Hope: Make it part of your Strategy

I often hear this statement, “Hope is not a [management] strategy”. I feel uneasy about this statement. It feels contradictory to how I feel about hope. It infers that hope is a weakness, without any use or substance. In my life experience hope exists in everything; every decision, circumstance and plan.

I also believe hope exists everywhere; every home, workplace and heart. We are all capable of hope, it is inherently intertwined in our beings; a natural part of our lives and thoughts, an innate survival technique.

Without hope how can we predict a positive outcome?

“Hope is that thing inside us that insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that something better awaits us if we have the courage to reach for it, and to work for it, and to fight for it.” Obama

We may believe strongly that if we take a particular path, we are going to achieve a certain result but with this belief there is often a mixture of forethought and hope – ‘’I hope I’ve got this right’’, ‘’I hope this plan works’’. Unless we are fortune tellers; we cannot say for sure that a particular strategy will work for us. Surely, we must have hope to have faith in ourselves, our decisions, our work, our parenting?

Hope is: “the belief that the future will be better than the present, along with the belief that you have the power to make it so.” Dr. Shane Lopez (Psychologist)

Hope transcends us from the present into the future, inspiring us to move forward and aiding us to persevere through difficult situations. If humanity lacked hope, we would not last long on earth – just imagine it. A dark and dreary era where people quickly surrender to threat, without any drive to fight or make changes or plans, void of any belief they can succeed. A time where hero’s and underdogs are not celebrated because they do not exist.

A world abandoned of hope is one without meaning, expectation or desire. Life would seem like a series of battles that we are simply trying to survive.

Consider these scenarios:

*A surgeon about to make an incision. He is experienced, he follows procedures, but he knows there is always room for error or complexities he cannot control or foresee. He hopes it will go to plan and the patient will have a good outcome. This hope ensures he is not sloppy, he takes his time and considers each action. Hope (along with his skill and knowledge) helps to manifest his belief in a successful procedure.

*A start-up company launching a new product. Fuelled with motivation they create a business plan. Hope helps them envision this as being successful and drives them to overcome obstacles and inspire their team.

*The football coach with the losing team. He strategizes and encourages his team in training and practise sessions – but he cannot certify that win. He believes it and he hopes for it and that is what keeps him, and his team invested.

*The man with a terminal illness. He doesn’t know what tomorrow brings but hope helps him focus on something other than feeling sick. It gets him out of bed. It helps him imagine seeing his daughter get married. It helps him stay positive. Even if the illness wins, hope has allowed him to make the most of his last days.

As far back as Ancient Greece ‘hope’ was known to comfort people experiencing difficulties. Hope has history; it is not some new-age fad. Hope gives us assurance for the future, of finding a cure, a solution, a win. Without it surely, we become mechanical versions of ourselves, ruled by processes and curbed by a lack of creativity, or willingness to take risks.

Hope is the companion of power, and mother of success; for who so hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles.” Samuel Smiles (Author)

You only need to look at the current world and realise that to sustain positivity and productivity we need a sense of hope. And hope is not just an emotion, it is a skill, a process, consisting of both cognitive and affective elements associated to goal setting and achieving. Snyder’s Hope Theory (1991) claims there are three components connected to hope: having goal-oriented thoughts, developing ways (or pathways) to achieve goals, and having the motivation, belief and action to realising goals (agency thinking). In order to develop a sense of hope we must believe that we are able to achieve all these components.

So, hope stems from the goals we set ourselves. And these goals essentially shape and influence our behaviour when achieving these. Our agency thinking is our marker to believing we have the ability, confidence and intention to reach our goals. And pathways are knowing that there will be barriers and challenges, and perhaps numerous routes to accomplishing your goals but going after them anyway.

Having hope makes sense. It helps us navigate the unpredictability of life in a more effective and positive way, it gives us control, and more opportunities to succeed and reach our desired destination. Of course, hope is not a magic trick. Having it will not ensure your desired outcome. Hope has in fact been accused of ‘playing tricks’ or ‘prolonging the torment of men’ but we still tap into our hope resources to propel us through situations that would otherwise seem impossible.

“We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.” Martin Luther King

What’s more people want their leaders to have hope. The Gallup Organization found that people wanted their leaders to have ‘stability, trust, compassion and hope’ and when these elements exist, and employees are made to feel enthusiastic about the future, they are more likely to be engaged in their work. (Gallup’s measure of hope in the workplace).

“Followers look to leaders to capitalize on the spirit and ideas of the times, to dream big, and to motivate them toward a meaningful future.” Dr Shane Lopez

Hope allows us to have success and stability, it helps employees trust leaders, it unites and engages people in seeing a positive future and believing in themselves. Hope is what makes us compassionate. It works in juxtaposition to the complex and confusing world we live in – if we succumb to the workings of the world we may disengage with the good in life. With hope we see a way forward when facing uncertainty. Hope is a powerful thing.

“The more you do what you do best, the more hopeful you are.”Dr. Don Clifton (psychologist)

So do not make the mistake of thinking ‘hope’ is a weakness or a sentiment. Hope helps us adjust to change, combat complexity, have cognitive flexibility, and have the courage to re-goal, re-strategize and reassess, and imagine our actions and plans creating a better solution – in all aspects of life and work. Hope can inspire us and others about the future.

So, think about how you communicate the next project at work or talk to your partner about reaching a life goal – is it your opportunity to induce hope and positive possibilities. You can acknowledge the obstacles but also be the catalyst to exploring new pathways and strategies. You can change the approach and culture by having hope.

“If, as a leader, you are not creating hope and helping people see the way forward, chances are, no one else is either.” (Quote from the book ‘Strengths Based Leadership’)

Hope to me is an essential part of an effective management strategy. But folks – let’s be clear, I am not questioning the results of hard work alone – of course you can succeed without an element of hope. Perhaps you are so confident in your abilities that hope is not needed? I am also not suggesting that we can live off just hope alone. Hope is a helpful compliment to those who are prepared and planned, to those who think and create, and to those who put into action.

As a Lead Systems Engineer I acknowledge and encourage hope in my decision making. It gives me faith in my actions, conviction in my communication and prepares me for potential changes. And you know what? If my plan of action fails – I do not despair, I have hope that another solution will present itself.

“It’s hard to be successful without being hopeful. When you think the future will be better than the present, you start working harder today.” Dr. Shane Lopez

– Mike Johnson (Co-Founder, SE-Training GmbH)