Real Leaders

4 Steps to Cultivating Hope in Uncertain Times

When chaos and ambiguity are present, one of the first things to falter in both leaders and those within their organizations is hope.

Leaders’ emotional states impact their teams to a massive degree, so it’s crucial to cultivate hope early and often in the face of adversity to maintain your team’s motivation and strength of spirit. Many leaders and teams need an injection of hope right now. 

Hope is more than just a feeling; it has been proven to be a mental construct. And it can be cultivated — which is excellent news for any leader looking to rally their organization amid uncertainty. There are three things you can put in place in your life, your team, and your organization that will increase hope, based on Charles Snyder’s research into Hope Theory, and I’ll share a final fourth step as well. 

1. Create achievable goals

When people are feeling low on hope, it’s easy to have either no goal at all or have a really big goal. What’s needed in these times, however, is an achievable goal. For example, on a personal level, you might recognize that you can’t control the arc of the pandemic, but you can control your investment of time, your peak performance wellness habits, etc. 

At the business level, now may not the time to “go big” and, say, try to double your business. Instead, set an achievable goal like maintaining your existing revenue or retaining your staff during this time of crisis.

If your organization is kicking goals consistently, don’t worry about this so much. On the other hand, if they need to get their mojo and confidence back, be sure to set achievable goals, they know they can hit — then watch their motivation and confidence rise.

Another idea is to take that big, unruly goal you’re all addicted to and break it down into smaller ones. Keep it close. Keep it real. Keep it possible.

2. Build a sense of agency

Agency is our sense of self-belief, self-confidence. Encouraging your team’s sense of agency and integrity — and demonstrating these yourself — will boost their sense of hope. Ask yourself: 

  • To what degree do I take committed action, then follow through with it to completion? 
  • To what degree do I believe myself when I commit?

Working on your sense of agency and self-control and ensuring your team does the same will increase hope. Remind them individually, or as a team, of what they’ve achieved before — what they are capable of — and set them up to succeed in a lot of small ways (including having them nail and celebrate those achievable goals). Step by step, build their agency.

3. Establish multiple pathways

Don’t just have a Plan A to achieve your goals. Have a Plan B and a Plan C as well. Having multiple pathways to success will help ensure that your goals are met and will build confidence and hopefulness in you and your team along the way. 

The more potential pathways you can use to reach your achievable goal, the better. Knowing that if Plan A doesn’t work, then Plan B and Plan C are waiting in the wings increases hope. However, the critical thing is to be sure to work on one plan at a time, be super clear if and when you shift to the new plan, and very clear from the outset who is working on what. And one goal with multiple pathways is not to be confused with numerous goals, which most organizations suffer from. Know the difference. 

4. Elevate your perspective-taking capacity

If you’re unfamiliar with this term, it comes from Dr. Michael Cavanagh’s four-factor model for leading through complexity. Perspective-taking capacity is key to instilling more hope in your organization and your team. Put simply, it includes the wisdom that we’ve been through things in the past and have come through them and that we will go through things again and survive. The ability to see higher, broader, and farther than others in terms of impact and timelines is what distinguishes a leader’s perspective-taking capacity. For this reason, I often find that leaders with an interest in and knowledge of history have the greatest wisdom, composure, and perspective. They know that “this too shall pass,” and this ability to ground themselves positively impacts those around them. 

These are four evidence-based leadership approaches you can apply right now to cultivate a sense of hope when otherwise things feel out of control. Honing your ability to prioritize and build hope will serve as a guiding light for your organization and your team to ensure that, with your leadership, you will all emerge stronger than before. 

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