Real Leaders

This is How Leaders Instill a Sense of Hope

Hope is a feeling, but what many people don’t realize is that it’s also a mental construct. Here are tangible actions you can take to increase a sense of hopefulness in yourself and your team.

Set achievable goals.

If your team needs to get their mojo and confidence back, be sure to have them set achievable goals they know they can hit — and each time they do, you can watch with pride as their motivation rises. If you have a huge, seemingly insurmountable goal, break it down into smaller ones so you and your team can turn it into a series of smaller wins as you work towards it. 

Increase your team’s sense of agency (aka self-belief). 

Remind team members individually, or as a whole, of what they’ve achieved before and what they are capable of now. Set them up to succeed in many small ways (including having them nail those achievable goals). Build up their sense of personal agency step by step to boost hopefulness and confidence.

Create multiple pathways for reaching goals. 

Never set a goal without including various pathways to achieve it. The more possible paths you can use to reach your achievable goal, the better. Work on one at a time — and be clear about what you’re working on when — but know that if Plan A doesn’t work, then Plan B and Plan C are waiting in the wings. That will increase hope for the whole team. Just be sure to have everyone commit to one pathway at a time. If you do want to put action steps in place for multiple pathways, just be sure from the beginning that everyone is super clear on who is working on which.

Coach leaders to navigate ambiguity.

First of all, uncertainty is tough because, as a leader, you have others counting on you. Your decisions can and will affect the organization and people’s lives, and often there is no clear “right” choice. This is where knowing yourself and your core values become so critical; this is what will help you make the best possible choice when all you have is your internal compass. With this in mind, here are several approaches that help:

  • Clearly understand your core leadership values and leadership philosophy. This is a core part of the work I do. One client recently said he doesn’t know how he ever made decisions before this process.
  • Focus on the Four Factors that matter the most when leading through complexity:
  1. Shared purpose
  2. Perspective-taking capacity
  3. Dialogue 
  4. Mindfulness
  • Focus on cultivating habits, including what’s known as “simple habits for complex times.”
  • Double down on self-care and emotional self-management.

Control your emotional state within your organization and team.

Only one hundred percent of the time! Leaders’ emotional states permeate their organizations. An anxious leader creates an anxious organization. A reactive leader and leadership team create a reactive organization. A composed leader lowers anxiety in their organization.

Be aware that America has an addiction to positive thinking.

When we’re addicted to seeing only the positive, we fail to look at reality — including realities about ourselves. Most people feel that they have two options: to see everything positively or to come down hard on things and themselves and be critical and judgmental. Neither of these are useful. 

What is useful is a combination of compassion and curiosity. Compassion allows us to look at reality, including the truth about ourselves, without judgment — then our curiosity is enabled by that lack of judgment. This clear-eyed, curious approach to anything allows us to investigate things more deeply and therefore improve or solve them. 

I encourage people not to be overly positive about themselves but instead be positive and hopeful about their ability to create change in themselves and their lives. The important thing is to attain results without unnecessary suffering. Many people create so much additional pain in their lives due to their unwillingness to face the original suffering. 

Another issue an addiction to positive thinking creates is that it oversteps grief. When a leader or an organization is stuck, that “stuckness” can often be traced to unprocessed grief. So many times, I have raised the possibility of unprocessed grief with clients to find that they instantly recognize it in themselves or their organizations. By paying attention to that grief, honoring and processing it, things are freed up to move forward. 

Stay focused.

Most clients seek help to shift from being a leader that raises anxiety in their team to being a leader that lowers anxiety. This includes things as diverse as having the discipline to set boundaries and remain focused on an achievable goal, through to being able to create an atmosphere of safety for people to try new things. It depends on the leader and their situation, but creating safety is always crucial. 

An example of this is an organization I’ve just started working with that has two idea-generating entrepreneurial founders who are continually coming up with new directions and possibilities for their organization, not realizing the thrash this creates for their leadership team and beyond. In this instance, lowering anxiety requires creating more clarity, consistency, and composure for their organization, which takes self-awareness and discipline on the founders’ part. 

Learn from difficult personal or professional challenges from the past.

They already have a successful strategy for overcoming things. They could ask themselves, “What have I learned from how I have overcome things in the past? How can I apply those approaches again when coming up against new challenges? What may need to be adapted or refreshed?” 

I would also say that one of the most important things we can have in adult life is a strong sense of agency or self-belief. Having overcome challenges in the past builds this sense of agency. You can draw from it in challenging times and help others around you do the same by reflecting on how they have successfully overcome hurdles in their own lives. This approach can also be used successfully with teams. 

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