How to be a leader of hope

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Have you ever said or heard, “hope is not a strategy?” Taken at face value, that seems to be a self-evident truth. One simply can’t wish the way to a better future. Just thinking or dreaming about something doesn’t make it happen. We live in a data-driven world in which decisions are made by people and algorithms. Indeed, facts matter. If you’re a leader it’s important to ground your decisions in facts. But there’s more to leadership than just financial reports and analytics. Consider being a leader of hope.

In fact, I maintain the whole basis for our way of life is hope and optimism. As I write this article, it’s the winter holiday season – Christmas for some, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa for others. It’s also the winter solstice, so there’s also a certain reality-based hope for longer daylight hours ahead. Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, most faith traditions associate hope and expectation with holidays around this time of year. Let’s explore what it means to base one’s leadership on hope.

What is hope? The Oxford English Dictionary defines hope as, “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” I think most of us choose to act upon something with an expectation of something better or a desire to avoid something unpleasant. Hope empowers people to act even when logic dictates otherwise. “Paralysis by analysis” and “data-driven despair” has hobbled many people – probably more so this time of year when business and personal expenses are high.

In his “Essays on Man”, Alexander Pope wrote that “Hope springs eternal” which is another way of saying that people tend to find a way to hope regardless of circumstances. Hope gives people the power for overcoming challenges by visualizing a better outcome. In a previous column, I wrote about how to bounce back from a setback. Now we’re going to do a deeper dive into hope and optimism. Here’s how you can implement leadership based on hope.

  1. Belief – hope starts with a belief that something is true or possible, even if the facts are incomplete or the odds are not in your favor. A wish is simply an emotional desire, which might not be grounded in anything. A belief is rooted in experience and rational thought. Great things can start when a leader believes in something or someone.
  2. Vision – once a leader believes, he or she needs to create a vision to articulate the belief to others. Vision allows a group to rally around a purpose or goal. The vision makes it possible for people to see a better future or outcome ahead. The vision is what people cling to when times get tough. Hopelessness can occur when there’s no vision. Hope becomes action when there’s a strong vision.
  3. Possibility – because a belief or vision may be based on incomplete information, it’s important for a leader to demonstrate potential and possibility early and often with actions that provide small “quick wins”. A baseball manager might encourage his team to get on base in order to demonstrate the possibility of winning. A salesperson who makes some small sales is able to demonstrate the ability to recover from a sales slump. Showing progress, even small progress, fortifies hope with a pathway to success that others can follow.
  4. Goals – actions in support of the vision need to be directed and measured with specific goals. Just “seeing what happens” is not the most effective way to lead a team or organization. Actions and resources should be defined by goals that are specific and measurable. For example, the immediate goal of a losing football team might be to get a first down.
  5. Flexibility – there’s almost always more than one way to accomplish something. Different paths may arrive at the same destination. A leader needs to be flexible as to how a team arrives at a goal. The very nature of hope means that it’s based in possibility, not a rigid or fixed path. Be willing to adjust when needed.
  6. Energy – perhaps the most essential ingredient for hope-centered leadership is passion or energy. A passionate person can energize a team. An energized team can do just about anything. Energy is contagious and can make or break a team. Positive energy reinforces the vision and hope. A lack of energy will cause hope or vision to fizzle out.

Even if you’re not a Christian, there’s a beautiful quote about three great virtues in the Christian Bible – “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT). Even though those words were written thousands of years ago, they still ring true today. Hope is an essential ingredient in providing direction toward a desired future outcome. What do you hope for in 2023? Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year. Let’s be leaders of hope in the upcoming year.

[Joe Domaleski, a Fayette County resident for 25 years, is the owner of Country Fried Creative – an award-winning digital marketing agency located in Peachtree City. His company was the Fayette Chamber’s 2021 Small Business of the Year.  Joe is a husband, father of three grown children, and proud Army veteran.  He has an MBA from Georgia State University and enjoys sharing his perspectives drawing from thirty years of business leadership experience. ]