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Are you a hope-full or hope-less leader?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.
As the world continues to grapple with the effects of the pandemic, business leaders have been urged to demonstrate a lot more empathy for their employees – something that wasn’t very high on their to-do lists in years gone by. But there’s something else leaders now need to give their people, and that’s hope.

This is a new development that has emerged as a result of the ongoing challenges presented by the loss of smiles because of the need to wear masks, by the loss of human contact due to extended social isolation and social distancing, by the need to take on random challenges like parents having to take on roles they were never trained for or intended to fill, such as teaching their children their schoolwork, and by the uncertainty of what the future holds for them and their children.

The hope I’m therefore talking about here is not a false, frothy hope but a genuine hope that comes from a firm belief that, while we’re taking strain at the moment, all will work out OK in the end and we will emerge from this storm stronger, more robust and more resilient as a result of having weathered it.

Share your vision

Simply put, hope is a belief in a better future. Leaders who underestimate the need for people to have a belief in a better future are seriously miscalculating the impact of hope on their people’s productivity and the company’s profitability. It’s therefore important for leaders to have the insight, foresight and imagination to create a vision of a better future that they can share with their employees.

Start talking to your people, asking them for their ideas, sharing your vision to find ways to overcome the current challenges. Just telling your people that you are intent on leading the company and them through and out of the storm will give them hope. Then take the necessary action to make that better future a reality.

Look for options

Having a vision of a better future means you have to look for, and explore, options. Never underestimate the power of having options. While you have options, you have hope. When you have no options, all hope is lost. So start exercising your mind to come up with options.

Tell your people that you’re looking for options. Just by including them in your thinking, you will give them hope – they will be encouraged by the knowledge that you’re working to come up with a plan and will be happy to contribute in any way to assist you.

While people have hope, they will try anything and attempt any challenge. History is full of accounts bearing witness to this truth. For example, hope is what enabled people to survive the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. When people lose hope, they do not see a need to look for more options as they believe there are no more options available to them. You don’t want your people to reach that stage because then inertia sets in and it’s even more difficult to re-engage those people when they’ve given up hope.

Protect them from fear

Another reason for giving your people hope is that, when hope goes, it is replaced by its counterpart – fear. Now, in the same way that hope is a belief in a better future, fear is a belief in a worse future. And when fear – or a belief that the future is going to get worse – takes hold of people, they freeze, they lose focus and start to worry about what’s going to happen to them. That’s when productivity nose dives, something that should come as no surprise. You really can’t expect someone consumed with fear and worry to have the clarity and presence of mind to perform at their peak.

Another reason to protect your people from fear (by giving them hope) is that fear consumes a lot of energy. That’s why people filled with fear are usually exhausted and unable to perform. It’s not only that they aren’t in the right headspace to perform but they’re also just too tired to deliver quality work. So you don’t want them to get into the fear zone, and you can prevent this by giving hem hope.

On the other hand, people filled with hope are energised. They’re willing to take on anything. That’s the kind of people you want working for you – people who are up for it. It therefore makes sound business sense to have energised, willing employees who are game for anything, particularly as you start rebuilding your company in the days, months and years ahead.

One last thing about hope … It’s said that a human being can live for up to 21 days without food, up to three days without water, up to four minutes without oxygen, but not one minute without hope. That’s why it’s critical to give your people hope!

Useful resources:
HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent.
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