Over the last few months, I’ve written several posts under the banner – One Word. These have included, Vision (A three-part mini series), Data, Diversity and others. Today, let’s explore a word that is critical to our success… Hope.
The ability to generate hope is one of the hallmarks of leadership. Napoleon said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.”
What is hope? It is a deeply held desire to see something come to fruition. Leaders must be able to create desire in the hearts and minds of people. We must be able to influence others to pursue the picture of the future we’ve envisioned. People must at some point embrace the vision as their own. When this happens, hope has taken root.
How do leaders create hope? There are at least four essential elements required for hope to emerge…
Character – I wrote about this extensively in The Heart of Leadership. Leadership skills are never enough to cultivate followship. To become a leader people want to follow also requires leadership character. This is the defining moment in which true leadership is earned – when you and I are deemed trustworthy, we have the opportunity to plant the seeds of hope. Until then, we have little chance of success.
Clarity – Vague generalities have limited power to stir hope. For you and I to talk about a better day has limited appeal. However, when we talk specifically about a preferred future, we have a chance at generating hope. It was this approach that helped Herbert Hoover become President of the United States in 1928. The Republican Party promised that if Hoover was elected, there would be “A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage.” This was something people could be hopeful about! Hoover won in a landslide.
Competence – People may initially follow a leader who they perceive to have character and delivers a clear message. But, they won’t follow that leader for long if they sense a lack of competence. Think about your life; who were the people who have engendered hope? My guess is he or she was extremely competent. It may have been a teacher, a coach, a boss, or a political leader. One of the prerequisites for placing hope, even subconsciously, is a belief in the person’s ability to turn intention into reality. Without this confidence, there can be no hope. People see leaders without competence as imposters – not dealers in hope.
Constancy – This is not a word you hear every day, but it’s a big word for leaders. It means unchanging or unwavering. This is a big part of creating hope for the future. Leaders understand more than most that progress is rarely a straight line and it is almost always opposed. When the path into the future becomes difficult, it’s easy for people to want to abandon the journey. It is often the leader’s unwavering and unchanging vision that will stem the tide of disbelief and skepticism. Leaders must stay on message regardless of challenges and setbacks or hope will be lost.
Hope, and the ability to generate it, is a big part of what we do as leaders. But the truth is, at some point, we must deliver. Hope without progress is unsustainable. It actually fades rather quickly.
The good news for us as leaders is we are more than dealers in hope; we create the future. That’s what ultimately keeps hope alive!
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