I admit it. Hope seems too warm and fuzzy. It is one of those words spoken that seems hollow. It is like punting when you do not know what to do next or what to say when situations seem impossible. I came around somewhat in thinking that hope is a conversation, a connection point to others, but not much more. Like many others, I never believed that hope is a strategy.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, hope became central. An artist created an image of then-candidate Barack Obama with the word “hope.” The artist, Shepard Fairey, captured the imagination of the voters through a day’s work and an initial printing of 350, then another 350, and then 4,000. From here, hope went viral.
In 2008, voters wanted hope. During this time, the country was going through the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. Words of hope inspired people. We wanted hope because everything else seemed dismal.
After Barack Obama became president, Benjamin Ola Akande wrote an open letter stating, “the fact remains that hope will not reduce housing foreclosures. Hope does not stop a recession. Hope cannot create jobs. Hope will not prevent catastrophic failures of banks. Hope is not a strategy.” At the time, Dr. Akande was the dean of the business school at Webster University in St. Louis.
Dr. Akande was not being critical. He was encouraging the new president to give hope strength through his leadership.
Hope Is a Strategy for Engagement
To my surprise, hope is a strategy. In reading Tom Rath’s 2009 book, Strengths Based Leadership, the word stuck out like a big, fluffy, solo cumulus cloud – hope! In exploring why people follow leaders, Rath discovered that one of the reasons is hope. The simple role of hope is this: It gives people something to look forward to and see a way forward. Hope delivers enthusiasm. More than enthusiasm, hope liberates engagement.
What Rath found is that 69 percent of employees were more engaged in their jobs when they were enthusiastic about the future (i.e., hopeful). With current employee engagement numbers at 33 percent or less, hope is a strategy. Leaders miss this point, as most spend time reacting to daily issues rather than initiating for the future.
How to Engage Hope as a Strategy
Leaders need to give hope strength through their actions. For hope to be enlivened, it needs to be based in a solid plan and good metrics. Wrapped in good communications, hope is a sound strategy.
How can we use hope as a strategy? Let’s begin.
1 – Begin with a conversation.
For leaders, there are two key parts of a good conversation. The first is asking good questions, and the second is listening to learn. Call it fact-finding. Call it a listening tour. Whatever you call it, do less talking and more listening. Individuals closest to the work need to be heard and what they know absorbed for understanding.
2 – Convert conversations into further research points.
After hearing what various team members experience and know, take the salient points and conduct market and competitive research. Talk to other external stakeholders, too. What points pop and need to be addressed in a plan? The research will unveil many key points but flesh out the one or two that communicate the need to change and/or why a selected direction is vital for success.
3 – Convert research points into a plan of substance.
The conversations and research must create interactive, meaningful, respectful, and progress-oriented strategic discussions. A senior leadership team needs to come together, put aside self-interests, embrace what is best for the company, their customers, and stakeholders, and craft tenets of a plan that delivers hope with substance.
4 – Communicate the plan.
Let everyone in the company know what the plan is and why it is important. Never make the communication of the plan a one-time event. Communicate the plan often. Communicate the metrics and adjustments. If individuals do not know the plan, the status, and the importance, then they will disengage. Keep your organization and teams enthusiast yet realistic about the work to be done.
5 – Let people do their work.
Too often, leaders get too involved in the day-to-day work of different teams. Trust people to do their work and innovate in the work they do. Checkpoint the work. Celebrate the milestones. Adjust as everyone learns along the way.
Hope: The Way to Ignite Engagement
Hope is a strategy, especially when it comes to engaging your organizational culture. When hope and substance meet, we achieve more, and we feel good about the work we are doing. How often do people in your organization feel that way?
Time to use hope as a strategy. Time to give hope strength through your leadership.