“If you ask (people) what they want in a leader, they usually list three things: direction or vision, trustworthiness, and optimism. Like effective parents, lovers, teachers, and therapists, good leaders make people hopeful.” — Warren Bennis, An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change
Someone once said to the bestselling author and television pastor, Robert Schuller, “I hope you live to see all your dreams fulfilled.” He replied, “I hope not, because if I live and all my dreams are fulfilled, I’m dead. It’s unfulfilled dreams that keep you alive.”
Hope is one of the most powerful sources of energy ever known to humankind. Without hope, we slip from living to just existing. Hope charges our spirit and draws us forward to a better tomorrow. Hope helps us see beyond the problems to the possibilities. Hope gives life meaning. Hope helps us take responsibility for our choices. Hope stretches us and energizes our continuous growth and development. Hope urges us to go against the odds and do what everyone knows can’t be done.
All the great achievements and tiny triumphs recorded through the history of civilization began as a hope, a dream, in someone’s mind. An ancient Chinese proverb teaches, “Happiness is someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for.”
“False hope” is an oxymoron; the two words don’t belong together. Hope can’t be false. It might be unfulfilled, but it can’t be false. If hope makes me try a little longer, strive a little further, live a little more, dream a little clearer, or raise my expectations a little higher, how can it be false?
But in the face of despair, negativity, and feelings of helplessness, being hopeful is hard work. It’s easier to reflect the temperature of a negative environment and be a pessimist. It doesn’t take as much effort to give up hope and become a victim. Then it’s somebody else’s fault. It doesn’t take much courage to be a cynic that sees things only as they are, not as they could be.
The 19th century American clergyman and abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher, defined the feeble-mindedness of the pessimist or cynic as “One who never sees a good quality in a man and never fails to see a bad one. He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin, and never seeing noble game. The cynic puts all human actions into two classes — openly bad and secretly bad.”
A leader brings hope. That doesn’t mean putting on rose-colored glasses, painting on a happy face, and avoiding problems by spouting clichйs on positive thinking. Highly effective leaders help others deal with the reality of current problems by focusing their attention on what’s possible. They use the dream of what could be as a magnet to draw everyone forward.
Highly energized cultures are charged with hopefulness and optimism. It’s the dynamic power that mobilizes individuals and teams to make the improbable possible. It’s the mark of a leader.