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The high-functioning leader’s new favorite four-letter word

Researchers emphasize hope as an emerging leadership competency that drives employee engagement, resilience, and higher levels of productivity.

The high-functioning leader’s new favorite four-letter word
[Photo: Jeremy Perkins/Unsplash]

One of the principal elements of transformational leadership is inspiration, which requires instilling a sense of hope. Leaders who use hope to navigate challenges are more likely to achieve a desired outcome. Researchers emphasize hope as an emerging leadership competency that drives employee engagement, resilience, and higher levels of productivity (up to one day a week more than less hopeful individuals.)  

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Leaders increase their chances of positive outcomes when their teams also embrace a hopeful mindset. Karen Burke and Teresa Roche, human resources leaders for the city of Fort Collins, Colorado, shared that hope played a critical role as they navigated the effects of the pandemic and one of the largest wildfires in their community. 

“We both have hope in abundance and we kept it alive between us in our daily conversations even when there were dark moments that we did not shy away from—we knew others were looking to us to lead,” said Karen. Teresa also added that, “We put hope in active practice as we kept connecting to those we serve in meaningful and authentic ways by asking others often for their inputs and taking action.” 

To hope is to believe that something positive could materialize despite fearing the worst. When hopeful, we yearn for something better and put energy toward manifesting it. Hope is having faith in your future and actively putting steps into place to get there. It is quite pragmatic and considers the reality of situations to find creative solutions and possibilities. 

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Teresa expanded on her experience with hope and noted,”I dance often between honoring the reality of the situation and providing hope for what is possible. It matters as a parent, as a friend, and as a colleague. What sticks with me is how to respond with hope while also letting others express all of their truths.”

To create a work environment where hope can flourish, leaders should reflect on the following three strategies.

Adjust your goals

Sometimes these are concrete goals like production numbers or achieving a tight deadline on a project. More often, however, these are intangible goals, like feeling valued at work or having a team that has your back. Employees are finding that it is more important than ever to have meaningful work that aligns with their values. 

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Activate a possibility mindset

Hope requires us to be able to see the good despite the bad. We must be able to locate alternatives, seek new ways of doing things, and find the learning in everything. We must then exhibit the motivation to get there. 

Encourage control and mastery

Our situations feel hopeless when we lack control and confidence. Prioritizing control over the things that matter to you gives your employees a clear pathway to their goals. We also need to ensure your employees have mastery, specifically the competence to overcome challenges. 

Mental health, burnout, and increased stress levels continue to be glaring challenges for leaders, but the following strategies are powerful tools to regenerate a workforce that is rapidly evolving post-pandemic. 

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If you want to encourage innovation, engagement, retention, and results, here are some ways to “grow” hope within your organization.

Assess the level of hope in your organization

The Adult Hope Scale is one simple way to measure individual levels of hope. It allows us to evaluate pathways and agency thinking. Pathways thinking is about whether we can arrive at choices and possibilities to move forward, while agency thinking looks at our expressed or perceived level of control/ability to move forward. Once leaders understand the current level of hope and where it can be enhanced, they can determine specific strategies to take in building hope throughout our organization. 

Leverage “Futurecasting” to paint a picture of the future

Futurecasting allows your planning to come to life. It integrates the reality of the situation with all its risks and stumbling blocks and merges it with a new picture of the future. It is the goal of every good leader to bring teams together to create actions and a pathway forward. 

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This technique enables leaders to merge human needs, strategy, and action to envision and feel hopeful about the future state. It supports the envisioning of a specific future goal in a way that makes it come alive for you.

Set goals and be a team player

Co-create and establish various goals with your team that help them see how to proceed. When situations feel hopeless, it is our natural tendency to shut down, go into denial, or vocalize a sense of despair. When employees have a perception of limited agency, leaders need to help them understand what is in their control and elevate their ability to achieve things within their scope. Even small steps increase your pathways. 

Help others plan for contingencies and look for multiple solutions to problems and different ways to overcome obstacles. Perhaps the most important part of setting goals is acting on them. Don’t forget to celebrate any small wins to reinforce a sense of accomplishment and hope. 

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Build individual competencies to obtain a sense of mastery

People are paralyzed when they do not feel they have the skills or confidence to succeed. Throughout the pandemic, professional development and learning has suffered. Organizations need to invest in ensuring leaders and employees have both technical and interpersonal skills to be successful in a changing world. 

Assess what skills are needed for various roles and to achieve the goals and future you outlined in early stages. Ask employees what they need to learn to feel confident in moving forward with the plan and provide opportunities for learning and growth. Without competence, hope is stifled. 

Believing you can achieve a goal, mobilizing others around it, and making it happen can be one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of leading organizations. Hope sits in the space between fear of the unknown and pride in what can be accomplished. Growing hope is a vital strategy for leaders who want to both survive and thrive in our current environment. 

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Laurie Cure is the founder and CEO of Innovative Connections


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