Inspiring hope: Do you offer hope to your team?

In my last blog I quoted Michael Silver who argues that leaders need to use language that inspires hope and trust and I asked what those qualities meant for you.

All too often a leader is consumed by tasks and timelines and I wonder how often they take the time to stop and reflect on how they inspire hope and trust in their staff.

Let’s start with hope. What does it mean to inspire hope?

Hope means optimism – possibility, sense of purpose, confidence that:
• the goals are worth striving for and can be achieved
• work has real purpose and will make a difference
• there is a better future ahead

At a personal level hope means that people feel ‘I am capable of making it happen’ and feel valued for the part they are playing in achieving those goals. Snyder’s Hope Theory argues that hopeful people are able to set goals, find pathways to achieve them and feel capable of achieving those goals.

Inspiring that level of hope in others means you need to be optimistic yourself: clear and confident about where you are going and why. Above all, you need to remember always your convictions and commitment as their leader.

• You need to speak confidently, passionately about that future.
• You can minimise the reactions of nay-sayers from the start, by   acknowledging their concerns while quietly insisting on a positive approach.
• You can share small wins along the path and encourage others to do the same.
• You need to acknowledge people for the contributions they are making – thanking them for their efforts. There are numerous ways of doing this, depending upon the situation: a simple ‘thank you’ for something done, public acknowledgements, team celebrations.
• Show people you care: take an interest in them personally, remember the little details and ask about them later.

In most workplaces today people seem always to be burdened by workloads, driven by deadlines. We spend so much of our lives at work that having a sense of purpose and feeling valued surely makes that time worthwhile. This is your responsibility as a leader.

Any doubts you have should be shared amongst colleagues in your leadership team. Sharing your misgivings or self-doubt with team members will only impact their confidence – in the project and in you.

Wearing my hat as a sessional academic, I once had a leader who was clearly so disenchanted with her role and her place in the organisation we both worked for, that had she stayed longer, I suspect she might have lost us all. She had been forced to facilitate some unfair, even irrational decisions, that had financial impacts on sessional academics and we appreciated her empathic support. However, as her disaffection increased, her personal criticisms of our management grew more public, which didn’t bode well for departmental solidarity. Then suddenly she resigned.

How could she have handled her role differently? She obviously felt out of place in that organisation, and although she was supportive of her staff, it was not helpful to us that she would be critical of management or the systems, because her comments destroyed our optimism: that classes are small, our students are good and generally appreciate the work we do. As a staff we cope with the frustrations and absurdities with humour. Our leader seemed instead to burn with resentment that she could not make any changes. I can appreciate her frustrations; but it didn’t help us.

Further reading on Hope Theory
• Snyder, C.R., Rand,K.L. & Sigmon, D.R. Hope Theory
Snyder’s Hope Theory. Cultivating aspiration in your life.

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