When I was a competitive athlete (more than a couple of decades ago), I didn’t particularly care for the human interest stories that worked their way into the Winter and Summer Olympics programming. All I wanted to see was the head-to-head competition. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The winners and the losers. However, decades later I find myself strangely interested in the human interest stories…for the wisdom found within them.
Interestingly, if you look deeply into the near career-ending injuries, debilitating life situations, emotional setbacks, and excruciating disappointment…these against-all-odds stories reveal a great deal about the powerful role hope plays in fueling peak performance.
To be clear, what I’m about to say about hope can be found outside of the Winter and Summer games. The Olympics are simply an easy place to study it because of the sheer number of times it’s played out over the 16 days that represent the modern-day Olympic games.
First, let me humbly offer that as leaders we should care deeply about hope. Not only for ourselves, but also for others. Especially the people we lead. I think the Ancient Proverbs spell it out succinctly.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
If you like quotes, you might appreciate that for every quote there’s a counter-quote. And in the case of hope, you’ve probably heard it said that, “Hope is not a strategy.” By itself I’d agree. However, I believe that there are four elements, that if leaders thoughtfully hang these together, actually transform hope into a strategy.
As leaders, our job is to live in the future and invite people to join us there. What that requires is that we have a clear and compelling picture of a big future. A future that is exciting, important, and enticing to those we lead. As leaders we must practice making tangible to others, that which is intangible to them in the moment. The very future that lies ahead.
Pathway (aka Plan)
It’s not enough however to simply paint a picture of a new place. We must create pathways to travel to that destination. This is where many leaders fail. They dream big dreams but don’t see viable avenues to move an organization from point A to point B. If instilling hope in the hearts of your people is your strategy, you must be sure they see the path on which you’ll be traveling.
Organizations often migrate to a seemingly endless string of tasks. Mundane minutiae. That’s to be expected. However, as leaders we must work overtime to ensure that: (1) we’re staying on the pathway we’ve outlined, and (2) we’re continuing to make progress. As leaders with the picture of (and plan for) where we’re headed, there are times when we may be the only ones who can gauge whether or not we’re moving in the right direction. We must monitor this and communicate it frequently to those we lead.
To be clear, what I mean by promise is that people recognize a likelihood of success (vs the other definition which is the guarantee of success). Painting a picture and outlining a pathway is simply not enough. What people need to experience personally, is a feeling that (1) there’s a good chance you’ll get there, and (2) they’ll be with you when you arrive. This means you must carefully study your people (see post on Helping Our People Win at Work) and be honest about who is part of the future you’re moving towards…as well as who may not be part of that future.
Think about a world-class athlete featured in the human interest story as they head into the final heat competing for gold. You have to go back many years to see how the 4 P’s of hope played out in their life. For many, it was a coach, or parent that planted the see of hope in their hearts. Somehow they “Pictured” themselves standing atop the podium with a gold medal hanging around their neck. Someone came along side them and said, “Here’s the ‘Pathway” you have to travel if you want to train to be an Olympic athlete.” Along the way, they saw themselves making “Progress” toward their lifelong goal. And they didn’t travel this path naively, someone was honest with them about their “Promise” to be come an Olympian.
Imagine if any of those ingredients had been missing.
- The naïve athlete who had no promise but spent countless hours pursuing a future they’d realistically never reach.
- The athlete with the right raw ingredients that didn’t have the right training plan and squandered their gift.
- The athlete who was making tremendous progress but for whatever reason didn’t think it was good enough so they gave up.
Let’s face it, when people lose hope there’s no chance of achieving peak performance. But where hope is present, champions are born. And if you study the back waters of the Olympics you see this played out time-after-time.
As leaders in corporate settings, our people are not training for the Olympics. But I’d argue the work they’re doing is even more important. For many of the people we lead, what they do at work represents their very life’s purpose. Shouldn’t we lead them in a way that gives them hope? If we invest the time to paint a picture, outline a pathway, offer realistic promise, and highlight progress along the way…I think we’ve done all we can do as leaders to give them hope.
And if the Ancient Proverbs are accurate, that hope planted in the hearts of our people represents a tree of life.
Question: Has someone in your life led you in such a way as to give you hope? If so, please take a moment to share the story and offer thanks to a giver of hope in your life. You can leave a comment by clicking here.