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May 02, 2014

Hope, Above All Else

May 02, 2014

Positivity is a powerful thing. Perhaps more than any other aspect of a great leader, simply being positive can create great outcomes. Just like great leaders embody positivity, the most successful organizational strategies rely on hope, above all else.

The Danger in a Default Future

No leadership team, no matter how capable, inspiring or committed can see the future. Sure, effective leaders have great foresight and vision, but they don’t KNOW the future. Results can be predicted and forecasting can be fairly accurate, but future facts remain elusive to even the most gifted of leaders.

That’s why we have organizational strategies, strategic plans, and 10-year vision statements. At worst, these far-reaching documents are pragmatic, detail-laden tomes that explain where an organization will likely end up. But at their best, organizational strategies are expressions of great hope, of potential realized.

Adequate leaders and leadership teams often excel at seeing the DEFAULT FUTURE – those things most likely to occur based on the current state of the organization.

But there is a lot of danger in only seeing the default future. If I learned anything from working in law enforcement and the court system for nearly a decade, it is that such narrow vision actually CREATES bad outcomes. Seeing only the default future leads to the children of criminals committing crimes, kids raised in poverty becoming poor and the parents of troubled children worsening the outcomes of those same children. When all you see is bad, you become bad.

The same sorts of experiences occur in organizations. Leaders look at the numbers, listen to the pragmatists (or nay-sayers by a different name), and communicate the bleak possibilities to their teams. This is often disguised as honesty and forthrightness, and the impetus for such communications are usually benign. Still, the damage can be irreversible.

Nobody wants to follow a pragmatist. People don’t respond to negativity, except with more negativity.

The Response to Pragmatism

If your organizational goals and strategies are “conservative,” when you communicate “worst-case scenarios” you increase the stress and anxiety of your entire organization. You begin to create doubt. Your team loses sight of your purpose and latches on to the default future. Productivity declines as team members embrace a defeatist mentality. You hemorrhage talent. You waste resources finding and training new talent. Then the new talent hears only the same pragmatic messaging, less the purpose that was once embraced.


You create your default future.

Embracing and Embodying Hope

Compare that vision to a leadership team that embraces and embodies hope. This is the team that communicates the best possible outcomes, outlines a strategy that is hopeful but doable if everyone is on board, and always keeps the organization’s core purpose in mind. Plans are laid and followed. Talent is trusted, invested in and retained. Hard decisions are made along the way, and any hard truths are communicated along the way. But all along, messaging is done with a hopeful tone, leadership never loses sight of its long-term goals, and strategies are adapted to ensure the best possible outcomes.

This philosophy is rooted in the notion that it is better to fall short of lofty goals than to meet pragmatic projections. If your entire organization aims high and falls a little bit short, it will still be in a better place than if only a handful of employees stick around to collect a gold watch or modest pension as the organization barely survives.

So, what next?

I challenge you to go back to your organization and inject some positivity. Start by finding (or refining) your core purpose, something that your employees truly believe in. Make it your mantra. Remind your peers what it is. Live it at work.

Then, start looking to what could happen if everyone embraced that purpose for a full 40 hours each week. Start setting goals. “It would be great if…” or “Imagine what would happen if we…” are great ways to start. Seed the language of positivity, and challenge your leaders to do the same. Set goals that express hope, and create strategies and plans for getting there.

Tell us how it goes!

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