don’t look only for the points of resistance—look for points of acceptance.
- Practice Forgiveness: Rethinking mistakes can be paralyzing. Forgiving ourselves as individuals and as organizations so we can move forward keeps hope alive. This may require reconciling with our past.
Big wins are collections of small wins. As a leader, you have to be prepared for incremental success and point it out.
Back2Better: Great leaders must be looking out for data points that can make the belief real for others. Perfection is the enemy of progress. Let go of what didn’t work and move on.
Recovery from the crisis may take much longer than anyone anticipated in March 2020. If we are not careful, fatigue will devolve into despair. Leaders who create excitement about the future, get rid of obstacles, and celebrate progress along the way can steer your organization toward a brighter future and inspire your biggest asset in both their work and personal lives.
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