We all need hope, don’t we? Both as individuals and as leaders of teams, hope is critical to our present and future success. What is hope? Dr. Shane Lopez is a university professor, Gallup senior scientist, and perhaps the leading researcher on hope. He simply defines hope as, “the belief that things could be better and that you can make them better.” Multiple studies have shown that having hope has many benefits, including increased:

  • Psychological strength
  • Workplace performance and productivity
  • Job satisfaction and better attendance
  • Happiness
  • Organizational commitment
  • Engagement and creativity
  • Physical and mental health (including less stress and burnout)

How can we develop greater hope within ourselves and others we work with? Let's explore what leading experts like Dr. Lopez and others have discovered as we look at 10 proven ways to develop greater hope within ourselves and our teams:

1) Lead by example. There is a concept called “Shadow of the Leader.” People look to us in leadership roles and take cues based on what we say and what we do. As leaders, we need to nurture our own optimism and hope, and be an example for the people we influence. The Gallup organization randomly sampled a large group of people and asked them to describe a leader that had the most positive influence in their daily life. The research showed that followers want their leaders to help meet four psychological needs: stability, trust, compassion, and hope. Another Gallup research project found that when leadership didn’t make them feel enthusiastic about the future, 99% of employees report feeling disengaged at work!

2) Share the vision of a better future. People want to believe they are part of something bigger and are making a positive difference for others. As leaders, we can embrace and share a vision of a better future that can inspire our teams and give them the hope they crave. One benefit of helping people have more hope is they will be more engaged and committed. Dr. Lopez observes, “When you think the future will be better than the present, you start working harder today.” Zig Ziglar expressed similar insight when he said, “If there is hope in the future, there is literally power in the present.”

3) Focus on meaningful goals. We are all inspired by meaningful goals, especially those that we have some input on. When we as leaders participatively set goals that our team members believe in, we have the recipe to inspire and provide hope for a better future. Meaningful goals that inspire emphasize the value we are adding to other people by the work the team does. We also need to set realistic goals that have some stretch but are also attainable. I agree with M.P. Neary’s statement, “Realistic thinking is where real hope is found; helping us hit the right balance between realism and aspirations.”

4) Draw attention and celebrate progress and the positive. One of my favorite principles is “success breeds success.” We need to communicate when progress has been made (even when small) and celebrate the positives when they occur. Highlighting progress builds positive momentum and builds upon itself. Our goal is to help people feel good about themselves and the team, and realize that by working together, we have the realistic hope of a better future – no matter what challenges lie before us!

5) Provide perspective. Leaders need to provide perspective in at least a couple of ways. First, we need to communicate the value of the work the team does. We need to share how we benefit our key stakeholders (investors, customers, employees, community) and the overall organization we are a part of. Second, when going through challenging times (e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic), we need to help people see the bigger picture and the longer term outcomes (e.g., the pandemic is improving and will come to an end). We can embrace and communicate the sentiment expressed by Roy T. Bennett when he said, “Never lose hope. Storms make people stronger and never last forever.”

6) Work to remove obstacles. Effective leaders need to have high expectations for the future, and a clear-eyed view of the obstacles that we need to overcome in order to get there. A major responsibility we have then is to remove the obstacles that prevent our people from excelling. Obstacles can include: economic fluctuations; changes in personnel; inadequate “tools” (e.g., equipment, hardware, software, etc.); overly restrictive policies; faulty processes; challenges with work-life balance; or unresolved conflicts with people from other departments.

7) Prepare for contingencies (“what ifs”). Life brings a mix of positive and negative experiences as well as planned and unplanned events. One approach to potential negative future events is to focus on worry. But I like the wisdom expressed by Winston Churchill when he said, “Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” That is where Contingency Planning, which primarily focuses on the potential negative, unplanned events that come our way, is helpful. We can proactively prepare for many potential contingencies – such as economic fluctuations, bad weather events, changes in staffing, supply chain disruptions and others. We can make time to brainstorm with our teams, key support staff, and vendors about potential contingencies, then partner together to develop plans if needed. Having contingency plans in place ahead of time can be a source of hope when the unexpected happens.

8) Build “pathways thinking.” Pathways thinking refers to the ability to generate various routes (paths) from the present to the desired future. We can help people and our teams generate options and possibilities and not get stuck on only one route, which may be blocked. The reality is there are often multiple routes to accomplish our individual and team goals. Being able to identify these different routes, and having plans to deal with the potential obstacles that might arise, is critical to being hopeful. As author Gil Frondau has commented, “Just highlighting possibilities and listing them down can be a helpful way of promoting pathways thinking.”

9) Be a sounding board. Roy T. Bennett once said, “Sometimes all a person wants is an empathetic ear; all he or she needs is to talk it out. Just offering a listening ear and an understanding heart for his or her challenges can be a big comfort.” We can be both a listening ear and a sounding board to help people work through uncertainty and be open to new possibilities. We can create a psychologically safe environment where people can be transparent and candidly share their concerns and not be judged. This is where embracing the servant leader mindset is helpful – as leaders, we are here to serve the people we lead.

10) Demonstrate confidence in people. When we demonstrate confidence and trust in people, most people will live up to those expectations (i.e., “Pygmalion effect”). We all want to be treated with respect, and empowering people to make decisions they feel comfortable with shows respect and builds confidence and a sense of hope.

Leadership expert and bestselling author John Maxwell makes a key point, “When there is no hope in the future, there is no power in the present”. As leaders, let's be “dealers in hope” and help our teams experience both a better present AND a better future!

Wes Friesen (MBA, EMCM, CMDSM, MCOM, MDC, OSPC, CCE, CBF, CBA, ICP, CMA, CFM, CM, APP, PHR, CTP) is a proven leader and developer of high performing teams and has extensive experience in both the corporate and non-profit worlds. He is also an award-winning university instructor and speaker, and is the President of Solomon Training and Development, which provides leadership, management, and teambuilding training. He serves as the Industry Co-Chair of the Greater Portland PCC.

His book, Your Team Can Soar!, has 42 valuable lessons that will inspire you, and give you practical pointers to help you — and your team — soar to new heights of performance. Your Team Can Soar! can be ordered from Xulonpress.com/bookstore or wesfriesen.com (under Book) or an online retailer. Wes can be contacted at wesmfriesen@gmail.com or at 971.806.0812.

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2021 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.