Is Hope A Leadership Trait?
August 27, 2014
Author of The UPwards Leader
Topicscharacter-based leader, hope, Inspiration
We like to hear of lessons in leadership, and look for relevant examples in all mediums. Whether reading articles, books or watching movies, there is always a leadership tip we can gain, whether from good or bad displays.
An example of this is one of my favorite movies - Apollo 13. One of the reasons I gravitate to that movie is not just the story itself, but Ed Harris' character in the film.
Harris plays Gene Kranz, the NASA Flight Director in charge of the moon mission that has been derailed by an internal explosion aboard the ship. Some of the lines Kranz says helped calm the anxious flight command crew and give them hope of bringing the astronauts safely home:
"Gentlemen, at this moment, I want you all to forget the flight plan. From this moment on, we are improvising a new mission: How do we get our people home?"
"We've never lost an American in space and we're sure ...not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!"
"With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour."
"Let's work the problem, people. Let's not make things worse by guessing."
These statements serve as an example of mission-oriented leadership. Through them, Kranz was able to rally his team, giving them direction and the hope that would resolve the crisis. His skills in knowing what the team needed to accomplish it's charge allowed everyone to do what was needed to succeed.
The question that this poses for leaders in all fields is: "Is the ability to instill hope a necessary leadership trait?"
Leaders deal with people. People bring to the table skills, vision, insight, and emotions. The first three of these may be constants in anyone's day, but it's our emotions that ebb and flow with the circumstances we're faced with.
Leaders must have a solid EQ to deal with people's emotions. There are many factors, both internal and external to the organization AND the individual, that make a person's belief in the mission waver.
For instance, a military commander may be outnumbered in forces and face daunting environmental challenges that shake up their troops. A volleyball coach's team may shrink at the notion that they must play the state champs the next day.
So what leadership traits keep their teams engaged and committed to the mission at hand?
This is where hope is necessary.
Hope is a feeling of trust, an expectation for a certain outcome. It is akin to faith, a confident trust in someone or something. It's the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hope intersects the emotional needs that your people have at any given moment. It's not a buzzword or a catchy slogan, but a real genuine feeling of possibility that comes from doing the right things.
Hope is not always a guarantee for success, but a leader will take the slightest amount of hope to chip away at the barriers of reality and impossibility. An astute leader will dove-tail hope into the vision and mission of their organization. They will work to make sure that everyone is "laser focused" on the task at hand. More importantly, they will make the vision bigger than the obstacles that threaten the mission itself.
But where does the ability to instill hope fit into the list of leadership traits?
If you peruse many of articles on the top leadership traits - even those form leadership teachers like Peter Economy, John Maxwell, and Brian Tracy - the closest you find to this is optimism, positive attitude, and confidence. Yet none of these qualities are the same as hope.
- Optimism is an everything will work out in the end mantra. It doesn't always factor in the inevitable crises such as what happened in the Apollo 13 mission.
- Positive attitudes tend to root out the reality. Gene Kranz was not a cheer-leading type in what he did during the aborted moon mission.
- Confidence, while a key trait, will not alone get it done. Napoleon's confidence got the best of him when he rushed into the Battle of Waterloo. Confidence is usually centered on self and does not easily impart to others.
Giving hope to your people combines the alignment, engagement, and vision of the organization. A leader's ability to do so will reap enormous benefits for your organization and your people.
Hope is telling your team that getting this difficult proposal done on time will open up new doors of business. Hope gives your people the drive to keep going when they don't see the results coming together. Hope is reassuring the employees that you'll all get through this rough financial patch intact. Hope drives doctors to cure patients, teachers to educate students, and public servants to protect their communities.
If not for the ability to instill this in their people, where would leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King have turned to? What would the people they led have become?
I would love to talk about ways to instill hope. As a pragmatist, I always want to know the path, the solution to the important questions we ask here. And there is my solution for how to instill hope. By providing a path, a plan, a means to success, a leader can instill hope. I think we are hopeless when we see no solution, no means to succeed or at least improve.
I have no doubt that a leader’s ability to instill hope is important. How do you think we can do it?
Thanks for this inspiring post.
A thoughtful article. Hope may be an embedded feeling people get when a clear vision is articulated along with the expected outcomes. In reading through your thoughts, what gives people hope is in that defined direction. Without the direction, hope would seem to be hollow.
Just as hope isn’t a real strategy, hope without vision isn’t real leadership either. Great thoughts in your article. Thank you!
Thank you Jon Mertz! It’s one of those intangibles in people that are vital but are not really in the front of our minds. Glad it generated some thought lines.
Jon & Paul, thank you for the thoughts about what I think of as hope with substance. Some of my thoughts in response:
Hope has substance when there is clear vision and defined direction. It is more than a wish, an optimistic thought or faith, those these may be part of hope. Hope is seeing the future, a future we can attain if we keep moving forward, trying, learning and, as needed, adjusting and adapting. Hope is holding onto core values and purpose. Maintaining hope has to do with being able to evaluate, make course corrections, recover from discouragement and hold onto the vision of what can be.
I would say yes instilling hope is a needed leadership trait. Leadership shines best during times of crisis. It is at these times that those we lead need the hope that we will survive. If the leader lacks hope he or she will have a hard time rallying the team despite how great the vision is.
Good thoughts, Jon! Appreciate your insight here!
While I like what this article is trying to say, the phrase you use; It’s “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”, is actually directly from Hebrews 11:1 and is speaking to Faith, not Hope by itself. This phrase speaks to the action of doing what you are hoping for as if you have already received it. Not Hope by itself.
This is a fabulous article Paul! Inspiring and insightful. I’ve heard it said that “hope is not a strategy”. Yet hope is often essential to sticking through the tough times of implementing a strategy.
Thank you for a thoughtful and provocative post; always appreciated to hear a voice raised on behalf of nuanced emotionality deftly integrated with tangible and result-oriented productivity. Complicated question, to say the least, but one thing I will note, is the signature distinction between “having” hope, and “instilling” hope; different things altogether, and the latter perhaps more singularly related to ideas and qualities for leadership … Altogether enjoyable read, thanks again, will be a pleasure to share …
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