Lead Employees with Grounded Hope

“I don’t think I’m cut out to be a leader,” a client said to me last year. “Maybe I just need a different business model that doesn’t require me to lead people.”

Like so many CEOs, entrepreneurs, founders, directors, and business owners with a team I’ve worked with at some point – here was this dire statement threatening her sense of what is real, true, and possible.

You might have times when you feel like this client. Just substitute the details with “I don’t think I’m cut out to be X” or “I don’t think I’m cut out for Y.”

Before responding, I attuned to who this person uniquely is.  I did a quick scan of the work we had already done with her character and identity as business owner, entrepreneur, and leader.

Then, I reviewed some facts with her:

>>Her business might not scale how she wants without such a team.

>>This particular client, a leading professional in her field, loves to dive into the research behind her clients’ issues. She often expresses gratitude for her team. Her genius character strengths include curiosity and tenacious problem solving. These strengths differentiate her in her field.

>>Interestingly, hope appears as one of her top 5 character strengths on her Virtues in Action Survey. 

Yet, she hadn’t recognized how that fact could be useful in part because she didn’t grasp what hope-in-action looks like as a leader.

Hope is a leader’s, educator’s, an activist’s and an even a parent’s most powerful motivator. Yet, most people don’t get what hope is.

>> How do you respond when someone on your team or a client expresses doubt about their abilities to effect change?

>> How do you genuinely rally your employees to stay elevated for a better future when the present seems bleak? (Tip: Don’t follow these CEOs’ example.)

>> When someone says “The world is on fire. I can’t do anything.”, how do you respond with genuineness and effectiveness?

Here’s my premise based on my body of work: The more that leaders, activists, and other change-makers grasp how to inspire others with genuine hope, then the more powerfully they can effect grounded, positive change in this beautiful, fragile world.

What hope is (not)

In the book TRACKING WONDER: Reclaiming a Life of Meaning & Possibility in a World Obsessed with Productivity, I identify six facets of wonder, one of them being hope.

I call hope The Rainbow Facet since hope is a pro-active mindset that equips us to find ways to move toward a better future. Practicing hope keeps us buoyant not especially amidst crises, darkness, or existential doubt.

Hope is not wishful thinking. It’s not even the same as optimism.

As one renowned psychologist steeped in the literature of hope says, “Optimism is seeing the glass as half full. Hope is finding ways to make the glass full.”

Hope is also one of the 24 character strengths outlined in the Virtues in Action survey developed by the co-founders of positive psychology Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson. As the survey team notes, “Hope is more than a feel-good emotion. It is an action-oriented strength involving agency, the motivation and confidence that goals can be reached, and also that many effective pathways can be devised in order to get to that desired future.” 

Hope is a character strength. That fact means each of us can learn the skills to develop it in ourselves and in others whom we aim to elevate.

Lead with hope

My client and I identified a concrete situation of this self-doubt: Since she was changing business priorities, she was “stressed” about how team members might react to her proposed new direction. 

Once my client could absorb this new view of hope, she could begin to imagine herself as a leader who instills grounded hope in her team – and herself.

We discussed what her team members likely wanted from her. Most employees surveyed by Gallop in 2022 want from their leaders four main things:

  1. a hopeful view of the future
  2. clarified priorities for their actions 
  3. genuine reasons for the change of direction
  4. genuine support to assume agency

So we tapped into why she was making the changes. It turns out, she primarily wanted to alleviate stress in her team as they were extending beyond capacity.

Once we laid out a simple plan for her team meeting, she went into her quarterly meeting confident but also emotionally attuned to her employees. She shared her perspective on how stressed the team was and her proposed change of plans. She helped them see the brighter near-future for the next quarter.

Everyone not only got on board. They also contributed their own take on how to move forward with more ease and less distress in the coming quarter. They also shared celebrations and appreciations of one another. And then they set their respective quarterly goals. 

She equipped them with key components of hope as a facet of wonder:

  • agency
  • resilience
  • genuine connection to one another and to something greater than themselves

When my client reported back post-meeting, I smiled and said, “Counter-evidence?”

She smiled. “You mean counter-evidence to what I had said about myself as a leader?”

“Yeah, that.”

She got it. The process together acted as a mini-training to catch herself in the future when that self-doubt might rise again.

“We ought to view ourselves with the same curiosity and openness with which we study a tree, the sky or a thought, because we too are linked to the entire universe.” ― Henri Matisse

So much is possible.

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