Special to The Globe and Mail – Wednesday, May. 08 2013 – See in Globe and Mail
Do you want to know how to improve your leadership potential one skill at a time? The first tip is to exemplify hopefulness.
Are you surprised to see “hopefulness” described as a leadership skill? Think about it for a minute. It’s hope that enables us to cope with life’s obstacles and problems. It’s hope that encourages contestants to audition for Canadian Idol, propels sports phenoms to new records, drives workers to achieve goals.
Team and organizational leaders who are hopeful tend to visualize positive future outcomes and are able to resolve problems and achieve goals with less effort than their gloomier counterparts. Leaders who exemplify hopefulness for their teams can instill positive thinking about the future and motivate team members to pursue ideas and solutions. Personifying hopefulness to others also helps them recognize they are adaptable and offers reassurance that they can overcome difficulties.
In fact, leaders who don’t have this skill often waste valuable reserves of energy getting employees back on track. One manager, for example, was awarded a team of four people and six months to complete a key company project. One individual on the team was a “complainer.” His thinking soon affected the others. Within a few weeks, all of them were expressing negative comments about the work. Progress inched ahead slower and slower. It was only when the manager started guiding the group firmly toward a clear and hopeful vision of the future that she was able to arrest the negativity. Keeping her team focused on a positive outcome enabled her to push them to be better.
The hopeful team is a powerful team. And this is why exemplifying hopefulness is an essential skill for effective leaders. It’s also a skill that can be learned. Start by personally practising hopeful thinking and practices. Here is a list of them.
Remember that risk-taking is a critical part of learning and developing leadership capabilities. Therefore when you experience losses or failures, think of them not as setbacks, but as learning opportunities by reflecting on what you would do differently next time.
Be aware of your own negative thinking and make a conscious effort to visualize positive outcomes. When handling a task for example, create a mental image of what the end result looks like. Then visualize yourself succeeding.
Pursue daily opportunities for laughter (people, activities, books, movies) — especially when times are difficult. Inject humour into conversations.
Care for yourself; fatigue plays strong role in negative thinking. Get enough sleep and exercise for at least 30 minutes every day; your body’s endorphins will support a hopeful outlook.
When working with employees, project teams and customers the following strategies can help you project hopeful thinking.
Make an effort to develop a reputation for positivity.
Hire positive people who are supportive.
On your way to work every morning, spend 10 minutes deciding how you’re going to convey hopefulness during the day. For example, be proactive and enthusiastic about your responsibilities, accept challenging goals with the anticipation of success; and communicate your expectations of others with optimism and confidence.
Appreciate the power of the messages you communicate — focus on being the leader who believes 100 per cent that the future will be better and communicate this with confidence to your employees and team members.
Set clear, achievable organizational and team goals that are meaningful to those who must accomplish them. This means defining goals in a way that enables others to feel they are making a valued contribution, rather than simply working. You can do this by ensuring that goals contribute to the vision and mission — and are challenging but also realistic. Energize group members by engaging them to develop creative strategies for achieving targets.
Accept bad news with equanimity. Don’t point fingers; instead, encourage your teams to learn from the experience and to identify specific ways to prevent the situation from reccurring or learning how to do better next time.
Whether you’re leading a large organization, a small company or a small team, by exemplifying hope you can engage, motivate and succeed. And remember, it can feel lonely to be the one who bears the burden of reality while helping others stay positive. So check in regularly with someone you like and trust to celebrate your progress developing this important leadership skill.
One final suggestion: keep in mind Superman’s (Christopher Reeve) words, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
Barbara Morris, president of Elevate Organizations,is a leadership development specialist and coach who helps individuals and organizational teams optimize potential and achieve goals.